MICHELLE: It’s started! It’s started! No, I don’t mean Off the Shelf, I mean Daylight Savings Time! DST, I <3 you so! MJ: I’d like to share your enthusiasm, but the fact is, it’s now dark in the morning when I walk my dog. I hate getting up in the dark. Also, I am sleepy. So I am Daylight Savings Time’s March Scrooge. I’m recover in a month or so.
MICHELLE: I admit getting up in the dark is no fun, but I just love the height of summer when it’s almost 9 and still light out!
Anyway, if you can’t share my enthusiasm for DST, is there anything else you *can* feel enthusiastic about?
MJ: Well, if we’re talking about manga, mostly yes. Wanna hear about what I’ve been reading?
MICHELLE: Of course!
MJ: I’ll start with my debut manga for the week, volume one of Oresama Teacher by Izumi Tsubaki, author of The Magic Touch, a series I mostly loathed. I was quite pleasantly surprised, then, to find this volume rather to my liking.
After being expelled from her high school for repeated fighting, Mafuyu is ready to turn over a new leaf at her new school in the country. Unfortunately, she gets off to a rough start by unknowingly getting into a fight right in front of her soon-to-be homeroom teacher! Furthermore, when she tries to befriend a tough classmate, Hayasaka, he reads her energy as bloodlust, setting her up in his mind as pretty much her old, badass self. As her friendship with Hayasaka progresses (against all odds) and new truths about her teacher begin to come to light, Mafuyu finds herself struggling to reconcile who she was with who she wants to be.
That sounds a bit serious and angsty as I type it all out, but the truth is, this manga is just great fun. Unlike The Magic Touch, which I once accused of having “all the crucial elements of a fun shojo romance” while going out of its way to focus on their least interesting aspects, Oresama Teacher has got fun down pat. Its hijinks are genuinely amusing (especially Hayasaka’s consistent misreading of Mafuyu’s friendly overtures), its characters genuinely odd (I won’t even go into the deep issues of the homeroom teacher, Saeki), and its heroine genuinely spunky, which is always a winner with me.
I’m even enjoying Tsubaki’s artwork quite a bit, which I characterized as “serviceable” in my review of The Magic Touch‘s first volume. I’m finding her work here to be energetic and expressive, words I never would have used to describe her earlier series.
I should mention, too, that this is one of the few manga I’ve read where I’ve found a potential romantic pairing between a teacher and a teenaged student to be even remotely palatable. It’s still got its creepy aspects (hell, there’s not much about Saeki that’s not creepy), but the characters’ mutual backstory sets them up in a fairly unusual relationship that sort of supersedes their current circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m ‘shipping, I’ll be all about Mafuyu and Hayasaka, but the dynamic with her teacher is pretty interesting on its own.
Overall, I just really had a good time with this. It was an unexpected pleasure.
MICHELLE: That’s great to hear! I never did brave The Magic Touch, but I really like stories wherein a problem teen seizes the chance to turn over a new leaf (like Very! Very! Sweet). Plus, I have to give points for the name Mafuyu, which I don’t think I’ve run across in manga before!
MJ: Oddly, I feel this series has the potential to go kinka dark, which I doubt it actually will, but even just the fact that it could gives it a bit of oomph, in my book.
So what about you? Anything to get enthusiastic about, manga-wise this week?
MICHELLE: Mm, not exactly enthusiastic, no, but definitely optimistic.
I’ve got a debut manga of my own to discuss this week, which is Clean Freak, Fully Equipped. (Note: The volume offers no fewer than three variants on this title, punctuation-wise. Two of them are incorrect (no hyphens are required), so I’ve gone with the version that appears at the end of each chapter.) I must admit I didn’t have very high hopes for this weird little series, but it actually surprised me by eliciting a few giggles.
The basic premise is that Sata Senda was a normal little kid until an encounter with a wanton booger-squisher prompted him to develop an extreme phobia for germs. He’s able to conquer his fears when it matters, though, like when the girl he likes gets motion sickness on the bus, or when his new, equally odd friend in middle school attempts to use a precious raincoat to keep some potato plants from drowning in the rain (I am not making this up.) Gradually, he makes a few more new friends, who are accepting of his quirks.
It’s a little irksome watching Senda make progress only to have him relapse at the start of the next chapter, and the crowded and inconsistent art is certainly nothing to write home about, but the silly sense of humor goes a long way in making this series a fun read. For example, Senda’s parents find him hilarious, and they enjoy laughing at him and taking pictures of the elaborate defensive garb he’s devised for himself. Also, when the girl he likes moves away to “New York,” there’s a running gag where she keeps sending him pictures in which she’s accompanied by wild animals like lions and polar bears. Lastly, I never thought a picture of a sad bunny could be funny, but Clean Freak, Fully Equipped manages it.
In the end, it’s far from perfect, but it’s much better than I expected!
