Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Shojo Beat: I'm a Halloweenie

Here's the review of Wolverine: Saudade that I mentioned yesterday.  With preview pages even, so check it out if you dig Euro-Marvel oddness.

Shojo Beat
October 2008




This issue gives plenty of time to get into the Halloween spirit, with all sorts of articles about the scary stuff.  There's a bit about putting together a costume, recipes for preparing spooky confectionary treats, instructions for making a candy-hauling pumpkin, a sampling of scary scenes in shojo manga, and a feature on creepy-cute Japanese monsters and toys (I like that they included GeGeGe no Kitaro), and some illustrations by artist Luke Feldman:  



In non-creepy content, there's a lame thing about vapid Japanese celebrities (of the Paris Hilton-like variety), some pictures from Design Festa, a spotlight on Arina Tanemura (since she doesn't get enough exposure from the magazine; I must say though, that I do kind of like the baroque aesthetic in some of the included illustrations from her upcoming Full Moon artbook), and a videogame spotlight that mentions Lego Batman and Spore.

But enough of that; it's manga time:

We Were There
By Yuki Obata

Nanami is a high school freshman (or "first year", since this is the Japanese school system), and she hopes to make friends at her new school, but all the other girls seem to want to talk about is the hunky Yano Motoharu.  She ends up becoming acquainted with Yano, and then ends up on the student council with him, but he rubs her the wrong way, coming off as arrogant and obnoxious.  That irritation probably signals attraction, and her relationship with Yano will probably develop, but there's not much to go on in this short preview.  We don't even get a hint of the dead girlfriend of Yano's that the recap page mentions.  So, I don't know if this will turn out to be any good, but the briefness of this excerpt might actually work against it, making it seem bland.  So my mostly-uninformed recommendation is against it, unless I hear otherwise.

Captive Hearts
By Matsuri Hino

In the other preview chapter this month, we meet Megumi, the son of a family of servants that inherited their rich employers' estate when they (the employers) disappeared on a trip to China.  So now he's happy to laze about in the lap of luxury, until his world is upended when Suzuka, the daughter of the employers, shows up, having grown up in China after her parents died.  To make matters worse, he finds that he, along with everyone else in his bloodline, is cursed to unquestioningly serve her family, so he finds himself inadvertently bowing and scraping before her and calling her "princess".  It's pretty embarrassing, but he can't bring himself to stop.

This series is by Matsuri Hino, creator of Vampire Knight, so that explains the fetishistic aura of domination and submissiveness, but she does seem to show a bit more humor here than in that series:



Megumi's dad especially seems to fit the role of the comic-relief.  And Suzuka seems like a sweet character, barely speaking any Japanese and learning to fit into her surroundings rather than filling the obnoxious rich-girl stereotype.  Or maybe she's just a near-mute moe girl.  It's an interesting setup, and it could be a decent series.  If you like Vampire Knight, this might be one to check out.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

The magazine's newest regular series continues to develop, and it's still looking interesting.  Last month, in the first installment of the series, Yura told her distant celebrity parents to "go to hell" for the TV cameras.  She thinks she ruined their careers, but she soon learns that nothing she can do will affect them; they're good enough at playing the press that they can weather any disruptions.  Meanwhile, Yura is being pursued by Keiichi, her dad's agent, to become an actress.  She isn't really interested, but she eventually decides to give it a try, in an attempt to hurt her mom in the only way she can see possible: by surpassing her.  So it looks like that's going to be the ongoing plot of the series, but there is plenty of room for complications.  I like the way the paparazzi are portrayed as vicious vultures, eager to snap up any scrap of "newsworthy" information:



And a potential love interest, a guy named Q-ta who sings for a band with the unfortunate name of Assha, is quickly revealed to be as desperately fame- and status-hungry as the rest of the celebutard crowd when he abruptly proposes:



The series seems to be developing into an enjoyably soapy show-biz drama.  I'm a little concerned about the passive nature of the heroine; knowing Aihara's track record with that sort of character on Hot Gimmick, I worry that she won't develop anything resembling a spine, but I'm always hopeful.  And the art looks pretty nice, with enough personality to avoid looking like just another generic manga.  Let's hope this turns into something special, or at least enjoyable.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Hmmm, kind of a filler chapter here, with the main purpose of setting up some drama for the upcoming tournament.  With most of the drama within the main cast resolved, it's got to come from outside, so Takanashi uses this chapter as an opportunity to establish a rival for Nobara.  She and Kanako sneak onto the campus of Aiyu Gakuin, a school that they'll have to defeat in the upcoming tournament if they want to continue to advance, in order to scout out the team.  They witness a star player treating her subordinate teammates terribly, even going so far as to purposely injure one in order to secure a spot as a starter.  Nobara, being the outspoken proselytizer of sportsmanlike athleticism that she is, won't stand for it, leading to a corny confrontation:



