Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shojo Beat: It's all over

Newses: The Beguiling is putting out a translation of Francois Ayroles' Key Moments from the History of Comics, which I've seen excerpts from here and there and looks pretty great. Chris Butcher has some examples of good cartoons from the book.

Paul Tobin and Dustin Weaver are doing a Tintin homage in an upcoming issue of Fantastic Four Giant-Size Adventures, and Weaver has a sample image at his site. Looks neat.

Another announcement: Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber have a new creator-owned miniseries coming out from Image called Underground, about a park ranger chasing some bad guys through a cave. That should be one to watch for. Here's the info at Parker's site.

Finally, you can see a preview of the works in Jim Mahfood and Scott Campbell's upcoming collaborative art show here. Supreme Broship! Wish I could go check it out.

Shojo Beat
July 2009


Well, this is just weird. It's the final issue of the magazine, but there's no official indication within the issue itself that the magazine has been cancelled; in fact, one article mentions that this marks the fourth anniversary. You would think the letter from the editor would say something, but it's business as usual, talking about the month's content (I can't complain too much though, because the manga "pick of the month" is Pluto). The only indication that the anthology is ending is that the final page, which usually has some "coming next month" blurbs, shows cover images of most of the manga in the Shojo Beat imprint, and the caption at the end of each chapter of manga, which usually says something like "Will Nobara's team be able to come from behind and win? Find out next month!", says "Find out in volume 12!" with a picture of the upcoming volume's cover. It definitely seems that the cancellation came suddenly; it's really too bad.

Anyway, it's a pretty good issue in the non-manga department, with a big feature about sights to see in Tokyo if you ever get a chance to visit. There's also an promo article about a cute-looking upcoming younger-readers series called ChocoMimi, a mention of an interesting-sounding translated sci-fi novel called The Lord of the Sands of Time, an article by Minty Lewis (of PS Comics) about making and selling your own minicomics, and a short Q&A with Yuu Watase about making manga. Pretty good stuff, all around.

But, as always, it's the manga that counts:

Black Bird
By Kanoko Sakurakoji

Kanoko Sakurakoji had a short series that ran in Shojo Beat a couple years ago called Backstage Prince, and it was, frankly, kind of boring (which might have been why it was only one volume long). So it's good to see her move into something so different , with a series about demons, monster, and assorted supernatural weirdness intermixing with the usual high school comedy-drama. The story: Misao is a boy-crazy high school girl that can see spirits. She's always been able to, and they're usually just annoyances, but they've been getting more agressive as she is about to turn fifteen. At the same time, a couple of cute boys have taken an interest in her, and (get ready for a shojo cliche) she knew one of them as a child, when he promised to take care of her and marry her someday. All is not as benign as it seems though, when one of the boys turns out to be a demon, and suddenly attacks her in a surprisingly gory scene:


It turns out she is a once-in-a-century human who can give powers to demons who drink her blood, eat her flesh, or make her their bride. Yikes. Ryo, the guy who was her childhood friend, saves her from the other guy, also reveals himself as a demon and saves her, but then he takes the opportunity to feel her up. He says he's going to marry her, but he's obviously a horny teenager that's only interested in how he can use her. And now he's going to be her teacher, and she's going to have demons coming after her all the time.

That's a pretty darn good setup for a series, and if Sakurakoji treats Misao as more than a doormat who has to be regularly rescued by Ryo, this could be very interesting, with various demon politics getting mixed up with the outsized emotions of high school life. Yeah, I'd be willing to read this one a bit further.
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Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time
By Tohko Mizuno

I usually try my best to ignore this series, but since this issue marks what will probably be the last time I bother reading or thinking about it, I'll take the chance to complain about its awfulness one more time. The series is near-unreadable, with nonsensical bullshit occurring and Akane, the main character, mooning about and not doing anything while all the pretty guys around her save her again and again. This chapter, she apparently is suffering a crisis in which she fears the powers she has been given, even though this has never been mentioned before. Luckily, one of her bodyguards clues her in when he shares the most banal lesson about swords possible:



