My childhood bookshelves were filled with stories about wolves and the girls who loved them, so Jiu Jiu sounded like pure Kate Bait. Not only did Jiu Jiu feature wolves — two, to be exact — it also featured the kind of angry, conflicted heroine familiar to me from years of reading books like Sasha, My Friend. As an added bonus, Takamichi, the heroine, wasn’t just a frustrated teen adjusting to a new school and new classmates; she was a demon hunter who dispatched ghouls with the chilly efficiency of a robot, aided by Snow and Night.
But oh, the execution! Jiu Jiu is a riotously busy manga, with layouts that look more like a junior high school student’s scrapbook than a conscious ordering of panels. Author Touya Tobina draws cute wolf pups, but her command of human anatomy is poor; her characters’ rubbery limbs barely seem anchored to their torsos, resulting in odd pretzel configurations whenever they embrace or fight. Her use of screentone and pattern is similarly problematic: though the dark palette helps dramatize Takamichi’s inner turmoil, it also obscures many nicely observed moments, seldom allowing those images to stand alone, unadorned, for the reader to contemplate.
The other problem is the ever-present threat of romance. Snow and Night aren’t ordinary wolves; they’re shape-shifters who transform into handsome teenage boys. As much as they view Takamichi as their mother and mistress, there’s a strong whiff of eroticism in their interactions with her. Takamichi, of course, doesn’t yet perceive her pups’ romantic designs on her, though it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see that living with two attractive wolf-men might invite emotional and physical entanglements beyond the occasional game of fetch. By placing so much emphasis on Snow and Night’s hotness, however, author Tobina seems to be laying the foundation for a much less interesting story, one in which the heroine must chose between two cute guys, rather than forge her own destiny.
Where Jiu Jiu redeems itself is in the individual characterizations. Takamichi, for example, reminded me a lot of how I was at sixteen: moody, isolated, and eager to mask my insecurities with belligerence and swagger. Her hot-and-cold relationship with Snow and Night also rings with truth, as she vacillates between nurturing them and sternly rejecting them, re-enacting her fraught relationship with her father in the process. Snow and Night, too, are a marked improvement on the standard-issue shojo prince. Yes, one is blonde and outgoing while the other is bespectacled and introspective, but both characters’ personalities betray their canine DNA; who but a dog would think a frisbee was the ideal birthday present for a human?
For all the skill with which these characters are realized, however, Jiu Jiu still frustrates more than it entertains. The author’s visually frenzied layouts and frequent recourse to emotional manipulation make volume one a bumpy ride, with too many unwarranted shifts between comedy and heart-tugging drama. (Does anything say “emotional manipulation” quite like the sight of a whimpering puppy?) I’m still clinging to the hope that Jiu Jiu will improve in future chapters, if for no other reason that I haven’t outgrown my love of stories about tough girls who run with wolves.
Review copy provided by VIZ Media LLC.
JIU JIU, VOL. 1 • BY TOUYA TOBINA • VIZ MEDIA • 200 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)