Welcome to another edition of Off the Shelf with MJ & Michelle! As always, I’m joined by Soliloquy in Blue‘s Michelle Smith.
It’s hard to believe we’re already on our sixth installment! This week, we’ve finally come down from our manhwa high, ready to look at some recent releases from Yen press, Viz Media, Dark Horse Manga, and Digital Manga Publishing.
MJ: So, we’ve been wallowing in manhwa for a couple of weeks, but now it’s time to return to our original 3+3 manga format. I’ve been doing some reading this week and I bet you have too! What have you pulled off the shelf recently?
MICHELLE: Well, I’ve recently read The Clique, originally a YA novel by Lisi Harrison that’s been adapted into a graphic novel by Yishan Li (who might be best known for Shoujo Art Studio and her work for Yaoi Press). It’s essentially the story of two 7th graders—Massie, the richest and most popular girl in school, and Claire, her houseguest, who would seemingly do just about anything to be liked by Massie and her fashion-conscious friends.
I found this story to be ridiculous and frustrating in equal parts. To sum up what Massie and her pals are like: these are rising 7th graders. Massie confides to her horse that she has finally joined the ranks of bra wearers. And yet they’re regularly going to the spa and getting their eyebrows waxed. In my world, bras come before eyebrow waxing! (Actually, in my world eyebrow waxing doesn’t come at all, but you get my drift.)
Too, it’s hard to sympathize with Claire, who so desperately wants to be liked by Massie that she abandons plans with someone who actually likes her just so she can attend a slumber party and be treated cruelly (to be fair, said dumpee later becomes a dumper in her own right) and hacks into Massie’s computer not to get revenge, but to send IMs to Massie’s friends about how awesome Claire is. Lame!
MJ: I actually just read this as well, and I had very much the same reaction as you did. I found it incredibly difficult to like Massie at all, and though normally the Claire role might be someone I’d identify with, I actually may have found her even less likable. I think the same story could be told with more nuance and actually be a pretty interesting character study of both girls–they each have some obvious vulnerabilities to explore–but that really wasn’t the case here. At one point, Massie says to Claire, “This isn’t Clueless, okay?” Sadly, it really isn’t.
MICHELLE: I assume most of the fault for the disappointing story lies with the original novel, though I guess the problems might’ve been exacerbated by the adaptation process. Speaking of which… I thought Li’s art was fairly nice in general, if not terribly exciting. Claire reminded me a lot of Shun from Here is Greenwood, though, and I had to snicker a couple of times at some clumsily inserted flower backgrounds that appeared during scenes between Massie and her studly fifteen-year-old love interest. Did you notice those?
MJ: I did, and I hate to nitpick Li (since my biggest issues with the comic are in the story, not the art), but the attempts remind me of everything I thought failed about Shoujo Art Studio, sad to say.
MICHELLE: The editing job was also rather sloppy, I thought. I noticed several mix-ups between a.m. and p.m. and one glaring use of “Opps!,” a pet peeve of mine.
Moving along, what else have you been reading?
MJ: I’ve been reading new installments of three of series I generally like and keep up with regularly, with somewhat surprising results. The first of these is the third volume of Crown of Love, one of my favorite new series from Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint.
In this volume, Hisayoshi spends a lot more time with the object of his obsession, Rima, at school and on outings with friends, but soon discovers that proximity does not necessarily equal closeness.
This is a relatively uneventful volume, though it does contain a genuinely charming series of scenes featuring Hisayoshi and Rima’s pachinko-loving mom. The series retains its arch tone, which is a major source of its charm.
On the other hand, one of the things that made the series’ lead, Hisayoshi, both fascinating and palatable was his own awareness of the increasing creepiness of his stalker-like fixation with Rima, which begins to fade in this volume in favor of a sincere belief that what he’s feeling/acting on constitutes “true love.” Though this certainly makes him more creepy, it also makes him a lot less sympathetic and relatable (even in the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god sense), which is a big downside for this volume.
MICHELLE: I have really been meaning to read Crown of Love, because it seems so different from a lot of other Shojo Beat titles. Of course, this might be attributable the fact that it’s one of the few stealth josei titles under that imprint.
It’s also complete in four volumes, so I wonder how the conclusion will come about when its penultimate volume is so uneventful, as you say.
