MJ: Well, hi.
MJ: It’s been a while since we did a regular column. I’m not sure what to say.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I was looking back at those today. Our last two columns have seen us both talking about the same series, and fairly epic ones at that! Oh no! Will our regular column measure up?!
MJ: I guess we’ll just have to try it and see! So, what have you been reading this week?
MICHELLE: Some very enjoyable things! First up is the third volume of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, which came out a couple of weeks ago.
For those who were put off by some of the silliness in Codename: Sailor V or by Usagi’s crybaby ways earlier on in this series, volume three should quell any doubts you may possess that Takeuchi can really bring out the big dramatic guns. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere previously, the pacing of the manga is approaching breakneck speed, so here we are in volume three and the first arc is already drawing to a close. But first, this occurs, and actually I am going to frame it in such a way that it’s as Buffy-esque as possible, ‘cos that’s what I do:
Usagi’s boyfriend, Mamoru, suddenly starts acting like a different person. He’s cold and cruel and is now working with the enemy! “Is this man somebody else now?!” she wonders. “Do I have to defeat him?! Kill him?!” A terrible evil is about to be unleashed upon the world and the only way to seal it up is to defeat the man she loves! But she does it. There’s a sweet kiss, and then there’s a sword.
Some fairly significant similarities to the end of Buffy‘s second season, I think! Anyway, I don’t want to spoil too much of it, but it’s pretty great. The second arc launches very quickly with the introduction of Chibi-Usa, a young girl who literally falls from the sky and starts observing Usagi and those around her. I was pleasantly surprised by how sympathetic Chibi-Usa is in the manga. She comes across more as lonely and frightened than bratty, and certainly more intriguing than the gemstone-named band of siblings who are facing off against our heroes.
Also pleasantly surprising was the copy editing this time. Typos have been a major problem with this title, and I’m happy to say I didn’t see a single one here. So, kudos on that, Kodansha. However, my fangirl heart just about broke when I saw Jupiter’s attack, “Sparkling Wide Pressure,” interpreted as “Spark Ring Wide Pressure.” Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on translation choices, but man. This one really hurt.
MJ: I have to say, I can’t wait to read this. Seriously. I have it on my shelf and I WANT TO READ IT NOW. And I don’t have any fangirl preconceptions, which I’m gathering might be a plus for this series.
MICHELLE: I’d say so. There are many things I love about the anime, but there are definitely areas in which the manga is superior. One is, of course, Takeuchi’s lovely artwork, which is very flexible in terms of depicting Usagi as someone goofy and as someone elegant and mature. She frequently looks graceful in the manga in a way that she does not in the anime.
Still, it makes me sad that first-time readers might’ve thought that was really Jupiter’s attack phrase. I’ll have to be vigilant about pointing out things like that for their benefit!
Anyways, what’ve you been reading this week?
MJ: My first selection for the evening is a very different brand of shoujo than Sailor Moon, though also quite enjoyable. I’m speaking of the first volume of Miyoshi Tomori’s A Devil and her Love Song, just recently released by Viz.
I know you’ve read it, Michelle, but for the uninitiated, our heroine is Maria Kawai, a transfer student recently expelled from an elite Catholic school. She’s a girl who has always had difficulty making (and keeping friends), mainly because of her inability to control her harsh (if truthful) tongue. Maria is unusually perceptive, but most of what she has to say is decidedly not what people want to hear, and she gets off on the wrong foot pretty much immediately at her new school. On some level, Maria wants to fit in, but she’s just not cut out for the spirited shoujo sunshine role, and she’s pretty well aware of it.
Thanks, perhaps, to her very good looks (and a lovely singing voice), she is sort of befriended by two boys in her class, happy-go-lucky Yusuke Kanda and surly Shin Meguro. The two boys are, on the surface, typical shoujo love interests, and it feels immediately obvious that Maria will end up with cranky guy with a heart of gold, but just as Maria does not quite fit any of the standard heroine molds, neither do these two, who each have their own ways of dealing with the pressures of classroom socialization. So who she’ll ultimately end up with (if she ends up with someone at all) is anyone’s guess.
Like another of my favorite recent shoujo series, We Were There, this volume succeeds in part by taking familiar shoujo stereotypes and making them into real people, and I appreciate that very much.
I was pretty enthralled with this debut volume, and I’m looking forward to seeing where things go. My one small fear is that all the other girls in school (who so far have only really bullied Maria) will continue to be vilified to the end. I really dislike girl-hating stories for girls. But the first volume is written with such a sure hand, I feel confident that we’re in for something better than that. It’s the kind of manga that (so far) is continuously surprising.
MICHELLE: You’ve hit upon so much of what I loved about the volume! I like the boys, but Maria herself is the most compelling at this point, as she clings to her faith that things eventually will work out, that they will someday understand her if she just keeps trying. It’s pretty moving, actually!
As for the other girls, a comment left on my review suggests you’ll be pleased with their development, saying, “all the peer enemies are eventually shown to be more than their stereotypes.”
MJ: That is very heartening to hear! Though, again, I had high hopes, given nuanced the main characters have been so far. I’m happy to hear that my faith isn’t misplaced!
So, what else do you have for us this week?
MICHELLE: Well, speaking of nuanced characters… I read volume two of Wandering Son by Shimura Takako, presented in a gorgeous hardcover edition by Fantagraphics.
This is the story of two transgendered children, Shuichi Nitori and Yoshino Takatsuki, and their struggles to express their true selves. Lately, Shuichi and Yoshino have been going out in public dressed as a girl and a boy, respectively, and have befriended an adult woman named Yuki. They also go on a class trip and decide to start an exchange diary.