I expect this will lead to some dramatic on-court action, but it's kind of obvious here.  But that's okay, it's nothing too egregious.  There's also some setup for future romantic conflict when a troublemaking boy takes an interest in Nobara, but that's a minor subplot, probably not to be explored for a while.  Eh, it's one of those middle chapters that's all about putting pieces in place for future plots.  I can't complain too much, but hopefully it will lead to some excellent volleyball scenes.  That's the best part of this series anyway.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Oh boy.  This chapter sees some shameless pandering to its (presumably female) readers, with a flashback featuring most of the vampiric Night Class as children.  They're so cute!  At least, that's the obvious reaction it's supposed to evoke.  Me, I like to think myself immune from that sort of reaction (although I've been known to fall prey to it in series that I obsess over).  In fact, I'm usually pretty bored by the intrigue among the Night Class anyway; I have trouble telling each brooding pretty boy apart from the next.  The main point of this seems to be to explore the tensions among the characters (yawn) and reveal the Kaname's parents, who were the vampire equivalent of royalty, committed suicide (or did they?).  I'm sure it will all lead to more dramatic revelations, but for now, I'm bored.  I was much more interested by last month's plot about Yuki's lost memories, which ended on a cliffhanger and is completely ignored this month.  Maybe we'll get back to it next month.  Until then, I won't spare any more brainpower on this tiresomeness.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

You know what's interesting?  Chica Umino took a pretty big risk a few months ago when she wrote one of the most entertaining characters out of the series (although only temporarily).  Morita was probably the primary source of comedy, so sending him away for this long is kind of a bold move.  It might have been done to leave more room for exploration of Mayama's character and his relationship with Ayu.  Or maybe she was just trying to delay the development/resolution of the love triangle involving him, Hagu, and Takemoto.  Still, it leaves a big gap to fill, or maybe an opportunity to go in a less comedic direction with the series.

Well, not really; the series retains its funny tone and occasional serious, dramatic, poetic moments, but the comedy is probably a little less over-the-top (last month's gay minstrelsy notwithstanding).  But that Ayu/Mayama relationship is definitely getting a workout; Umino isn't content to stand still and wallow in the angst.  This month, Mayama's coworkers figure out what's going on between them and call him out on it:



And while he vehemently denies it, they're totally right.  It's something that manga characters (or any character involved in a romantic triangle) do, in order for an author to maintain tension, but Umino looks it right in the face, examining it and pointing out how cruel it is for someone to do that to a person they supposedly care about.  That's what I love about her; she loves to pick these tropes apart rather than just exploit them for dramatic purposes.

But she still brings the comedy, in scenes involving Ayu's terrible cooking skills (and the high regard that underclassmen show toward her):



And Hagu's artistic nature:



I love that panel; I spot Dali and Da Vinci there, but I'm not sure who the others are, especially that weird-looking girl.

So, unsurprisingly, this series continues to be excellent.  I love the combination of comedy and drama, and Umino's art feels quite unique.  We're lucky to get to read something this good over on this side of the Pacific.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

In this other excellent series, we get a dramatic chapter that shows how well-developed Hinako Ashihara's characters are.  Last month, Ann met up with the runaway Fuji after having a really bad argument with her boyfriend, Daigo.  In an attempt to get Fuji to contact the family that is so worried about him, she applies for a job at his workplace, a host club.  There are some hijinx involving her working a somewhat disreputable job, but the real focus of the chapter is her relationship with Fuji.  As a pampered rich kid who was never happy, he's taken the opportunity to "find himself", getting his hands dirty and learning about the real world.  And while Ann isn't exactly in love with him (although I'm still suspecting she will end up with him in the end), she still cares for him quite a bit.  They also end up spending time with Haruka, a thirty-something coworker who supports four kids as a single mom.  She took Fuji under her wing, and he has learned a lot from her:



Ann is also in a state of flux at the moment.  Being a teenager is hard enough, but with everything she's gone through, she's unsure of a lot of things.  For one, she thought Daigo was always going to be there for her, but their relationship seems to be falling apart.  A scene of them awkwardly trying to have a phone conversation is just heartbreaking:



And Haruka's description of her children as her "hope" only serves to depress Ann further:



Ashihara has a real handle on the mental state of teenagers here; the constant mix of emotion and sense that personal events are of world-shaking importance comes through, but not to the point where it gets tiresome.  It just seems realistic, and compelling.  And sad; we want nothing more than for poor Ann to be okay.  Will she make it through her adolescence intact?  I sure hope so!  I know I'll be tuning in each month, eager to find out.
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And that is all.  Probably not a huge amount of content in the near future; I'm finishing up a few books, but I just got Neal Stephenson's new book, Anathem, and I imagine that will overtake much of my mental space for a while.  But I'll try not to disappear or anything.