Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shojo Beat: Chicks dig vampires

Hey, get this: I thought it was going to be tomorrow, but it turns out that today marks two years of writing on this here blog.  How about that?  Normally, for milestones like this, I try to link to what I consider good or notable posts, but I don't feel like doing the work today.  Hey, I've got a kid; it's impressive that I can muster the energy for the content I do manage to write.  So, enjoy:

Shojo Beat
December 2008

So this is the Vampire Knight issue (as opposed to other issues that only seemed like they focused on that series), which means a special section dedicated to Matsuri Hino's series, and also lots of other vampire-related content, including mentions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, and Cirque du Freak.  That special section is a "guide" to the series, offering eleven pages of content, including a story summary, a timeline, a "relationship chart" (which I can only assume was inspired by my own work), fan art, a crossword, a brief look at the anime adaptation, and a good deal of other stuff.  This kind of seems like overkill, but an offhand mention that Vampire Knight is the top-selling manga that falls under the Shojo Beat umbrella makes it understandable.  Anything to keep those girls reading about the bloodsuckers.

In addition, there's a nice video game section which mentions several upcoming titles and includes a page about the best game heroines (the list includes Samus Aran, Princess Zelda, Chun-Li, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, and, for some reason, the chick from Mirror's Edge).  And a blurb about vampire-themed games, of course.

The preview chapter this month is from a series called Heaven's Will, but I can't remember a thing about it, outside of thinking it was kind of lame.  Looking back, it's about a girl who doesn't like scary stuff, but (get ready for irony) she is constantly followed around by ghosts that only she can see.  She ends up meeting a strange guy who exorcises ghosts, and he decides to help her.  He also dresses as a girl for some reason, and he has a vampire pal that can turn into a wolf.  And, it's very boring, maybe because the main character is so weak-willed that she seems like a empty void at the center of the series.  Who knows, maybe it gets better, but the short excerpt here doesn't make me want to search the series out.

I'm not sure why, but most of the chapters this month didn't exactly wow me, so hopefully I'll have something coherent to say about them.  None of them are bad (except Haruka, but that's a given), but it seemed like a bunch of fairly inconsequential stories ended up all appearing during the same month.  Or maybe I was just in a weird mood while reading them.  Uh, read on?

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

And with this chapter, a thousand slash fanfiction writers are born.  I won't spoil what exactly happens, but there's a moment here that is incredibly homoerotic, seeming like something that "that type" of fan siezes on rabidly.  It works pretty well in the context of the series too though, entangling the leads further into their weird, screwed-up relationship.  Plus there's some actual action, which is rare but always welcome in this perpetual mope-fest.  There's also a scene where Kaname tells Yuki he loves her, but you know Hino's not doing anything to upset the balance of the Yuki/Kaname/Zero love triangle, so I predict many more uncertain gazes and hesitant conversations in the future.  Not a bad chapter overall, even if there is still too much of the tiresome vampire politics that I'm always complaining about.  I'll keep reading.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

While this is one of my favorite series, it's been only good, not great, lately.  My theory is that it's because of the continued absence of Morita, the most entertaining character (there's even an extended in-story callback to the Twister scene from around six months ago).  But it looks like that might change soon; however, for the time being, we've got more decent stories about our cast.  The two chapters this month mostly focus on Takemoto, who is struggling to complete his senior project and graduate (not to mention find a job).  He realizes here that he's not yet ready to be an adult; he hasn't figured out what he wants to do yet:

He ends up overworking himself and stressing out about his future, to the point that he gets an ulcer and ends up in the hospital, prompting a visit from his mom and step-dad.  He ends up deciding to continue on at the school for another year, which is an odd decision for both the character and the creator.  Maybe this is representative of a common Japanese struggle to come to terms with adulthood (see also Solanin, possibly my favorite comic of 2008), but it seems kind of like wheel-spinning on Umino's part, keeping her characters from growing because it's easier to tell stories with them in the same familiar situation.  That's unfortunate, but hopefully it's just a small bump in the road.

