Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shojo Beat: The key to romance is lots of heavy touching

Hey, has anybody been following Dick Hyacinth's compilation of best-of-2008 lists?  I love that stuff.  Here's a good post about the various issues and type of lists and whatnot.  Fun stuff.  And by the way, I've been working on my own list, but I really doubt I'm going to feel like I can finalize it until at least sometime in early-to-mid January.  There's just too much that I need to read before I can be sure I'll have read enough, and that's not even including the stuff that I'm sure I won't get to (Kramers Ergot, anyone?).  But hey, that means it's been a good year, right?

Oh, and here's my review of Punisher War Zone #2.  Enjoy the Ennis/Dillon violence-making.

Shojo Beat
January 2009



Hey, what's Sof' Boy doing on the cover?  There's a cross-promotion I wasn't expecting!  But aside from that, there's not much non-comics content of note this month.  Maybe the "planning a New Year's party with shojo-manga-based activities" article is worth mentioning?  Actually, I thought this month's installment of "Drawing With Yuu" was funny.  I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, but that's an instructional manga that runs in each issue, written and drawn by Yuu Watase (creator of Absolute Boyfriend, Fushigi Yugi, and others).  It's usually two or three pages long, and it has followed the travails of a would-be mangaka who is receiving instruction from Watase herself.  It's rarely all that interesting (unless, I assume, you're an aspiring comics creator and you're taking all the lessons to heart), but this one had some funny bits, in which the artist was trying to come up with a great line for her main male character to say at a key moment:



I thought that was funny.  There are a couple other amusing bits, including the artist thinking really hard about what to have her characters say, and the character experiencing a horniness-indicating projectile nosebleed.  Good times.  

Anyway, on with the manga:

Otomen
By Aya Kanno

This looks like it could be a pretty entertaining series.  The concept is that a teenage boy named Asuka really likes girly things (shojo manga, teddy bears, jewelry, knitting, etc.), but he feels that he can't be un-manly, so he hides his proclivities and throws himself into macho, honorable stuff like kendo and karate.  But he feels his facade slipping when he starts to fall for a girl named Ryo, leading to complications and conflicts, including dealing with a rival who is a bit of a ladies' man.  That's not a bad setup, and Kanno seems to do some fun stuff with it, even in this short excerpt of the first chapter.  I love the way Asuka stoically helps Ryo do some sewing for a craft project:



There are some clunky bits, including some pages of the shojo manga that Asuka reads that show up without any warning, but maybe that will begin to make more sense when reading a longer portion of the series.  I would definitely give it a try.

The Magic Touch
By Izumi Tsubaki

This other preview chapter has a goofy-yet-endearing concept for a series: massage!  The original title translates as "Romance from the Thumbs", which is much funnier, but probably less commercial.  The story goes: Chiaki is a member of her high school's massage club, and she loves to massage people.  She notices this guy who has a back that is crying out for a rubdown, and she decides she has to give him a massage.  But it turns out he's the most popular boy in school, and kind of a jerk, so she's going to have to convince him to submit to her touch, and she'll probably end up falling in love with him too.  It's pretty silly, but enjoyable nonetheless.  In fact, it almost seems like a parody of shojo tropes while still remaining firmly within the genre (similar to something like Yakitate!! Japan or Ouran High School Host Club, from what I understand), even including stereotypical elements like an evil twin sister who foists the consequences of all her naughty activities on Chiaki, or a group of girls confronting her for daring to mess with the popular boy, or the heroine being especially clumsy when it comes to anything outside of her area of expertise.  It's pretty fun.  The only thing that weirds me out a little bit is Tsubaki's tendency to draw eyebrows as if they are somehow floating above characters' hair, and pointing outward like insect antennae:



But that's easily overlookable, once you get used to it.  Especially when most every other aspect of the series is so enjoyable (I included the full page there, since there's at least one good joke in that scene).  The translation might have been difficult, since there are obviously some Japanese puns that make no sense in English, but that just makes some scenes seem strange and surreal (especially a bit involving an octopus).  This is another one that I would definitely read a full volume of if given the chance.  In fact, one wonders why the magazine continues to run an execrable series like Haruka, when Viz has series like this waiting in the wings.  I think I might have to make it my personal mission to get that series replaced with something that's good, or at least readable.

Oh well, speak of the devil:

Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

Why do I keep talking about this series, when I generally hate it so much?  I guess its presence in the magazine means I at least read it each month, so I think about why it does or doesn't work.  Or what the appeal is, since somebody must like it enough to keep running it in the magazine.  In the past, I've pondered the fact that it might have surpassed even my generous level of girliness.  But I might have hit on another aspect this month, that being prettiness.  As much as I dislike the characters, plot, and storytelling of the series, I will admit that the art is generally quite nice.  That is, it's nice if you like looking at pretty pictures and don't mind that they don't convey action, character, movement, location, or most anything useful for providing information to the reader.  For instance, here's a typical page:



Now, I could harp on the bizarre layout there, but if you ignore that you're supposed to be able to tell what's happening, it's a beautiful image of falling flower petals.  Really, I think the appeal here is supposed to be pretty pictures, cute boys, and little else.  The flimsy plot and lame characters surely can't be what brings in the readers, can it?

Of course, this is all speculation, since I obviously dislike the series and wish it would go away.  I could be completely wrong here, just missing the fact that the audience has bad taste.  

