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Off the Shelf: Shoujo staples & other stories

MELINDA: Well, hi.

MICHELLE: Howdy!

MELINDA: 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?!

MELINDA: 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.

MELINDA: 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?

MELINDA: 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.”

MELINDA: 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!

MELINDA: 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.

MELINDA: 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?

MELINDA: 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.

MELINDA: 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.

MELINDA: Agreed! Well… I guess this is goodnight!

MICHELLE: Until next week!

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Comments

  1. Viz actually asked on their facebook what shojo they should make 3 in 1s for just the other day. Needless to say, I said Basara (which I’ve never gotten to read but would love to), Please Save My Earth (which I’ve read and others need to) and Banana Fish (which I said I would buy all over again if they did 3 in 1s for it and probably buy one for everyone I know), and I saw plenty of other responses with the same three titles. Sometimes I wonder if they hate us when they keep refusing to re-publish these and publish far less worthier series in 3 in 1s.

  2. Re: A Devil and Her Love Song.

    The final volume recently appeared in Chinese. While I am curious about this title, I think about all of the stuff I have piling up to read, and I realize that it will be a long time, if ever, before I try this. Strangely, I haven’t read any manga in the past year (though I have read plenty of manhwa and manhua), but when I do get back to reading stuff from Japan, I think Fullmetal Alchemist and One Piece will be at the top of my priority list (I tried them a long time ago, didn’t get sucked in, but I often need to try a story a few times before I get hooked).

    Re: Hana Kimi

    Yeah, there are some pretty good sections, but I have to pretty much agree with Michelle’s assessment – definitely not a keeper. And for the record, I think I might have still been a teenager when I read it, and I did not lap it up with a spoon. On the other hand, the Taiwanese drama based on Hana-Kimi is pretty good. What makes the drama work so well, in my opinion, is the casting – I particularly like the way Mizuki and Xiuyi (I am too lazy to look up his Japanese name) performed. While I don’t think I’d ever want to read the manga ever again, I just might want to see the drama a second time. Too bad that, as far as I know, there is no legal way to see the drama with English subtitles.

    Re: Viz releasing shojo ombnibuses

    YES TO BASARA, BANANA FISH, BOKU-TAMA!

  3. I read and loved the first volume of Hana Kimi so I’ll probably snap up that omnibus when it comes out.

  4. I was really wavering back and forth on A Devil and Her Love Song, but the review here swayed me enough to pick it up (well that, and my local Books-A-Million had it in early). I’m really excited to read this one.

    I think I was a part of the target demographic when Hana-Kimi first came out, but I don’t remember it sticking to me even then. I could see where it might get repetitive. I actually thought the Taiwanese drama was pretty funny, but eventually you do tire of “How long can she hide her secret (even though everyone knows)!?”

    I liked that Viz asked about the 3-in-1’s, but I don’t know if that included the VIZBIG format. I notice the newer 3-in-1’s seem to stop about 9 volumes into a series, and you’re left collecting the rest individually. I still appreciate them, but I prefer the VIZBIG trim size and doing that for the entire series. I was really surprised at how many comments were asking for old school shoujo like Basara, PSME, and Banana Fish, so I hope VIZ was listening!

    • I think they’re still working on releasing the newer 3-in-1s, so I wouldn’t’ give up on them yet. The format is still pretty new for them. I prefer the VIZBIG format as well, but I’d be happy to see series like Basara, PSME, and Banana Fish re-released in *any* format!

  5. I wrote a comment on Viz’s facebook post too, and since I’ve always wanted to read Basara I mentioned that one, as well as Boys Over Flowers, which is probably my favorite shojo ever (and at 36 volumes long, it could definitely benefit from having a 3-in-1 release).

    As for Hana-Kimi, I’ve read the entire series, and while it was cute and fun at first it became a bit tiresome to see Mizuki keep a secret Sano already knew about – it just dragged a little bit too long. I love seeing Nakatsu struggle with his feelings for her, though, especially since he decides he doesn’t care if liking Mizuki makes him ‘gay.’

    • Michelle sold me on Boys Over Flowers a couple of years ago (she actually mailed me the entire series to read) and though I can’t say it’s my favorite shoujo manga, I certainly enjoyed it from start to finish!

  6. I love Hana-Kimi–I bought all the volumes plus the art book, and don’t regret it at all! Admittedly, it does suffer in comparison to Wandering Son, but to be fair, they’re two completely different types of stories–HK is a standard romantic comedy rather than a serious attempt to explore gender issues and prejudice.

    I suppose 23 volumes is a bit long to drag out Mizuki’s secret, but I never got bored with the series, partly because I loved all the supporting characters, so the side plots about them kept me interested and entertained rather than just waiting impatiently to see when Mizuki’s secret was going to be exposed. I do love Sano and Mizuki, but as a BL fangirl, I have to admit that I bought the series partly for the gay school doctor Umeda, who is such an awesome character that I really wish he could have had a series of his own. (I love his wry, cynical sense of humor.) I liked his unwanted love interest Akiha as well, and as starsamaria said above, I enjoyed the way that Nakatsu struggled with his feelings for Mizuki and the way he ultimately decided that he loved Mizuki and it didn’t matter if she was a boy or a girl.

    • I can definitely get behind the wish that Umeda had his own series. And, like I said, there were some satisfying volumes near the end. It’s just the whole manner of her eventual discovery (is this a spoiler? I figure it’s probably obvious that this will happen from the start) was so dumb, and then the reactions so lacking, I just got soured on the whole thing.

      • The eventual discovery is handled much better in the Taiwanese drama. Okay, it’s pretty surreal and bizarre, but it’s entertainingly bizarre. I do not actually remember how it played out in the manga, but I think I would have remembered it if were as weird as the way it happened in the drama. So (spoiler warning for drama) did Mizuki and Sana spill the beans over the school PA system without realizing that that the microphone was on in the manga too? I think I would have remembered that, but I can’t be sure.



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  1. [...] This week’s haul is pretty impressive (I really did love A Devil and Her Love Song), but I’m going to cast my vote for the sixth volume of . Even if it wasn’t a smart, [...]



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