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+)
Estara saysJuly 4, 2012 at 5:56 pm
Hmm. So basically this had been done better and more empowering in Two Flowers for the Dragon. I think I’ll skip this one then.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 5, 2012 at 11:12 am
The heroine of Jiu Jiu is much more angstful than the lead character in Dragon — which, depending on your POV, could be a good thing or a bad thing. I found Dragon more engaging than Jiu Jiu, largely because the storytelling in Jiu Jiu is so frenetic; it’s a little bit like spending time in the company of five or six fifteen-year-olds who are all talking and texting at the same time.
Estara saysJuly 5, 2012 at 11:19 am
I’m a teacher ^^ – I don’t need that in my spare time.
CJ saysJuly 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm
I’m still looking at that cover, trying to figure out which limbs belong to whom. A few are obvious, they each seem to have one arm, but most of them are leaving me scratching my head. Unless they combine into a 3 headed monster with many limbs, in which case the perfect makes perfect sense, but I somehow doubt that happens.
Anyway, doesn’t sound like my sort of thing. And no wimpering puppy will sway me after seeing my sister bawling her eyes out over her dying cat yesterday (her fiance and I were also crying profusely, but at least he died purring in my sister’s arms instead of having a blood clot loosen from his heart and have him die in agonizing pain or having the fluid return to the sac around his lungs suffocating him, he really was a ticking time bomb. Not even that old, only around 11 and a half, but the poor thing, using all his energy just to breathe and purr last evening. It was definitely his time)
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 5, 2012 at 11:14 am
Hey, CJ, I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s cat; I’ve been through something similar with several of my dogs, and it’s always incredibly sad and upsetting. My heart goes out to all of you.
Estara saysJuly 5, 2012 at 11:18 am
I’m sorry to hear about your sister’s loss.
CJ saysJuly 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm
Thanks for the wishes, guys! I am glad that her fiance is there to be with her (I think these are his first cats and he never expected to get so attached), and now that the other cat is sure he’s not going to the vets, he’s there now too.
Aaron saysJuly 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm
I wanted to like this the herione seemed self reliant enough but than the whole *possible spoiler* “dead brother” element felt unneeded like they needed her empowered but not too empowered so than it can all be smoothed over by the redeeming power of love but maybe I’m reading too much into it I just thought we could of done without the emotional baggage or angst ridden interior monologues as they seemed to just hobble the main herione.
Katherine Dacey saysJuly 10, 2012 at 10:45 pm
I think you’ve done a better job than I did in expressing what was so frustrating about Jiu Jiu: the author tries to create a capable heroine, but undermines Takamichi at every turn with too much emotional baggage.