Friday, August 15, 2008

Shojo Beat: Fame and zen. And etc.

I really meant to get to this last night. Don't tell me I'm getting behind again already...

Shojo Beat
September 2008

Not too much in the way of interesting non-comics content this month, although there is a review of The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. The mascot illustration of the month is by Aimee Major Steinberger, author of Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures in Japan:

She also contributes an article about places to shop in Tokyo, but it's not really my thing, being as I've never been there and don't plan to go anytime in the near future, and the locations are all clothes stores where you can presumably buy lots of gothic lolita fashions and whatnot. Ah well, I'll stick with Chris Butcher's travelogues instead.

Okay, on to the manga:

Blank Slate
By Aya Kanno

This month's preview chapter is an odd one for a shojo magazine; it's all about hitmen, bounty hunters, and killing, with little in the way of romance (or so it seems at first) or even female characters. It takes place in some sort of oppressive future with rival totalitarian governments sanctioning bounty hunters to hunt down criminals. Our main character is one of those hunters, named Russo, and he gets tasked to take down a big-time murderer named Zen. But when he hunts down Zen, he finds himself enthralled by him, and ends up joining him in his criminal activities, all while plotting to murder him at some point. But will he grow to close to Zen and find himself unable to finish the job?

So why would this be classified as a shojo manga? That can probably be summed up in one word: yaoi. Or maybe not; I'm not very well-versed in that genre. But the point of this series seems to be all about the smoldering glances that Zen and Russo give each other, barely able to suppress their desire. It even skips over what would seem like important details, like what exactly Russo finds so charismatic and enthralling about the murderer, and why he has no problem joining him. There is some talk about Russo's desire to control others, with the ultimate form of control being taking their life; mayhap he fetishizes being controlled himself? Being a Shojo Beat title, I don't expect there will be much in the way of hot guy-on-guy action; it will probably be limited to chaste glances, and maybe a climactic kiss or something. Ah, it's not like I'm going to try to read anymore of it; yaoi holds very little interest for me, outside of curiosity and speculation about just what the appeal of the genre is for its audience.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Miki Aihara seems to have a mixed reputation among manga fans, mostly due to her series Hot Gimmick. That enjoyably soapy series was fun to read just to see the way Aihara drew out the over-the-top drama that swirled around the characters, but many complained about the ugly gender roles and lack of positive character development, and the badly-received ending didn't help. Myself, I don't think I ever read the last couple volumes, so I should try to finish it and see what I think about the series as a whole.

In the meantime, Aihara has another series starting here, and it seems like it might be off to an enjoyable start. Yura is the daughter of a famous actress and a respected composer, and she hates living in their shadow. But even that was preferable to the storm that hits her when they split up; having your parents divorce is emotional enough for any teenager, but throw in constant harassment about the situation from paparazzi, and it quickly becomes unbearable. Can she find the strength to get through it?

Looks like more of the Aihara drama, with a couple of potential love interests and some really mean villains in her uncaring, self-centered parents. Yura does get a nice, cheer-worthy moment when she finally stands up for herself in front of the TV cameras:

We'll see how it goes, but I'm ever-hopeful for some over-dramatic soap-operatics. Bring it on, Aihara!

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

This series must have picked up some new readers since it started, because this chapter takes the opportunity to do a plot recap in its first few pages. Then it seems to kick off a new plotline, about Yuki trying to discover the past that she can't remember, and find what really happened when her family was killed. This leads to lots of the classic angst, and a journey to the headquarters of the vampire hunter society to view their historical records. So: secrets revealed! But not this time; instead we get a weird cliffhanger in which Yuki's curiosity causes a book to burst into flame(?). There's also another plot involving the president of the society (a woman who always holds a fan in front of her face, for some reason) wanting to make use of Zero's newfound vampire abilities for some sort of nefarious ends. So I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens. Interesting developments? Perhaps. I did like this bit, in which Yuki tries to remember what happened while taking a bath:

Apparently the mental strain caused her to hallucinate blood? I dunno, but it's nicely freaky. Okay, let's keep up the plot development! I might actually be excited to read this series for once!

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Hmmm, Takanashi is going to have to do something to mix things up here, because things seem to be going too smoothly. The volleyball team is doing awesome, rocking everybody else at their tournament. Everybody is getting along swell and everything:

Sure, there are some hints at future drama, including boys who might be interested in Nobara, and a lecherous principal who might cause problems for the team, but the inter-squad tussles seem to be all resolved. Maybe we'll just focus on the actual games. But I don't think so; I'm sure Takanashi has plenty of complications to invoke.

This chapter actually focuses mostly on Yui, the former member of the team who finished her eligibility. Now that she has moved on, the team is starting to do well, causing her to feel like she did nothing to contribute. It's a nice bit of characterization, and it's great to see the team show how much they appreciate her.

So it's not a big, dramatic chapter, but it's a pretty solid one. Let's hope for more big volleyball action or dramatic fireworks in the future though. I don't want to get bored here.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Strangely, this month's two chapters of this series seem like middle chapters, furthering plots without making much real progress. But big plot developments aren't really the point of this series anyway; it's more about small moments between friends, along with some goofy comedy. So this time around, an encounter with cicadas causes characters to muse about life, and Mayama spends time with his coworkers and gets a bit jealous when they start to flirt with Ayu. It's all nicely-done, but like usual, the bits of comedy are probably my favorites. The details of Mayama's workplace are pretty hilarious; we see their feng shui-based pre-sales-meeting ritual:

And we get to meet the bosses, a pair of mincing twins named Mario and Luigi:

Ah, gay comedy. I guess it's universal. Also funny is that aforementioned cicada encounter:

So, I dunno, it seems like a kind of slight month, but it's still pretty enjoyable. I guess that's what happens when a series is so damn good.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

If you want big dramatic plot developments, this is the go-to series for the month. Wow, it's a hum-dinger. Ann is in Shimane for winter break, and the appearance of Fuji's cousin brings up some big revelations about his family (although it's nothing that readers don't already know about) and prompts Ann to worry about Fuji, who has gone missing. All this emotion, along with the anniversary of her mother's death, dredges up some self-critical feelings; in a heart-breaking scene, Ann remembers how she said "Goodbye!" to her mom as she left on the fateful walk that ended with her suicide, and she worries that she might have said something to Fuji that prompted him to do something similar. It's a horribly realistic scene; who hasn't gone over and over events in their heads, replaying events, worried they said something wrong? For teenagers, who live in such an over-emotional state anyway, this sort of thing can be debilitating. Daigo, being the good boyfriend, tries to reassure her, but she blows up at him and says something she will certainly regret:

Again, it's awfully realistic; how often do we lash out at those closest to us when we are beating up on ourselves? Man, being a teenager is not the most pleasant experience, is it?

I won't reveal the big events at the end of the chapter (not this month, at least), but they make for plenty more fodder for good drama. This series is great because of the excellent characters and drama that seems like it could happen to anybody, and it seems like it will keep going in that direction. It can be hard to read, if only because it might remind you of similar unpleasant experiences, but it's so well done, you can't stop reading. I've lavished plenty of praise on this series, but I think it totally deserves all of it. Read it, I say!

Hey, that wasn't so long. I might be able to get caught up again after all.