Umino still gets the chance to deliver at least one moving scene, in which Takemoto flashes back to a memory of his late father:

It's a beautiful look at the way we hold on to precious memories, and scenes like this make the series worthwhile, even if I don't like the direction in which the characters are going.  Hey, every series has an off chapter or two, and if this is the low point, I can't complain too much.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

And...the series starts to get ridiculous.  Last month, Yura seemed to do well at her audition, and so she gets a callback this month.  She ends up accidentally meeting the director of the project, and sharing a bowl of the noodles that they will be promoting.  Wow, what a coincidence, right?  I don't think it's spoiling anything to reveal that this meeting was the actual audition, since it's pretty obvious while it's going on.  But it works in the story; we can see that the director uses this method to get the most authentic reaction he can:

But that's not the ridiculous part.  No, that comes when Yura gets the part, and finds out it's some sort of strange noodle-themed TV show (as Chris Butcher would say, Japan), and she'll be starring alongside Haruka, a famous pop star who we learn is actually the twin brother of Q-ta, Yura's love interest.  Q-ta is also a pop star, and he'll be doing the music for the show.  And this is the ridiculous bit: Haruka discerns that Q-ta likes Yura, so he makes a big show of giving her a congratulatory kiss in front of everybody, prompting Q-ta to do the same.  Oy.  That's just silly, especially in a country where that sort of public display of affection/invasion of personal space is taboo.  But it's probably not meant to be taken too seriously, and it makes for decent drama with a bit of a humorous edge.  Not bad; Aihara makes some pretty entertaining manga.  This is one to keep an eye on.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Volleyball action!  I'm always excited when this series gets around to actual on-panel competition, and what we see here is pretty exciting, enjoyable stuff.  Takanashi does a really good job of depicting the athleticism of the characters and the intensity of the matches; whenever a match becomes the center of the series' drama, I always dig it:

And it's good that the game gets some prominence, because the off-court drama is not some of Takanashi's best.  This game, Nobara's team is playing a school that almost always makes it to the national tournament.  The top player on the other team was established as pretty villainous a couple months ago, but we learn here that not only is she mean and avaricious, but she turned her back on her friends to gain a position on the starting roster.  If only she had a moustache, she would be twirling it ferociously.  It's not really necessary to establish this backstory; she's already the bad guy, and any drama involving her and her teammates only distracts from the main characters.  I suppose Takanashi could surprise me and come up with something really good, but, well, I'll be surprised if that's what happens.  But still: volleyball!  I should stop complaining.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

I had thought this series might be nearing the end of its run, but Wikipedia says it ran for ten volumes in Japan, so it definitely still has a ways to go.  And that's nice; it's been consistently good so far.  The last few chapters have been hard to read, since the drama was amped up to high levels that were uncomfortably realistic.  But this month is the "tension release" chapter in which everything gets worked out, or at least brought back down to a livable level.  When we saw them last, Daigo told Ann that he would call her when he had things figured out, but three months have passed, and he still hasn't called.  Ann is still waiting (fairly) patiently, hoping he'll be able to figure things out.  But Daigo is still agonizing over how to be the best boyfriend he can, worried that he'll do more to upset her when all he wants is to help her and be there for her.  He gets a good pep talk from his boss, who gives him the perspective of someone with years of relationship experience:

Meanwhile, Ann has a realization of her own when a friend of hers who had been bouncing from boyfriend to boyfriend, never forming a relationship that was anything more than superficial, actually finds someone she cares about and establishes a meaninful relationship with him.  She tells Ann about how with other guys she always expected something from them, but with this guy, she wants to do things for him and make him happy.  It's the kind of epiphany that can result when you actually form a real, mature relationship, and that's something I love about this series: the way it looks at romantic relationships beyond the surface level, getting into the meat of being someone's partner.  This is exactly the sort of thing that stories for teenagers should be about, rather than stupid romantic comedy movies that make it seem like everything is going to be all right after the guy interrupts the girl's wedding to give a stirring speech.  I dunno, maybe lots of young adult stories are like this, and I'm just not familiar with the stuff that teen girls read.

But back to the story!  While it does take a realistic approach to relationships, it's not above the romantic moments, like the touching reunion that Ann and Daigo have here.  I may be a cynical bastard, but I'm not so stone-hearted that I don't get moved by scenes like this.  As always, well done.

Hey, that didn't turn out as bad as I thought it would.  I don't know why I always think this stuff is going to suck; must be low self-esteem.  Next month: more in this vein!  Be there!