MJ: Hello, hello!
MICHELLE: Is it me you’re looking for?
MJ: Heh. Yes. Though now I’m a little embarrassed about it.
MICHELLE: I had the sheet music to “Say You, Say Me,” if that makes you feel any better.
MJ: It does, it does. So. What have you been reading this week?
MICHELLE: Well, as promised, I undertook a marathon read of We Were There in order to finally get current with the series (now up to volume 14 in English). I must admit that I’m still kind of gathering my thoughts from the experience. But the thing that sticks in my head from when you talked about this volume last week is “That’s how you write a shoujo manga!” and I find that I couldn’t agree more.
There were several twists along the way that I totally didn’t expect, and I shan’t spoil them here, but I will say that I kind of love where the characters are at the moment, even though it’s pretty heartbreaking for some of them. I feel like mangaka Yuki Obata does an especially good job making readers understand exactly why Yano has the living situation he does without coming right out and saying, “it’s atonement.” I must also sing her praises in regards the “show, don’t tell” method of storytelling—in the volumes leading up to this one, we’d seen Yano referred to as kind but cold, and to see him so visibly, demonstrably moved in this volume shows how deeply he still loves Takahashi.
If I had any complaint at all, it would be that I could write multiple paragraphs about Yano, a couple of paragraphs about steadfast Takeuchi, and perhaps a sentence or two about Takahashi, the heroine. It’s not that she’s a flat character, exactly, but she is somewhat of an angelic figure, the only one who can heal Yano’s hurt. It struck me today that we see far more of a supporting character’s family than we ever see of hers!
Ultimately, I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed catching up with this series, and how much I look forward to the final two volumes.
MJ: I feel like I could really write a lot about Takahashi, but maybe it’s just because I identified with her so strongly early on in the story. I suppose I feel like I *know* her in some way, despite the fact that she’s not as obviously fleshed-out. I could write a book about Takeuchi, though, mostly because I feel so freaking SORRY FOR HIM. Poor Takeuchi.
Seriously, though, this is a great shoujo manga.
MICHELLE: I definitely identify with her on some levels, to be sure. And man, Takeuchi. There are some especially painful moments for him in volume 14, too. I keep hoping he’ll get together with Sengenji in the end, but that’s a little bit Marmalade Boy.
Anyways, what have you been reading this week?
MJ: Well, first I read volume one of Shuzo Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil, a new shounen series from Vertical. With the back cover tagline, “Aren’t you a perv too?” I wasn’t sure this would be a good fit for me, but I actually liked it quite a bit.
Kasuga is a bookish middle schooler who buries himself in Baudelaire poetry while admiring his pretty classmate, Saeki, from afar. One day after school, he finds himself alone in his classroom, along with Saeki’s gym bag, and impulsively steals her gym clothes to take home with him. He regrets this action pretty much right away, but by the time he has an opportunity to try to put the clothes back, the whole class is buzzing about a clothes-stealing pervert. Worse still, the class outcast, a foul-mouthed girl named Nakamura, saw him steal the clothes, and is using the information to blackmail him into hanging out with her.
Nakamura is obsessed with Kasuga’s bad deed, and with the idea of seeing Kasuga act out his fantasies (or what she imagines to be his fantasies) with the clothes, and she’s enough of a bully to get under his skin with it all, especially after Kasuga actually scores a date with his dream girl. This aspect of the story gives it a fetish-y feel, similar to something like Sundome, though the vibe is a bit different than that series, since the girl who’s controlling the hero isn’t the object of his sexual fantasies (at least not yet). If anything, it seems like she’s drawn to him mostly because she’s relieved to find out that she’s not the only person in her class having “perverted” thoughts, which is sort of heartwarming in an odd way.
What really makes this story work for me, is that both Kasuga and Nakamura are sympathetic characters, whose personal failures and perversions really ring true for their age. It’s hard not to relate to the boy who is aware that his obsession with foreign poetry is based in a kind of desperate pretension, but can’t stop himself from embracing that anyway, or the unpopular girl who is so grateful to find that she’s not all alone with her sexual fantasies, and can’t quite keep herself from wanting to know more, even if she has to be a bully to get it.
It may be too early to say this, but while I never would have recommended Sundome to *you*, Michelle, I think I actually might recommend The Flowers of Evil. And I certainly recommend it to everyone else.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I just don’t know. I’m a little intrigued and a little hesitant. I may just have to bolster my courage and give it a go.