Okay, plot-wise, that may not sound like much, but it’s what Takako does with it that’s so special. Where volume one largely focused on how the characters themselves perceive their differences from other kids, this volume shows some ways in which others perceive those differences. Some responses are negative, like Shuichi’s seatmate on the school trip, who accuses him of squealing like a girl and calls him a “faggot” before Shuichi actually musters the strength to tell him off.
Some responses are neutral, like when Shuichi’s sister Maho discovers his secret. She’s not horrified, but she’s puzzled. At least she’s making an honest effort to understand as best a junior-high girl can. And then some responses are overwhelmingly positive, like when Shuichi and Yoshino’s friend Chiba AWESOMELY channels Anne of Green Gables as a means to dealing with taunting. I really love her.
Because this gamut of reactions is presented, and because daily life continues to transpire, the characters’ struggles seem even more sincere and realistic. Knowing that the misunderstanding they face now will only get greater the older and more certain they become, we realize just how fabulously lucky they are to have each other, even if they have to be careful not to exclude their other friends.
My one complaint is that a volume seems to go by so quickly that I am soon left bereft, pining for the next one!
MJ: This is another volume staring at me from the shelf that I’m simply dying to read. I need to take a month’s vacation and just read, read, read! I loved the first volume, as you know, and I’m thrilled (if not remotely surprised) to hear that it continues on in an equally lovely fashion. I admit I’m made even more anxious to read it based on that Anne of Green Gables thing. OH, MY HEART.
MICHELLE: I knew that part would please you!
I do have to ding Fantagraphics for the wording of their “story so far” section, though, which contains the sentence “The two spend their days going on somewhat perverse dates.” Now, true, certain dictionary definitions of “perverse” might reasonably apply in this situation, like “disposed to go counter to what is ordinary,” but that word also comes with connotations like “wicked” and “sinful” that should best be avoided. Surely they could’ve found a suitable synonym! Grumble grumble.
MJ: I’ve been pretty unhappy with the language they’ve used while marketing this series, so that doesn’t surprise me, I guess, but it’s still regrettable.
MICHELLE: What’s your second topic of the evening?
MJ: My second read this week is the perfect example of everything Wandering Son is not. That would be Hisaya Nakajo’s Hana-Kimi, a shoujo staple now being re-released in omnibus format by Viz. It’s a popular series I’ve never read, so definitely I’m the target audience for a release like this.
Unfortunately, I’d say my reaction to it was pretty mixed. While Wandering Son tackles gender identity with tender realism, like most other manga I’ve read with themes revolving around gender-bending, Hana-Kimi plays it for laughs, making sure to keep all the confusion safely on the outside. This isn’t unexpected, by any means, but it suffers gravely in comparison to a more thoughtful work.
So, Mizuki is a teen athlete who so deeply admires a young Japanese high jump champion, Izumi Sano, that she leaves America (where she lives abroad with her family) to come back to Japan and enroll in the all-boys boarding school Sano attends. Of course she must disguise herself as a boy, and of course she ends up being Sano’s roommate, because what good would a gender-bending romp be without lots of shower and clothing snafus?
Things progress pretty much as you might expect, with many of the boys finding themselves attracted to Mizuki and and one in particular questioning his sexuality based on these feelings. Meanwhile, Sano doesn’t know what he wants, and Mizuki isn’t even quite clear on the fact that she’s got the hots for him, despite her obsessive behavior. The school doctor, Hokuto, is a breath of fresh air, genuinely funny in a wonderfully wry way. Otherwise, though, it’s all distressingly… standard, I guess would be the term.
Oh, Michelle. I think that twenty years ago, I might have eaten this series up with a spoon, but I admit I was finding all the misunderstandings and hijinks fairly wearying. On the upside, spunky Mizuki doesn’t spend too much time being a shy wallflower, and Sano figures out her secret pretty early on (unbeknownst to her), so there isn’t quite as much blushing and farce-like door-slamming as there might have been otherwise. Still, if I’m looking for cross-dressing silliness, I think I’d just rather watch You’re Beautiful.
MICHELLE: Sometimes you come up with some absolutely perfect turns of phrase. “Making sure to keep all the confusion safely on the outside” is an example, encapsulating everything Hana-Kimi is in a nutshell.
Where you are the target for this reissue, I am not, because I have actually read it all before. In fact, one of the first reviews I ever wrote was of a volume of Hana-Kimi. So believe me when I tell you… it kind of gets worse. Oh, there are certainly some terrific volumes near the end, but there’s a lot of filler before then, and then the end completely and utterly fizzles to the extent where, though I did finish it for the sake of completeness, once I’d done that I promptly sold it. “Not a keeper!” There are aspects I kind of miss—Sano sure is pretty, especially early on—but I just can’t forget how dissatisfied it left me.
All that said, I hasten to add that I applaud any slightly older shoujo title coming back into the market in a fresh way, and hope that Basara, Please Save My Earth, and Boys Over Flowers will find their way to new audiences in the near future.
MJ: Sano is pretty, indeed, though I find I keep mentally comparing him to another depressed, recovering athlete, Eiji Okamura (Banana Fish), and you realize of course he has no chance with me in that comparison.
So, do you think we’ve lived up to the glory of our last two columns? We did discuss some pretty wonderful series tonight!
MICHELLE: I think we did! And it was pretty shoujo-licious, as well, which is a nice change of pace.
MJ: Agreed! Well… I guess this is goodnight!
MICHELLE: Until next week!