Here you will find honest, intelligent manga reviews for shojo fans of all ages.

Jun 27, 2009

Ai Yori Aoshi - Kou Fumizuki

Ai Yori Aoshi is a tale of childhood love, and how it can endure even through time and circumstance. A seinen manga written by Kou Fumizuki, it was serialized in the publication Young Animal from 1999-2005.

Synopsis: The main character Kaoru Hanabishi is a bastard son of Yūji Hanabishi, the head of the Hanabishi Zaibatsu, who dies when Kaoru is only five years old. Due to harsh circumstances Kaoru leaves his wealthy family at a young age and lives on his own. One day he is returning home from his college courses, when he sees a young lady in a kimono that looks lost at the station. It turns out she is his childhood fiance, Aoi Sakuraba, whose family owns the Sakuraba Department Store franchise. Although their engagement became void when Kaoru left the Hanabishi, Aoi has always loved and cherished his memory since childhood and has sought him out now that they are both of a marriageable age. When her family discovers that she has found Kaoru, they demand her return home. Aoi declares that she wants to stay by Kaoru's side, so her parents send her to live on a western style estate with a guardian. Kaoru is to live on the estate too, but as a tenant in a separate building, and Aoi is to appear as his land lady. Kaoru's college friends intrude upon the estate, and eventually the story becomes a harem with several girls living on the estate all falling for Kaoru. He and Aoi are forced to keep up appearances, denying to others their feelings for one another. Eventually the Hanabishi come for Aoi and she is forced to make a choice that changes her life forever.

Review: It is apparent when flipping through the pages of any of the chapters that this manga was definitely aimed at the male population. The fan service abounds....everywhere. You cannot get through a chapter without some cleavage staring you in the face. Plenty of naked females. One of the college girls, Tina, is even a groper. I'm sure it's appealing to guys, but as a girl, it's somewhat obnoxious. However, if you can get past the fan service, there is actually a touching story about some very well developed characters. Aoi comes across as a very naive girl, and rightly so since she has been sheltered most of her life and groomed to become the wife of the Hanabishi heir. Although Kaoru had a harsh childhood, he doesn't let that keep him from being a sweet and caring guy. As their relationship develops as young adults, their experiences together help shape the people that they eventually become. Aoi learns to become a stronger woman, and Kaoru realizes what having a "family" is really all about. I find that Fumizuki is very crafty with flashbacks. The important childhood moments between Aoi and Kaoru are inserted at very poignant times. The panels are well drawn and you'll hear no complaints about the anatomy....well except maybe the excessive breast sizes. :P During the story Fumizuki has to age the characters over four years and while reading you don't really notice it, but if you take a look at the first and last volume the changes are apparent. That truly shows the talent of the artist. Overall the artwork is very nice. I highly recommend this series as long as you don't mind the fan service. The relationship between Aoi and Kaoru is so very sweet.

Romance Rating: Lustful - As if I haven't emphasized it enough already, there's plenty of nudity. Some intimate moments between Kaoru and Aoi, too.

Media Status: Ai Yori Aoshi is rated mature and available in 17 volumes from Tokyopop. There are two anime adaptations of this series, both produced by J.C. Staff and directed by Masami Shimoda. The first one called Ai Yori Aoshi contains a total of 24 episodes. The sequel series is titled Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi and contains 12 episodes that take place three years after the the first episode of the original. Both are available in English dubs from Geneon.

Jun 26, 2009

New York Times Best Seller June 14-20

Only one shojo manga on the NY Times manga best seller list.


M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Hana-Kimi

Our moment this week is the "Ball" scene from Hisaya Nakajo's Hana-Kimi.

Spending weeks practicing to learn how to dance, Mizuki is then nominated as one of the cutest boys at school to cross-dress in order to make up for the lack of girls attending the ball. (Convenient plot twist, huh?) She is paired with Nakatsu, who passes out, and leaves her standing as an observer. Sano notices and leaves his partner, Rio, who is in on Mizuki's secret, to ask Mizuki to dance. Although everyone believes Mizuki Ashiya is a guy, they still think the couple looks cute together. Pretty obvious to me she's a girl. I like this moment because it's one of the few times you see Sano bust into a wide smile, and they are actually enjoying a dance as a normal couple would do.

