Sunday, May 17, 2009

Shojo Beat: Again with the raping?

No links? That probably makes for better reading.

Shojo Beat
June 2009

In non-comics content, this issue has some interesting articles about DIY and crafting and that sort of thing, which is nice if you can do any of that.  Oh, to be a teenage girl with lots of free time.  I liked the bit about papercraft; that's fun.  There's also an interview with Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier about their manga-style X-Men: Misfits comic.  The video game page is also neat, alerting me to goofy titles like Noby Noby Boy (from the creator of Katamari Damacy) and Hammerin' Hero.  

But enough of that; on to the manga:

Kimi Ni Todoke
By Karuho Shiina

This preview chapter gets the cover this month, but that image is an odd one, since it implies that all three characters will play a role in the series, but the two flanking characters only get bit parts, at least in this first installment.  No, the focus is on Sawako, a girl who is struggling with her image, since she looks like a character from a J-horror movie.  In fact, her classmates have given her the nickname "Sadako", after the character from The Ring (or Ringu, if you want to specify the Japanese original from the American remake).  Being the shy sort (manga stereotype #something or other), she doesn't speak up, trying to get on their good side and be included whenever she can.  It seems like a tiresome conflict, until you remember that for teenagers, the image you're stuck with can be inescapable, and the desire to fit in can be overwhelming.

Anyway, the real central relationship of the series appears to be between Sawako and Shota, a nice boy that seeks to include everyone and is super-sweet.  He talks to Sawako even though everyone spreads the rumor that she can curse you if you make eye contact with her!  He remembers her actual name, rather than her nickname!  She might melt with happiness!  It's all rather cute, although Shota does seem a bit over the top in his perfection.  Further chapters will probably introduce more in the way of conflict (and angst.  You can't have a high school shojo series without angst).  But judging by this sample, it'll probably be a decent good time.  Check it out, if it sounds to your liking.

Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

Man, if last month's rape imagery wasn't enough, now we've got more in the way of sexual aggression, with extra creepiness in the way of teenage sexuality.  Last month, Nobara got locked in a closet by Kaz, the obnoxious guy who has been pursuing her.  Now, he threatens her and Yushin, saying he's "dying to corrupt [her]", and sort of forcing himself on her.  Who knows what he actually intends to do, since Yushin ends up rescuing her before anything happens, but it's still a disturbing scene:

This is serious stuff for a younger-readers series, but I suppose it's somewhat realistic, right down to Nobara's reluctance to report Kaz for fear of getting herself or Yushin in trouble.  At least we get some decent character moments out of the conflict, with the young couple and their friends commiserating over their troubles and being cute.  The conflict with Kaz might not be over, so we'll see what happens next month.  I hope it doesn't get even uglier.

Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

Ai yi yi, Miki Aihara really amps up the awkwardness for her characters, doesn't she?  It can get tiresome; hopefully she'll eventually develop Yura beyond the simpering introvert she appears to be in most chapters of this series.  This chapter sees Yura return to the show/commercial she tried to quit, only to be belittled and humiliated by a surprise guest star, an actress who is an old rival of her mother's.  The woman might be modeled on a Japanese celebrity, since her appearance seems oddly specific:

Or maybe it's a cultural reference of some sort that doesn't really translate.  Whatever the case, she's a mean lady, referring to Yura, the child of famous parents, as a "thoroughbred" and saying things like "she must be a terrific actress.  After all, she comes from such stellar genes."  And Yura, of course, freezes up, acting all stiff and wooden and unable to get into character, making for some incredibly cringe-worthy scenes.  Aihara seems to delight in tormenting both her characters and her readers; who wants to see the main character fail?  The chapter ends with the promise that she's going to turn things around, so next month should be a relief.  I just hate to have to wait that long to see some redemption.

Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Oh boy, it's more in the way of creepy complications in every teeage girl's favorite vampire series.  I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum last month, but this month's cover blares the fact that Yuki is now a vampire, so I guess the cat is out of the bag.  And so is the ickiness; with the revelation that Yuki is Kaname's sister, their relationship is now especially gross, even with the assertion that "it is not uncommon in a pureblood lineage for siblings to marry".  Yuck.  But if you can get past that, or if you want to just glory in the wrongness, scenes like this one will certainly float your boat:

The sexual undertones of this series have rarely been more blatant; just look at the toes pushing into the bedsheets.  Hawt?

