Hi! I guess I should introduce myself. My name’s Travis and I’ve been reading Manga Bookshelf since it was just Melinda’s blog, and have known her for even longer. I’ve never thought of writing here, since I don’t read manga in English, but then when Melinda put out her most recent call for contributors, I thought, well, maybe I could write about stuff I really love that I wish were published in English so that more people could enjoy them, and so License This! was born. For right now, I’m going to aim for a monthly column, because I don’t want to overcommit (a bad habit of mine), but I could also see possibly doing twice a month, so we’ll see where that goes.
As for what type of manga I’ll be writing about, the answer to that is pretty much “everything.” If pressed, I’d probably choose shoujo as my favorite genre, but I read very, very widely. And while I’ve chosen a currently running series for my first post (mainly because I didn’t have that much time to prepare and thus wanted something fresh in my mind, rather than an old favorite I haven’t read for years and may have to reread in order to remember it well enough to write about), I’ve been reading manga for almost twenty years, so I have a lot of favorites that are long since over.
And now with that out of the way, on to the first title! I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with Kazune Kawahara from her series High School Debut (also one of my favorites), but I am sad to see that nothing besides that one series has been published in the US. Admittedly, she only has two other long series, and the rest of her stuff is one-shots or single-volume series, but it’s all really great. I know that her art style is not to everyone’s tastes (especially anything that came before High School Debut), but the stories more than make up for it.
Kawahara is one of my favorite shoujo authors, but I think her sweet/innocent style may not be what US readers want to see (or at least what publishers think they want to see). It seems like a lot of what’s published in English is more edgy/gritty or else has fantasy elements (or both), but I really like this sort of heartwarming slice-of-life stuff. It’s just cute! Another thing Kawahara does well that I like in my shoujo romance is female friendships. So many romances (not just in manga, but western media as well) are all about girls fighting over guys, and while my favorite authors may include a rival sometimes, they also make sure to give their heroines good friends as well.
Aozora Yell (aka Yell for the Blue Sky) is Kawahara’s current series. With volume eleven just released yesterday in Japan, it’s looking to be quite a bit longer than High School Debut, maybe even as long as her first big hit, Sensei! (also a favorite of mine), which clocks in at twenty volumes total.
Our protagonist is Tsubasa, a first-year high school student who has enrolled in Shirato High because of their brass band. After seeing the brass band play on TV during a Koushien game (the high school baseball championship), she decided that’s what she wants to do…the only problem being she’s never played an instrument before. When she joins the band, she finds that everyone else has way more experience than her, having been playing since middle school or even longer.
Unlike many stories that start off this way, Tsubasa does not turn out to be a genius at the trumpet. In fact, as of the most recent volumes (which have reached the beginning of her second year), she is still the worst player in the band. However, she is working hard and slowly getting better. One of the things that keeps her going is that her dream has become more personal. It’s not just the idea of playing for a generic baseball team anymore, or even for her school. It’s a specific person she wants to cheer on, a boy on the team named Daisuke whom she has become good friends with. More than friends, in fact, but although she told him how she feels, he rejected her, saying he wants to focus on baseball for now. They’re still good friends, though, and encourage each other to practice hard and get better.
While I would definitely categorize this series as romance, the focus is just as much, if not more, on the band (and if you’re tired of school stories that focus on the same old annual events, at least band competitions are not something that’s been done to death) and on relationships in general (with friends, and with bandmates both friendly and not). You can’t help but root for Tsubasa as she struggles to be, not even great, but just good enough to be allowed to play with the rest of the band rather than sitting out a competition.
As I mentioned above, this doesn’t seem to be a genre that US publishers are all that interested in, but I think High School Debut did fairly well (certainly it seems like I know a ton of people who liked it), and I know that Kimi ni Todoke is quite popular, so I’m hoping that maybe this one has a chance.