MJ: And you know, it really is different, in a way I’ve found very refreshing. Unfortunately, Hisayoshi’s new conviction (along with some events later in the volume I’ll refrain from spoiling at this time) leads me to believe that it could wind up being pretty conventional by the end, which is disappointing.
I should be clear here, I didn’t dislike the volume. It’s still far more interesting than the vast majority of titles currently being published on the Shojo Beat imprint. I just wasn’t quite as enthralled with it as I had been earlier on. I do look forward to the final volume, and I still have high hopes for it.
So, what else has been on your plate this week?
MICHELLE: Because I find it very hard to walk away from a short series that I’m close to finishing, I went back this week for another helping of Millennium Prime Minister by Eiki Eiki. Alas, the third volume was perhaps even worse than what went before.
My snarky summary goes as follows: Sai, the whiny, bratty, eighteen-year-old Senior Aide to Kanata, the lascivious 25-year-old prime minister, is missing. He is eventually let go from his job and the characters wonder if this will hurt the prime minister’s credibility. Meanwhile, just as the ostensible protagonist, Minori, has decided that she loves the pushy prime minister after all, political scandal intervenes when a rival threatens to expose Kanata’s nebulous “plan,” forcing him to boldly announce it to the public in a press conference and push Minori away while what passes for political drama ensues.
Besides the plot being incredibly silly in general, I just don’t like any of these characters at all. You know it’s a bad sign when someone gets kidnapped and I just think, “Good.”
MJ: Haha, yes that does seem like a pretty damning response. I’ve been a fan of Eiki Eiki’s work from time to time, especially Color (a collaboration with Taishi Zaou), so I’m sorry to hear it.
MICHELLE: I liked Color too, but this one is just not for me. I don’t tend to enjoy comedic BL in general, though, so if that’s your thing, perhaps Millennium Prime Minister would be right up your ally. This isn’t really BL, of course—the central couple is heterosexual—but there’s a lot of hinting and flirting and fanservice among the secondary characters, so it’s definitely got a similar feeling.
Now my big dilemma will be whether to read the fourth and final volume. Ordinarily I would without question, on account of my completist nature, but I really, really don’t care about these people or this story.
Enough about that. Let’s talk about something you liked!
MJ: Well, okay! Second on my list for this week is the fourth volume of Nabari no Ou. Now you know I’m a big fan of this series (unlike, uh, you :D) and though this volume did not pack the same kind of punch as volume three, it certainly has its moments.
There are two major events in this volume, the resolution to volume three’s assassination job and Raimei’s long-awaited confrontation with her brother, who massacred the rest of their family before joining up with the Grey Wolves.
Though the Shimizu family showdown promises good times for the next volume, it’s the end of the assassination plot that offers the biggest spoils this time around, despite some yawn-worthy banter early on. Not only do we see a seriously creepy new side of cheery teen ninja Aizawa, but Miharu finally begins to glean on to the fact that his teacher, Kumohira, might be holding out on him regarding some of the recent history of the power hidden inside his body.
I’m increasingly interested in the drama between these characters, and though this volume starts off slowly (much like the first two in the series) there’s still plenty to enjoy.
MICHELLE: Although I admittedly didn’t enjoy the first two volumes much—yawn-worthy would describe them, too—I still haven’t given up on Nabari no Ou, so I’m glad to hear that the character drama is picking up. If I were able to invest in them more, then reading them go on about scrolls and techniques ad infinitum would surely be more tolerable.
MJ: I think there is a lot yet to be revealed about these characters, and I do hope that as more and more of this comes out, you’ll find more to catch your interest.
I should note, too, that this series continues to hook me with its pretty, pretty art. I’m a real sucker for the kind of… I dunno, girly-shonen commonly found on the pages of Gangan Fantasy, and though I might not find the visuals of Nabari no Ou quite as swoon-worthy as, say, Pandora Hearts, it’s definitely got my number.
So… please tell me you’ve had something to enjoy this week!
MICHELLE: Enjoy is perhaps a strong word, but I’ve just read Okimono Kimono, a book on kimono by Mokona from CLAMP, and found it interesting in a kind of superficial way. This release from Dark Horse is nicely produced, with all sorts of color illustrations and photographs. There’s a section on kimono that Mokona designed herself, suggestions for ensembles to wear for different social situations, a couple of interviews, and illustrations of accessories and how to use them. A few familiar CLAMP characters and series are referenced, but there’s not really any manga here beyond a couple of 4-koma and a short story about horan, which look to be pancakes of some sort.