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Drama time!  Well, that's a given in this series, but this chapter introduces a new source of the series' energy by having Zero's evil twin Ichiru enroll in the school, presumably to get revenge on his brother (I won't go into what he's avenging; it's too complicated).  And while the other students like him, since he seems to be a more friendly version of Zero, he shows his true colors right away:



Ooh, what a meanie!  And...that's about it for the chapter.  Sure, there's some stuff about Zero being unhappy that he owes Kaname his life, and Kaname refusing to tell Yuki what he knows about her past, and a continuing plot against Kaname by an evil vampire, but none of that is all that interesting.  Maybe it will pay off in the future; we seem to be in "set up an upcoming confrontation" mode, which makes up probably about 75% of this series.  But those confrontations can be immensely entertaining when they do show up, so I'm hoping one happens soon.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

We get some good athletics in this chapter, along with some nice on-court drama.  In this match, Tomoyo seems to really flower, jumping to another level of skill and leading her team to a possible victory.  She's the character who was a star player at a different school, but had to quit due to an injury.  But Nobara managed to convince her to join the team, and now she's reaching the culmination of that comeback.  It's a nice realization of a long-running minor plot.  And it gets maximum drama here when the mean players on the opposing team start to target her, and maybe even aggravate her injury on purpose.  We do get a little bit of characterization from those players, so they don't just seem like one-dimensionally-evil villains, and it's a nice effort on Takanashi's part to make all the characters seem like real people and not just plot devices.  I suspect this will play into the climactic game next issue, as everything comes to a head.  It's good athletic drama, which is one of the things this series does best.  More, please.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Man, shojo is all about drama, isn't it?  Of course it is, and this series is doing its best to keep the drama quotient high each issue.  This chapter sees Yura worry about her possible crush on the pop idol who seems to like her, but probably only because he idolizes her dad (who is a famous musician).  And while his brother (also a pop idol, and her costar on a TV show) seems to hate her, he might be coming around when he gets a glimpse of her private life.  That being her horrible relationship with her evil, condescending mother (a famous actress).  Wow, that lady is a great villain; when she runs into Yura, she belittles everything about her efforts to be an actress, saying "I guess if you tell people you're our daughter, then you can enjoy the fun parts of being a celebrity."  Ooh, don't you just want to hate her?  

I like Aihara's art style here; she's very expressive, especially when it comes to Yura's dismay and embarrassment.  She has an interesting style of doing chibi, or super-deformed art; rather than making the character smaller and more cartoony, she simply removes details from the face, often depicting little-to-no nose, giving the face a smooth profile, or drawing the mouth more simply:



It's an interesting technique, and it works pretty good for showing Yura's emotions, especially since she's so easily-flustered.  Yeah, I'm liking this series pretty well; Aihara does a great job of getting us to root for Yura to succeed, and I definitely want to see it happen in the future.  But more drama is certainly okay in the meantime.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Morita's back!  That's the big event of this month in this series; he spent a year of story time away in the United States, so having him show up and immediately resume his wacky ways is great to see.  But he gets an excellent re-entry scene, with the rest of the gang witnessing him accepting the "Mocademy Award" for visual effects in a movie called Space Titanic; his acceptance speech ends up being a 35-minute tirade against the tyrannical director:



Ah, that's funny stuff.  There's also a really bizarre moment involving a butch nurse:



Wow, that makes no sense.  I think it's a reference to another manga?  The art style reminds me of Cromartie High School, but I think that itself was referencing manga by Ryuichi Ikegami, so I don't know what exactly Umino is pointing to.  But it's still a hilarious, weird scene, and it made me laugh, so what the hey.

The rest of the month is dedicated to pondering college graduation and dealing with more of the Mayama/Ayu relationship.  Also, Morita manages to finally graduate, but then he re-enrolls in the painting department.  Yup, looks like we're doing the "make sure the characters stay in place" thing again.  It's a decent couple of chapters, and there are definitely some funny bits, but I'm not feeling the personal, dramatic moments like I have in the past.  But we'll see, maybe next month will bring more goodness.  In the meantime, there's this funny scene of Takemoto imagining Morita and Hagu comparing accomplishments:



Ah, that's funny.  More, please.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Did I mention that shojo generally means drama?  Because here's another example, as Ann finds out about her friend Shika's troubles and worries that she's headed for ruin.  It's some well-done teenage drama, and there's one especially nice undercurrent, in which Shika tells Ann about a dream in which she is being chased by shadows, and she reaches to Daigo for help, but is unable to reach him.  Ann starts having the same dream, but she does reach Daigo, only to pull him down into the shadows with her.  It's a great contrast between the two characters; Shika likes Daigo, but feels that he doesn't care about her, and thinks he won't help her as she sinks into depression and despair.  Ann, on the other hand, is worried that her problems will only end up hurting Daigo; she can't bear to bring him any pain, even if he's trying to help her by taking on some of her emotional burdens.  Man, those girls can be complicated.  It's sad stuff, but realistic and in-character.  I'm constantly impressed with how well Ashihara has defined her characters.  And she turns in some really nice artwork too; check out this scene of Ann finding Shika lying by a stream:



Wow, that's beautiful stuff.  I really dig this series.  Let's hope it continues to be this good for a long time.
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Whoa, that's the issue.  More next month!