Joining me in this venture is Soliloquy in Blue‘s Michelle Smith. Each week, Michelle and I will chat about manga we’re reading and see where the conversation goes! This week, we discuss titles from Bandai Entertainment, Viz Media, and the recently deceased Go!Comi … Michelle?
MICHELLE: So…. what’s a nice reviewer like you doing in a feature like this? Blog here often? Read any good books lately?
MJ: I have, actually! This week I’ve spent some time with three different manga, all written for women or girls. And I think this ties in a bit with recent discussion of what female readers look for in comics, because despite the fact that these are all written for female readers (and two of them are romances), they couldn’t be more different.
I’ll begin with the first volume of Code Geass Lelouch of the Rebellion: Knight. That’s quite a title there, isn’t it?
MICHELLE: I didn’t actually realize Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion is shojo, but now that I’ve looked it up, I find it ran in Asuka. Interesting. Have you actually read the main series or did you decide to just dive right in with the eye candy?
MJ: It’s funny that you bring up its being shojo, because the only one of the anime series’ adaptations I’d read up to this point was Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunnally, which ran in Comp Ace and is sooo much the opposite, with its incessant panty shots and borderline-loli vibe. After that, this volume–which is not only shojo, but super-duper-extra shojo, focusing on the pretty male characters and even naming itself the “Official Comic Anthology – For Girls”–was a bit of a surprise.
But no, I haven’t read the series proper. I just dove right in. I think, ultimately, this was a mistake. The eye-candy is considerable (not a surprise, when you consider that CLAMP created the original character designs for the anime), but since this is a series of short stories, each by different mangaka, much of the humor hinges on its audience already knowing the characters and their various idiosyncrasies, which of course fell flat on me. On the other hand, the characters are pretty endearing, and it is interesting to see what each mangaka does with the characters, even if you don’t know them well. It reads like a collection of doujinshi, actually. I think for fans it must be a fun read.
So what’s first on your docket this week?
One title that I continue to enjoy, despite the fact that it’s gotten rather repetitive as it approaches its finale, is Cheeky Angel, a VIZ series that wrapped up a couple of years ago. It’s about a tough girl named Megumi who insists she used to be a boy and the bevy of male admirers she attracts at school and eventually inspires to become manlier men. Several of them fancy her, but what’s good about the volumes I read (16-18) is that one of the guys finally realizes he actually likes the heroines’ best friend more, which is a relief to readers, I’m sure, who have been thinking that for ages now.
This series ran in Shonen Sunday, and like its comrades InuYasha and Case Closed features a main story arc (in this case, finding the genie that can return Megumi to her rightful gender) but spends most of its time on episodic stories. Witnessing the cast encountering the same group of thugs over and over does get tiresome, but there’s just something about the characters that makes it entertaining. It’s like a comfort read at this point.
MJ: So Megumi believes she is a boy? Does it actually address her predicament in a serious way, or is it played for laughs?
MICHELLE: There are some serious moments when her conviction wavers and she struggles with what to believe, but they occur less often as the series progresses. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s played for laughs, either. It’s more like Megumi effortlessly kicks some bad guy’s ass and, when people are impressed, replies, “Well, I am a guy.” And there’s the quandary faced by her admirers, who like her and want to help her with her quest, but occasionally realize anew that her success will mean that the beautiful girl they adore will be no more. Sometimes that’s addressed seriously too, but never for very long.
What was your second womanly manga of the week?
MJ: Volume two of Butterflies, Flowers, which is womanly indeed! Or so we’d hoped. You know, I enjoyed the first volume quite a bit. But wow… what is it about these series with controlling men? It always seems to be one sentence that puts the final nail in the coffin for me, and unfortunately it happens really early on in this volume, when Choko says (in internal monologue), “I love Masayuki. I really do. He’s strict but warm. And he always watches over me. Just me.”
Strict but warm? STRICT BUT WARM? Oh, Michelle. That just killed me. I’d say it killed me even more than the infamous, “I get the message,” moment in Black Bird, because I really expected more from Butterflies, Flowers. It’s really a shame, too, because otherwise the series pleases me on a lot of levels. It’s funny, sexy, and even genuinely insightful at times. And there’s not enough funny, sexy, insightful josei out there for us grownup women to enjoy. I’m not necessarily ready to give up on it, but it’s going to have to work pretty hard to win me back after that.
MICHELLE: Haha, yes, I definitely had to raise an eyebrow at that line. It’s little wonder that my favorite moments in that series are the ones in which Masayuki is exhibiting vulnerability—or when Choko has put on her commanding persona—because the rest of the time he’s fairly insufferable. This and Black Bird are probably the two smuttiest titles in the Shojo Beat lineup at the moment, so it’s unfortunate that they have this element in common, too. People can be sexy without being domineering jerks, you know!
MJ: Well said, Michelle! So what else have you been into this week? More shonen?
MICHELLE: Yeah, I’ve been on a real shonen kick recently, aided and abetted by my awesome local library. I’d been hearing some good things about The Record of a Fallen Vampire (mostly from Connie C.), and now that the ninth and final volume has come out and been added to the library’s collection, I decided to check it out.
So far, I’m favorably impressed! It’s written by a novelist, so it’s paced quite differently from your typical shonen fare. There’s not really a grand adventure or a hero who’s out to get stronger. Instead, there’s a grim vampire king who has spent the last 1000 tirelessly searching for his queen who was sealed away by humans after her corrosive magical powers got out of control. Revelations about the king, the queen, and the world in general are doled out at a satisfying pace, and I’m really looking forward to continuing, especially since the end of volume three introduced an element that one does not normally encounter in a story about vampires.