MJ: I’ve been interested in this title since it arrived in my mailbox, but I admit my first thought was… how will this go over with people who suffer from real germ phobia? Is the protagonist’s plight taken seriously enough to be relatable for them, or does it just poke fun?
MICHELLE: It is not taken even the littlest bit seriously. It’s always the source of a gag, and even to me, it seemed that Senda didn’t really have it, if he was able to get past it so easily when his friends needed him. Realism, this is not.
MJ: Good to know, good to know.
MICHELLE: What else have you got this week?
MJ: Well, this week I also checked out the second volume of the manga adaptation of My Girlfriend’s a Geek, based on the novels by Pentabu. I liked the first volume better than a lot of manga bloggers did, and I’m definitely still having fun with it, with really just a single caveat.
In this volume, our hero, Taiga, is deep into writing a BL novel for his new fujoshi girlfriend, and though he’s clearly embarrassed, he’s also pretty serious about the writing (which is damn charming, if you ask me). A trip to a school-uniform-themed cafe with Yuiko and her like-minded friends is a bit more than he can take. And an encounter with Yuiko’s elegant boss (nicknamed “Milan”) incites a sudden sense of rivalry in Taiga, causing him to foolishly proclaim his determination to become a “moe seme,” despite the fact that he’s not entirely sure what that is.
What’s charming about this series is that it winks equally at the Taigas and Yuikos of this world, making affectionate fun of both but never crossing over into satire, which would be far too cutting in this context. Pentabu actually manages to realistically evoke both the fun of being a fujoshi (or any other kind of intense fan) and the ways in which it can become isolating from those on the outside. Taiga’s experience in the cafe paints this perfectly, for instance, rendering the girls both adorable and obnoxious in their fandom, as Taiga swings between feelings of appreciation and alienation. There are some potentially deep things lurking here under the surface, and I find I’m eager to read the novels to see what’s really in there.
As a veteran of slash fandom, I find the series both genuinely amusing and a tiny bit humiliating. Fortunately, the characters are charming enough to keep the latter to a minimum.
Now to the caveat. The one thing that strikes me as odd through this entire series so far, is that though Taiga is clearly into Yuiko, and Yuiko has quite a few fantasies that involve Taiga, the two of them together actually don’t seem to have much of a sex life at all. And while I guess this could be played for humor, you’d think there would be some actual frustration on the part of our POV character, at least. I find that really strange.
MICHELLE: I’ve been considering reading the novels first, actually, especially since the second and final one just came out. That’s very interesting about the perspective on fandom; I find I experience something similar with my enthusiastic friends on occasion. Your last paragraph makes me wonder, though, whether Yuiko really likes Taiga for himself, or if she just likes the idea of him.
MJ: That’s a very good question. And though the series’ light tone makes me doubt it’ll leave Taiga ultimately heartbroken, I guess we never know!
So, what else have you got for us?
MICHELLE: The cutingest cute that ever cuted! Well, actually, maybe that’s Chi’s Sweet Home, but the second volume of Eensy Weensy Monster comes close.
Nanoha Satsuki and Hazuki Tokiwa got off on the wrong foot, when Hazuki’s shallow ways irritated Nanoha to the point where she yelled at him for being so empty-headed. Awesomely, this serves as a wake-up call to Hazuki, who realizes that he is pretty worthless. He begins spending more time with Nanoha, and by the second volume he’s developed feelings for her. He eventually confesses, which is followed by a cute period wherein he attempts to wait patiently for Nanoha to figure out how she feels about him.
This doesn’t sound like much plot, but that’s because the emphasis is entirely on the characters and their evolving feelings, something at which creator Masami Tsuda (of Kare Kano fame) excels. She’s especially good at showing how each characters’ perspective of the same moment differs, and at eventually bringing them together in a believable way. Too, I love how Nanoha, who is usually drawn in a simple, cute style, becomes lovelier when seen through Hazuki’s eyes. It’s a subtle difference, but makes a big impact.
This two-volume series is also unique for its twelve-chapter structure, which follows the couple over a year of their acquaintance, with each chapter representing a month. The story never gets too bogged down in details as a result, but still charts a satisfying path. I might wish for more, especially about their unique cast of friends, but it isn’t really necessary.
MJ: Oh, that does sound like the cutingest cute! What a great way to wrap up the evening here. I might even forget for a moment about my precious Lost Hour.
So it’s just two volumes, eh? I feel sad about this, even though you’ve already said it’s satisfying as-is.
MICHELLE: Yes, only two volumes, but, in my opinion, the first two volumes of Kare Kano were the best in that series, so it’s probably a good thing that she stopped here. Heck, maybe she agrees with me about Kare Kano. And I bet she agrees about DST, too!
MJ: Perhaps! :D
Okay, the Lost Hour has killed me. I must collapse in a heap.
MICHELLE: Collapse away!
MJ: ‘Night-‘night. *clunk*