Monkey High, Volume 7
By Shouko Akira
Published by Viz Media
After her politician father is arrested for corruption, Haruna Aizawa transfers from her elite private school to a run-of-the-mill high school though, from her perspective, there is no great difference between them. She sees high school as being like living on Monkey Mountain–watching a gang of monkeys fighting each other over and over again, establishing and re-establishing their hierarchy. Her theory is quickly confirmed by the first student she meets at her new school–a grinning imp of a boy named Masaru Yamashita (“Macharu” to his friends)–who strongly reminds her of a baby monkey. The rest of the students are the usual crowd, including the class “prince,” Atsu, and a gang of unfriendly girls, and Haruna keeps herself at a distance as much as she possibly can.
Trouble is, there is one student she can’t seem to distance herself from no matter how she tries, and that is Macharu. When she’s around him, her heart pounds and her skin goes tingly, leaving her utterly confused. Fortunately, Macharu feels the same way and as the first volume winds down, the two begin to explore a relationship together, despite their strong personality differences and Haruna’s initial embarrassment over having fallen for a short, goofy guy like him. As the series continues, their relationship grows and Haruna even goes so far as to introduce Macharu to her estranged father (“…because I want to be with him for a long time.”), though her father only ends up hurting her in the attempt.
In volume seven, Haruna and Macharu face the question of taking their relationship to the next level physically, and nearly every situation throughout the volume comes back around to that issue. First, an overnight stay at an amusement park is interrupted by family illness. Later, a half-drunk attempt on Haruna’s part is thankfully thwarted by an unusually level-headed Macharu. The sexual tension in this volume is impressively thick for a series that has been notably chaste so far, and it’s hard not to root for the two of them to finally give in to their feelings, they are so sincerely adorable about it.
Also in this volume, as they begin their last year of high school, Macharu is made painfully aware (thanks to Haruna’s tactless father) of the fact that his mediocre academic standing and lack of ambition is likely to separate him from Haruna after graduation. Determined to turn his academic performance around so that he can pursue the kind of college and career that might keep him in her league, he delves determinedly into a brutal summer prep course, but though he is racing to catch up to her, it is Haruna who somehow ends up feeling left behind. “Unlike me, Macharu can have a good time anywhere he goes,” she muses as she tearfully contemplates the possibility of Macharu heading off to college without her, despite the fact that it is she who first declared her own plans to study abroad.
What is especially charming about this series is the personalities of and relationship between the two main characters who remind me of no other shojo manga couple I can think of, though their relationship does call to mind legendary 80s romance, Say Anything (without quite its special brand of whimsy or the assistance of Peter Gabriel), which may explain why I enjoy it so much. Unlike most shojo heroines, Haruna is deliberately detached from everyone around her, particularly those she cares about most. She is fearful of being hurt and awkward with her feelings–so much so that she frequently ends up being unintentionally mean or rude, especially to Macharu. As their relationship becomes sort of a pet joke of their classmates’ (not maliciously so, for the most part), Haruna is frequently teased about her feelings for him which, especially early on, generally causes her to deny them adamantly, despite the fact that in doing so she is often humiliating Macharu.
Fortunately for Haruna, Macharu is, well, Macharu. He is eager, cheerful, endlessly energetic, and so used to the (mostly) good-natured teasing from his classmates for his goofy behavior and unsophisticated looks (he is frequently mistaken for a middle-schooler) that Haruna’s coldness and self-protective insults pretty much roll right off his back. He is a simple soul–utterly without guile (though he is not nearly as naive as his friend and rival, Atsu, might wish for him to be)–and he possesses just the right amount of fantastic quirkiness to keep him from becoming predictable. His relationship with Haruna is both deeply unlikely and utterly charming, and though it is Macharu’s exuberant, childlike warmth that is most irresistible as a reader, it is his surprising moments of maturity combined with Haruna’s rare outbursts of true feeling that keep their bond intact. Whether there is anything that either of them can do to hold on to that bond as their lives pull them in different directions remains to be seen.
Though the series contains all the usual school romance trappings (the amusement park date, the cultural festival, the school trip, etc.), its protagonists’ unusual dynamic prevents these things from feeling too stale within the context of the story. The series is charmingly and expressively drawn, and it’s important to note that though the artist does accentuate Macharu’s monkey-like movements and energy throughout the series, it is done so naturally that it simply blends in seamlessly with his personality.
With its slow-paced plot and standard high school setting, Monkey High could easily get lost in a market flooded with similar-looking titles. Fortunately, its quirky characterization and richly drawn relationships make it stand out from the pack.
Review copy provided by the publisher.