MJ: I can at least reassure you that the first volume is very tame, sexually, so testing the waters should be relatively risk-free.
So what else have you got for us this week?
MICHELLE: To give a little bit of contrast to We Were There, I opted for another shoujo love story now in its fourteenth volume, Karuho Shiina’s Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You.
Despite a few superficial similarities—the protagonists live in Hokkaido, there’s a girl named Takahashi and a somewhat inscrutable character named Yano…—the depiction of first love in these series could not be more different, with the sweetness of Kimi ni Todoke offering a bit of brain balm after the more-or-less realistic drama of We Were There.
The premise of the series is that Sawako Kuronuma has always unintentionally scared her classmates with her spooky behavior and resemblance to a horror movie character, but has now finally made a couple of good friends and found love with the popular Shota Kazehaya. The fourteenth volume finds the main characters on a school trip to Okinawa, and while Sawako and Kazehaya come reeeeeeally close to sharing their first kiss, and it’s all very adorable, the really emotional moments belong to her two friends.
Most of the time, tomboyish Chizu is rather ditzy, but when she realizes that her childhood friend, Ryu, likes someone and hasn’t told her who it is, it really bothers her. She is genuinely shocked to learn that she is the object of his affections, but the volume ends before she can really begin to process the information. Even more affecting is Ayane Yano’s failed attempt to fall in love—seeing her two friends confess their love in recent volumes (Chizu has long had a thing for Ryu’s brother) made this mature and rather private girl yearn to experience love, and when a boy in another class asked her out, she said yes, thinking she might be swept away on the tide of his feelings for her. Alas, things don’t go as planned, and she ends the volume in tears.
I love that a character as complex as Ayane exists in the realm of shoujo manga, usually populated by girls who don’t think much before they speak, and find myself rooting for her happiness even more strongly than I do for the main characters, now that they seem to be on the path to happily ever after. I wonder if Yuki Obata and Karuho Shiina are in secret communication and Ayane is, like, Motoharu’s long-lost cousin or something.
MJ: I’m a few volumes behind in this series, but I love the fact that its cheerful sweetness manages to feel just as rich and emotionally true as the delicate melancholy of We Were There—thanks largely to the awesomeness of Chizu and Ayane. I’m a real sucker for female friendship in manga, and these two are the greatest example of that since Fruits Basket‘s Uotani and Hanajima. I’m so glad to hear there’s so much of them in volume fourteen.
MICHELLE: I am sure that Chizu and Ayane would totally be friends with Uotani and Hanajima. Not only that, the four of them would look on proudly as Tohru and Sawako tentatively became friends.
What else did you read this week?
MJ: This week, I also read volume one of Kyudo Boys, a series of short shoujo manga by Keiko Nishi, available from JManga. I say “shoujo,” because the stories are school-based, and it ran in Wings, but for the record, JManga classifies it as josei.
The stories all revolve around the members of a high school archery club—both male and female members. Some of the stories are romantic, like one about a boy who can’t decide whether he has a crush on a new girl or her twin brother, or a later story (one of my personal favorites) about an archery nerd who discovers that it’s his very nerdishness that makes him attractive to a pretty team member. I should note, however, that not all the stories are romances, and even the ones that are, are more concerned with exploring the idiosyncrasies of their subjects than reaching any kind of romantic conclusion. I love romance—we all know that—but even I have to admit that it’s refreshing to read a shoujo manga in a school setting that isn’t playing by those rules.
Short stories have never been my favorite format for manga, but these make the best of their brevity, by focusing on small moments and embracing an open-ended feel. Nishi never gets too ambitious. She doesn’t rush. She presents us with a few deft snapshots that let us feel like we’ve really gotten to know and love these students, without ever giving us too much to handle, story-to-story. Her artwork is charming, and relatively sparse, with a light touch that matches the breezy tone of the book overall.
Though it may seem like I don’t have a lot to say about this manga, the truth is, it’s simply charming. It’s a very satisfying light read, and I’d recommend it without question.
MICHELLE: I’ve definitely had Kyudo Boys on my radar as a candidate for a future Going Digital column. That’s largely because Keiko Nishi was responsible for some of the first josei to hit American shores. Like you, I’m not particularly into short stories, but I am definitely, definitely down with idiosyncratic romance!
MJ: Unlike Flowers of Evil, I can *wholeheartedly* recommend this series to you. It’s absolutely your kind of manga.
MICHELLE: That’s good to know!