Sunday, March 15, 2009

Feminine Monster Mash interlude: Shojo Beat continues to enthrall well below my age level

More murders coming tomorrow, or whenever.  Right now it's time for the monthly dose of girly stuff.

Shojo Beat
April 2009

Good issue this month, with the theme of art to fill up the non-comics content.  That means an article about Japanese artists who specialize in kawaii (a.k.a. the cuteness), including Junko Mizuno and Takashi Murakami; details on the annual contest to draw the magazine's "Beat Girl" mascot, which saw some really good entries last year; and spotlights on five popular shojo artists: Ai Yazawa, Clamp, Kaori Yuki, Matsuri Hino, and Arina Tanemura.  I especially liked that last one, since I like examination of what artists do effectively.  And the manga ain't bad either:

Tail of the Moon Prequel: The Other Hanzo(u)
By Rinko Ueda

That's a clunky title, isn't it?  I guess the parentheses are necessary to point out that the love interest here has almost the same name as the one in the regular Tail of the Moon series.  I haven't read that one (other than the preview which ran in the magazine back when Viz started publishing the series), but I think it's fairly popular.  I always thought it was an odd, kind of anti-feminist concept for a series though, with the main character, a girl ninja in feudal Japan, trying to get Hattori Hanzo to fall in love with her so she can bear his child.  That seems like a cultural thing that would fly better in Japan than the U.S.  And this is another one, with a main character who works in a brothel (although not as a prostitute).  She ends up falling in love with Hanzou, a member of the imperial guard who frequents the red light district, having made sure to spend time with every girl there.  But innocent Kaguya might be the one to tame his heart and get him to commit!  What a wonderful message; it's cool for guys to sleep around, but if you're lucky, he'll settle down with you and walk away from those other girls.  Sure, it works as part of the culture from the time period, but the series still seems to go out of its way to excuse the guy's behavior because he's so good-looking.

There's also a plot about amnesia, and some action and intrigue, which makes it seem like an enjoyable enough story, and the fact that it's only one volume long makes it seem like a nice, focused tale.  I'm just troubled enough by the Hanzou's whoremongering to be kind of grossed out by it.  If you can get past that, it's probably a good little manga, especially for fans of the regular series.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Has this series finally cohered into something that I might actually be excited to read?  Probably not, but this might be the strongest chapter of the series so far, with the promise of actual answered questions, threats that feel important, and some possible real development of the characters.  That last one is probably not going to work out, but the series seems to actually be experiencing some forward movement, which is quite refreshing.

Yuki is acting kind of crazy, and in a nice change from her usual submissive nature, she's suddenly being strong and forward; when Zero tries to check on her, she actually attacks him and yells at him for always giving in to her selfishness.  It's a nice reversal on the usual dominant/submissive relationships of the series, and while Yuki will probably go back to her old, quiet self soon, it's good to see her assert herself.  And her visions, which have been showing up whenever she tries to remember her past, are getting progressively gorier:

We've also got a big confrontation between Kaname and his evil uncle, who has possessed his son's body in order to do...something evil, I guess.  But the confrontation involves a giant dragon made out of stone, and the dilemma of whether it's okay to harm Shiki, who is just asking as a vessel for his father.  This might be the first time I've actually felt interested in the various vampire intrigue plots.  And next month promises to reveal Yuki's lost memories!  We'll see if that actually happens, but for maybe the first time in the entire series, I'm pretty interested to find out.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Breaking up is hard to do, as they say, and Ann is still having trouble letting go of Daigo.  But she's actually consented to date Fuji now, so she's at least making an attempt to move on.  And she cares about Fuji, so she's making an effort to be close to him, even if he's too shy to kiss her and kind of uptight about her history with their mutual friend.  But when a jealous friend from Shimane tells her that Daigo is now dating Ayumu, she kind of freaks out:

Of course, Daigo isn't actually dating her; the girl lied to Ann because she had a crush on Fuji.  It's more of the sharp characterization that Ashihara does so well.  Things aren't as quite as melodramatic at the moment as they can sometimes get in this series, but it seems true to the characters, and it's nice to watch them struggle with the sort of thing that we've all gone through.  Things might seem to have really high stakes to them, but as people who lived through those years, we can view it with affectionate distance.  Unless readers are in their teens themselves, in which case they can probably relate, and see that they're not the only ones in the world that feel that way.  It's good stuff; each new chapter fleshes out the characters more and more, and it's like spending time with friends.  I can't wait to see what happens next.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

It's back to the interpersonal drama, now that the big game is over, but the series continues to keep the interest, with various romantic complications for the characters, and preparation for future matches.  There's a nice moment between Tomoyo and Nobara, in which they discuss Haibuki.  And the recruitment of a player to fill in while Tomo is laid up recovering from her knee injury is enjoyably goofy.  But the real highlight is the weird, homely haircut that Nobara sports at one point:


Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Man, it's one step forward, two steps back for this series.  After the self-empowerment a few chapters ago, Yura seemed to be making some progress with her self-confidence, but this chapter sees her go spiraling back into the depths of self-doubt after finding out that Keiichi, her trusted manager, leaked the identities of her famous parents to the press.  He had worthwhile reasons for doing so, because it would have come out eventually, and it is her most marketable trait, but she wants to be able to make it as an actress on her own, without relying on the reputation of her hated progenitors.  So she goes into "poor me" mode, trying to run away and making an attempt to refuse the help of her pseudo-boyfriend, Q-ta.  She's sure to bounce back, but it's not very fun to see her whining about betrayal.  There is a nice moment that happens when Q-ta brings her to his brother Haruka's (his rival and her co-star) apartment, making him sort of jealous.  While Q-ta seems like the wonderful boyfriend right now, it's almost certain that he will end up doing something to alienate Yura, and Haruka will change his stern ways (but only slightly) and end up with her.  At least, judging by Aihara's previous work, that seems likely.  It's nice to see them all play off each other for the time being, and hopefully the plot will turn back to Yura's continued growth in talent and confidence.  It should be fun to watch.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

Last month saw Takemoto spontaneously take off, riding his bike away from his troubles and refusing to turn back.  Looks like he's on one of those journeys of self-discovery.  This leads to a flurry of funny moments between the rest of the gang, as they worry about him and what made him leave:

We also learn about Professor Hanamoto's repeated attempts to do the same in his younger days, which is pretty amusing.  We also see Takemoto attempting to cope on his own, and the different settings make for a nice contrast, and some of the good introspective moments that have been showing up in insufficient quantities in this series lately.  Several of the other characters get some nice moments too: Hagu realizes she'll have to make a choice between comfort and artistic progression after she graduates, Morita manages to do some of his own self-actualization, and Ayu tries to figure out her relationship with Nomiya.  It makes for a good couple of chapters, with plenty of the funny moments and character development that Umino does so well.  Yep, I'll keep reading this series, and hopefully digging it.

That's everything?  Looks like it.  I didn't seem to have too much to say this month, but that probably won't last for too long.  See you next time.