MJ: Okay, that really does sound fantastic. I’m especially intrigued by the fact that it’s written by a novelist. Do you find that affects other elements besides the pacing? I would imagine that it could be difficult for a novelist to adjust to letting so much of the story be told by the artwork rather than in description. Or perhaps it’s a relief!
MICHELLE: There was one panel in particular that was rather wall o’ texty, and a couple of times where the exposition being spoken by the characters felt a little too obvious, but other than that, I haven’t noticed that it’s too “talky” as opposed to allowing the visuals to tell the story. I did, though, notice that the characters seem to talk to each other more, and not always about what you’d expect. There’s a particularly nice scene between the vampire king (Strauss) and the girl who will eventually try to kill him but right now needs his help (Kayuki) where they’re sitting outside, enjoying the magic hour just before dawn when Strauss can glimpse the sun, and talking about the race he betrayed and left behind to go off on his all-consuming search for the queen. It was a really nice moment, and an unusual one.
Because of things like that, and the way the characters are developed, I really do think you’d like this one. The plot is not at all like Black Cat, and yet I was reminded of the feel of that series anyway, if that makes sense.
MJ: Yes, it definitely sounds like something I would like!
MICHELLE: Hey, check us out! A couple of chicks talking about how much we enjoy comics originally created for a male audience! Imagine that!
MJ: Even better, a couple of chicks talking about how much we enjoy a lot of different comics! Because, believe me, I’ve saved the best and the shojo-est for last, volume four of Kimi ni Todoke.
MICHELLE: Pardon me while I abruptly switch gears so that I can emit a *heart* for that series. Wasn’t that a great use of the ubiquitous sports festival as backdrop? Usually I groan when those things come about, but here it felt like a good opportunity for Sawako to consider Kazehaya in a different light.
MJ: Yes, yes! You know, I’m constantly impressed by how well Sawako is written. By all rights, a character that pure should be utterly insufferable. Yet she’s so consistent and so genuine it’s impossible not to love her. I have to admit that my much less pure self was cackling with glee as the conniving love rival watched her world fall to pieces in the wake of Sawako’s gorgeous honesty and complete lack of guile, but I would have been heartbroken if Sawako had the same reaction as I did.
I’d like to be able to muster my Serious Critic Mode to talk about this series, but frankly, I’m so carried away by the epic adorableness of Sawako and Kazehaya, it’s completely hopeless.
Also, I would have given several limbs to have had Ayane and Chizuru for friends when I was in high school. Or better yet, junior high. Those two are awesome, and possibly the best characters in the series.
MICHELLE: I loved how she was able to see everything the rival said to her in the most positive light but yet it didn’t make her seem clueless. Instead, it just illustrated her inexperience in dealing with people, that she had simply never considered that someone would not return her genuine feelings in kind.
I completely agree about Ayane and Chizuru. One of the things I love best about this series is its depiction of female friendships, and these two are particularly great, as they’re both protective of Sawako while simultaneously nudging her out of her comfort zone.
MJ: Yes, I think the focus on female friendship is part of what makes this series really stand out in the shojo din. Which is not to say that friendship is generally ignored in shojo–it’s not. But it so often takes a back seat to romance, and so far that has not been the case here. Also, there hasn’t been a team of best friends/protectors this fearsome since Uotani and Hanajima.
MICHELLE: If I were ever to write a fanfic, I would write one in which Chizu and Uotani encounter each other somewhere and then get drunk and sing enka karaoke with their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
MJ: I want to read that fanfic, so you’d better get crackin’!
MICHELLE: Heh. Oh, and lest you think I’ve only been reading shonen fare lately, I did just finish the fifth volume of Go! Comi’s Ultimate Venus. It ends on quite the cliffhanger, too, with Yuzu, our heroine, learning some surprising information about her mother, who fled her rich family to marry her poor, disheveled tutor.
It’s a total soap opera/male harem, but Yuzu is determined to succeed as the heir to her grandmother’s massive corporation, and there’s just something about the drama that’s appealing. In a way, it’s like Boys Over Flowers, a favorite series of mine, in that it features a plucky normal girl thrust into the orbit of inscrutable rich folks and trying to make her way without embarrassing herself. Unfortunately, Go! Comi has been virtually silent since this volume came out, so I doubt we’ll ever see the other four any time soon.
MJ: I’m quite sad about that, I have to admit. I think Ultimate Venus succeeds with this formula in a way that something like, say, Wild Ones does not. Everything about it is just as ludicrous and over-the-top (more, probably), but the plot is genuinely fun and compelling, and the harem is quirky enough to make you forget (or at least not care) that you already know who’s going to win out in the end.
MICHELLE: I think the way that Yuzu reacts to the rejections she receives from her allegedly unrequited love and how very much she is convinced it’ll never happen actually helps the reader to buy into that scenario.
MJ: That’s a really good point. It’s really such a shame that we’ll likely never get to see it play out.
MICHELLE: Maybe Go! Comi will rise like the phoenix and surprise us all. Speaking of publishers on their way up, TOKYOPOP has definitely been making me happy lately! I loved Neko Ramen, I’m reading Alice in the Country of Hearts volume three right this minute, and the friendly UPS man just delivered my copy of Silver Diamond 6 yesterday. Plus, Suppli in four weeks!
MJ: Great job steering us back into the positive, Michelle! And you’re absolutely right. Even with everything that’s happened lately, when I look at all the fabulous titles sitting on my shelf and I think about what’s to come over the next year, I have to say this is a great time to be a manga fan!
On that note, we’ll wrap this up! Many thanks to Michelle for gabbing on here with me. Join us again next week for another edition of Off the Shelf!
Some discussion based on review copies provided by the publishers.