I enjoyed details on how Mokona was able to create her own designs for kimono, and occasionally certain accessories or fabric were indeed cute, but I thought most of the ensembles clashed quite a lot. Maybe I am unsophisticated and certainly I am ignorant in the ways of kimono. I also wondered whether Mokona began to run out of things to say about the pieces in each outfit, because while most of her comments were fairly normal, there were occasional ones like “When you combine the blue kimono with the flower-decorated obi, it makes it look as though fireworks are lighting up the sky.” Er, not really. Mostly, it makes it look like you are wearing a red sash.
MJ: You know, I’m sort of glad to hear that you felt some of the ensembles clash, because I just got my copy in the mail yesterday, and though I haven’t had the chance to really dig in yet, I did flip through and felt similarly about some of what I saw. I expect I’ll enjoy reading it when the time comes, but of course it isn’t going to be as satisfying as manga would be from the same source.
MICHELLE: I actually found the cutest outfits to be the more everyday options, but I’m not really a high fashion kind of person, so for someone who is, maybe these hints about mixing the perfect eclectic pieces for when you need to visit someone in their backstage dressing room (yes, this is really one of the social situations provided for) will really come in handy.
Also, a couple of the kimono are inspired by CLAMP manga series and feature CLAMP characters. Unfortunately, the photography does not emphasize these small elements—and, okay, it completely makes sense to focus on the big designs, particularly when there’s symbolism involved—but the text will usually reference them, and it’s a bit odd to have to peer closely in order to spot the character in question. I guess this isn’t really a book for manga fans, else they’d have played up that aspect, I expect.
Still, it’s definitely a nice change of pace and, if nothing else, I can now tell you that tatami mat sandals are very comfortable and Mokona’s favorite!
MJ: I’m enough of a CLAMP fangirl that I admit it sounds enticing. We get so few details about our favorite mangaka over here!
MICHELLE: She does seem to have a lot of artistic talent besides just drawing, I’ll give her that!
Got another one for us?
MJ: I sure do! This week’s biggest surprise for me was volume five of Rasetsu. Now, I’ve been following this series since the beginning, and appreciating it as a sort of formula romance comfort food. But this volume is unexpectedly enjoyable, largely due to the fact that everybody is suddenly super-uncomfortable.
At the tail end of last volume, Kuryu finally confessed his feelings for Rasetsu in exactly the kind of unselfconscious, commanding way you’d expect. As this volume begins, the key word is “AWKWARD,” with Rasetsu flailing between a suddenly aggressive suitor who makes a pretty strong case for himself and the guy she’s been mooning over (Yako) who has already proclaimed that he’ll never fall in love again. Though this sounds just as trite as anything that’s happened so far in this series, it’s actually quite poignant, creating so much strain between a group of people who have (mostly) worked together for quite a long time and who have genuine affection between them.
Also surprisingly effective in this volume are its references to Yako’s doomed past love (as chronicled in Yurara), which previously had just seemed cheap and fairly pointless.
Rasetsu is a title with the necessity for romance built right into the premise, since its heroine is cursed to die unless she finds it (on a pretty strict timetable). I’m very glad to discover that it is not necessarily bland as a result.
MICHELLE: Huh. That’s the first description of Rasetsu I’ve read that has made me interested in it. I read most of what Shojo Beat has to offer, but this is a title that has passed me by. Largely, though, this is because I’d prefer to read Yurara first and haven’t managed to accomplish that.
Is Rasetsu easy to get into without knowledge of the earlier work?
MJ: Well, I’ve never read Yurara, so I’d say definitely yes. It’s helpful that most of the characters are new in this series, with Yako as the only major holdover. Though it’s possible that serious fans of that series may not enjoy a sequel as much as I have, for exactly this reason.
MICHELLE: Well, I’m sure I’ll get around to reading it someday. Most of the titles under the Shojo Beat imprint appeal to me on at least some level. Rasetsu certainly ranks above Haruka in that regard!
MJ: I’ll continue to report on future volumes!
As the clock races past my bedtime we’ll wrap up this installment here. Be sure to join us next week for another edition of Off the Shelf!
MICHELLE: I will try to like some stuff next time.
MJ: I’ll keep my fingers crossed! :)