The series has certainly taken a dramatic turn, and Hino seems to be ramping up for a big confrontation, with an evil vampire planning to kill Kaname and/or Yuki and steal their powers, and Zero getting caught up in the middle of it, along with many of the other Night Class students.  Exciting stuff; I'm anticipating the next chapter in spite of myself.  Looks like I'm on board this weird-ass series, at least for now.

Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

There appears to be some actual character development this month, as Takemoto continues on his journey of self-discovery.  He gets a nice scene in which a loudmouth kid at the construction site confronts him, saying that his wandering around trying to find himself is selfish, since not everyone has that kind of luxury.  He can't stop and do the easy thing, he has to face his fear of the future and keep moving on.  The old boss has some nice words of wisdom about that:

Meanwhile, Mayama, Morita, and Professor Hanamoto are worrying about Yamada, trying to figure out how to encourage her to move on and get over Mayama.  It's the usual emotional angsting, but a bit in which Morita becomes convinced that he has to throw Yamada off a roof (don't ask) leads to this nice bit of slapstick comedy:

I like Chica Umino's comedy style on the series, with characters often lapsing into sort of rough, cartoony versions of themselves, and she uses that wonderfully in the physical tussling of the first few panels there, but then opens it up in the final panel, placing a small image of Morita against a straight-lined background and an expansive sky for maximum effect.  It's a great bit of composition.

The second chapter in this issue is another good one, focusing on Hagu as she connects to one of her art students.  He's a go-getter, trying to live up to his family's expectations by getting perfect grades and getting into a prestigious school, and he hopes that he can win an art prize to better his chances.  His rants about expectations and goals strike deep, making her realize exactly what is wrong with her life, since she isn't painting for the joy of it anymore, but just for recognition and to further her career.  It's a profound, moving moment, the kind that Umino does so well, and the chapter builds to an emotional crescendo and ends on a perfect, moving image that sums everything up wonderfully.  Stuff like this is why I love this series so much; Umino can wrangle a large cast as they move through some fascinating emotional turmoil, and she mixes comedy and emotional drama in the perfect amounts.  It's a pleasure to read, month after month.

Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

Oh, the emotional turmoil is so hard-hitting!  This series has gone from a wonderful bit of recognition at the complexities of relationships to a painful observation of the things people do that can hurt themselves and others when they aren't willing to move on from traumatic moments.  Ann can't get over Daigo, even though she has now slept with Fuji, and he knows it.  He tells her that he's okay with it, but this is obviously unhealthy for both of them.  Hinako Ashihara depicts the emotional tangles so well, and so painfully that the reader shares in the characters' discomfort:

The bottom-right panel there is great, isn't it?  We see Fuji from Ann's point of view, and the way his image fades into darkness is so sad, showing the increasing distance between them, and the blackness of their moods.  This is tough stuff.

The rest of the chapter separates Ann and Fuji, with Fuji traveling back to Shimane to visit his family, where he ends up running into Daigo and sort of bonding over their mutual emotional turmoil with Ann.  When they realize that neither of them will ever be as important to Ann as her mother, it's a tough, but true moment.

And in Ann's half of the story, she ends up stumbling into some shocking information when she accidentally overhears a conversation between her dad and his friend Kaede.  Surprising few, it turns out that they were a couple, and now she is pregnant, but she wants to break up and raise the baby herself, since she doesn't think he wants to be with her.  It's a revelatory moment for Ann, as she realizes that some things are bigger than her adolescent issues.  As ever, it's some great storytelling from Ashihara; she really has a handle on the emotional landscapes of her characters, and the way she bounces them off each other is exquisite.  Maybe all this will help Ann realize the position her mother holds, and enable her to scale her emotions to relate to those who are still around to receive her love.  The fact that I'm this involved in the outcome speaks volumes about Ashihara's skill.  I'm excited to see what she does next.

Wow, this was a good issue!  Next month can't get here fast enough.