No way! Swords are dangerous? Why didn't anybody tell him? We also get some enigmatic spirit messenger telling her to quit bitching and do her magical job already (twenty-some chapters into the series, and the heroine finally gets the motivation to not just sit there and watch the plot go on around her), and some poorly-done slapstick. Business as usual. Also notable is this page, in which Akane is surrounded by the eight Guardians:


But wait! Only seven guardians have been introduced so far, according to the editorial notes at the beginning of the chapter. However, an eighth character, Major General Tachibana, is included. Is he a Guardian or isn't he? The damn story is so confusing that neither the author nor the editors seem to know. God, I hate this series, and not reading it anymore is going to be one of the few good things that comes from the magazine getting cancelled.
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Vampire Knight
By Matsuri Hino

Man, wait a week or so after reading a chapter of this series, and I can't remember what the hell is supposed to be going on. Yuki is a vampire now, and Kaname is getting ready for a showdown with his evil uncle Rido. I guess that's all that I need to know; Matsuri Hino does have a way of dragging these sorts of confrontations out to great length. The best stuff in here is probably a bit in which Yuki (whose hair grew to waist-length when she got all vampiric, for some reason) tries to talk to Zero, but since he hates vampires, he's disgusted with what has happened to her:


And Yuki's response is pretty chilling:


I never thought I'd say it, but I'm impressed by the way Hino is mixing up her characters' motivations and relationships. We also get some mumbo jumbo about twin vampire hunter children who are twins (a.k.a. Zero and Ichiro) usually miscarrying or murdering each other in the womb, but who knows what the hell that is all about. It's all leading up to the big confrontation, which we won't get to see without reading one of the collections (volume 8, according to the final page of this chapter). I don't know if I can bring myself to go out of my way and read that one, but it will be hard to resist picking it up if I see it in a store, just to see what happens.
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Crimson Hero
By Mitsuba Takanashi

This chapter manages to combine the two main aspects of Mitsuba Takanashi's series, those being on-court volleyball action and high school relationship stuff. Nobara is still shaken from the events of the last chapter, so she can't keep it together in the game, and the team loses, making them all realize they still have a lot of improvement to do (oh, those overly emotional females). And then we actually get to see the boys' team play, which is a rarity. That's actually probably the highlight of the chapter, as they seem to have various distractions (including a rival team that's trying to recruit Haibuki to switch to their school) of their own, but they're able to overcome them and play some powerful volleyball on their way to victory. And that's about it for the chapter; more drama next month (or not; make that volume 12).

I don't know if this is a series worth following outside of the magazine; it's been a good series to read each month, but I imagine it could get kind of old trying to read a bunch of chapters all in a row. Lately, it doesn't seem to have much forward momentum; Nobara is pretty much dating Yushin, but there's some supposed drama from them trying to keep their relationship secret. And the games occasionally provide some good sports action and emotional resonance, but they seem to be kind of few and far between. Still, it can be good, and even a sort of off chapter like this one can provide some interesting moments, like this one, in which Takanashi gives us a moment of athleticism that concentrates on emotion and expression rather than what exactly is going on on court:


So, I dunno, it's not bad, but the cancellation of the magazine probably means I'm not going to be reading it anymore, and that's kind of a shame, isn't it?
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Honey Hunt
By Miki Aihara

When we last left Yura, she was having trouble concentrating enough to make it through a script reading. After finally getting some resolve, she's able to get it together this month, eliminating distractions by removing her contact lenses. That's great and everything, but it would be nice if she was able to do her job by just, you know, acting. The oh-so-nervous act is getting tiresome, especially since she only seems to be able to gain the confidence to succeed by having the male characters heap encouragement on her.

In other developments, Yura's manager Keiichi has forbidden Q-ta to pursue her; it's a pretty lame conflict that seems artificially forced in order to create more angst down the line. Oy. I do want to like this series, since I think Miki Aihara can do some really gripping, addictive drama that's not especially realistic, but pretty damn entertaining. She manages some moments here, like a scene in which Yura imagines herself as her character while reading her lines:


But it's just not working all that well at the moment. The drama isn't juicy enough, and the occasional moment of goofiness doesn't do enough to lighten the constant whining. I would hope that it can get better, but given the cancellation of the magazine, I don't really have enough faith in Aihara to keep reading and find out.
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Honey and Clover
By Chica Umino

This month's chapters of this series are the kind of thing that reminds me why I love this series so much. Takemoto's quest of the last few months is still going on, and this month sees what is basically the culmination of his journey, as he reaches Wakkanai, the very "tippy top" of Japan. And there are some great moments getting there, including an encounter with an elderly woman who inspires him with her tales of international travel, a train that reminds him of Night on the Galactic Railroad, and a beautiful moment in which he emerges from a rainstorm into a beautiful, sunny landscape. And Umino even gives a sort of clip show of his untold adventures, suggesting so much more than what actually made it onto the page:


But luckily, she knows better than to drag things out too much, so having reached the high point of the journey, we suddenly get a jump cut to his return and get a reminder of what he has been waiting for:


It's a nice progression of character, with Takemoto maturing enough to come closer to realizing what he wants out of life and even talk to Hagu about his feelings for her. It's always good to see some resolution, or at least forward movement, of long-running character conflicts; we have yet to see how the Takemoto/Hagu/Morita love triangle will play out, but I do feel like something will happen with it, which is nice.

The rest of the chapters this month see Takemoto easing back into his normal lifestyle, with the gang going to a festival and playing some games, the regular sort of thing. There's the usual job-hunting and antics from Morita, but things seem different for at least one character. It should be wonderful to see Umino continue to develop the entire cast.

Yes, that's right, this is definitely a series that I plan to continue to follow. I'll miss reading it each month, but there's no way I'm giving up on it. Starting with volume 8, I'll be all over the collected volumes. Don't let me down, Umino-sensei!
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Sand Chronicles
By Hinako Ashihara

And as for the other series that is almost always a standout, Sand Chronicles continues to be really good. Last month, we found out that Ann's father was going to have a baby with his sort-of-girlfriend Kaede, so now they're going to get married. Ann's grandparents visit Tokyo, which gives us some nice moments between Ann and her grandmother, and Ann also has a heart-to-heart with Kaede about Ann's mother. Ann still has her mother's shadow looming over her, causing her to worry that she will inherit the sensitivity that eventually led to her suicide. It's hard to watch her work out these feelings, but it feels so real, and so heartbreakingly sad:


There's also a nice development in which Ann reconciles with Shika, who treated her really badly while going through a rebellious stage. Shika has gone to a school in Vancouver, and now she and Ann are writing letters to each other, making for a nice bit of emotional catharsis. Really, the whole series is just a wonderful read, with a developing cast of characters that all fit together in a web of relationships and seem so real, whether it's Ann's exasperation at her grandmother's gruffness or the way Fuji still wants the best for her even though she has basically rejected him.

This is another series that I definitely plan to continue to follow. It might be the girliest manga that I really like, but in a good way. It's all about relationships and feelings, but the characters are like friends that I want to know everything about; I cherish every moment I get to spend with them. So starting with volume 7, I'll just be doing that on a less regular basis.
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And there you go, that's Shojo Beat. If I get the motivation to do so, I might try to do a sort of series wrap-up post, talking about the whole darn thing (I did read every single issue, after all). But if I don't get to it, I'll say that I have greatly enjoyed reading it, and I might never have read such wonderful series as Nana, Honey and Clover, and Sand Chronicles without it. I'm sad to see it go; who knows how well I'll be able to explore my feminine side now?