Jun 24, 2009

Ceres Celestial Legend - Yuu Watase

Ceres Celestial Legend was originally serialized in Shojo Comic from 1996-2000. In 1998 it won the Shogakukan Manga Award for best shojo manga. A fantasy based on a ten'nyo legend, the story revolves around the Mikage family.

Synopsis: Fraternal twins, Aya and Aki Mikage, discover during a family ritual on their sixteenth birthday their unique heritage. Aya is a reincarnation known as Ceres, a celestial maiden who became trapped on Earth when a farmer stole her hagoromo, or feathered robe. When Aya transforms into Ceres she is bestowed very strong powers, and often forgets what has transpired, thus creating a dual personality. With the revelation of her powers, Aya is deemed a curse of the Mikage family and sentenced to death. Running from her family, she is discovered by Toya, a Mikage employee with no memory of his past. He is assigned to protect Aki from Ceres and also to observe Aya. In his observations he and Aya develop feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Aki is overcome by his own familial "curse" and begins the transformation into Mikagi, the reincarnation of the farmer who stole the maiden's robes. This leads him to seek out Ceres and make her his possession. With the help of allies, and a deal with Ceres, Aya agrees to find the celestial robe in exchange for Ceres not harming her brother or Toya. Her resolve to find the robe wavers as she struggles with the trauma of losing her family, fighting off the advances of her brother as Mikagi, overcoming the complications of her relationship with Toya, and the resulting events created by the c-project, a gene manipulation program that identifies and creates descendants of Ceres. Toya direly searches for his own past and identity, and the comprehension of what draws him to Aya. Together they must fight off the Mikage and return Ceres to her home in the heavens.

Review: Whew...it's a very intricate story, with a long cast of characters. I only mentioned a few, but there are more involved in the production that aid and hinder the main cast. I have to give Watase credit for creating and maintaining the amount of characters used in her story. The story itself is fascinating in its own way. For those not knowing any Japanese legends, the plot familiarizes readers with the stories of the ten'nyo and some of the locations of told sightings in Japan. It has the elements of fantasy, action, romance, mystery, and horror. This is one of the few series that I was completely satisfied with the ending. It is evident that Watase planned out her story and did vast research in order to deliver the chapters with such finesse. She also left some social commentary in there with her views on gene manipulation, and the roles of men and women in society. Her layouts can be boxy at times, due to amount of dialogue, but look nice in the romance or action sequences. The drawings are definitely in her own style, and you can see similarities between these characters and others in her earlier works. The amount of toning and textures definitely add to the scenes instead of detracting from them. Overall the art is appealing for its time.

The relationships in this series are what hold the story together. Aya has three men in her life that support her, her brother Aki, Toya, and Yuhi Aogiri. When things get incestuous between herself and her brother, and her relationship with Toya goes astray, it's Yuhi that stands by her. I find the relationship with her brother the most complex. Being twins they are very close. Then they are separated because Aya is a "threat" to Aki, and then Aki becomes her nemesis. Her feelings of love for her brother always remain in her heart, but his existence is threatened by Ceres. Aya is always trying to protect Aki, but is deeply hurt by his insistence on dominating her as Mikagi. The relationship between Toya and Aya is the main romance, and their relationship becomes intimate. Even though Toya can't remember his past, he feels something right with Aya. His character is vital to the plot. As for Yuhi, he also has deeper feelings for Aya, but Aya is captivated by Toya. Yuhi is the dependable one, her best friend and the shoulder for her to cry on, and his relationship with Aya is the most stable. Watase uses these three character examples of men's relationships with women as being dominating, idealized, or reciprocal. An interesting juxtaposition of characters. I believe any shojo fan who likes fantasy would find this series entertaining and an engrossing read.

Romance Rating: Lustful - There are enough tender and intimate moments to touch the heart of any shojo fan.

Media Status: Ceres Celestial Legend is complete and available in 14 volumes from Viz Media. This series was adapted into an anime. Directed by Hajime Kamagaki and produced by Studio Pierrot, the Ceres, Celestial Legend anime adaptation ran for twenty-four episodes in 2000. It is available on DVD from Viz. Although the art is dated, it is true to the manga.

Jun 23, 2009

Shōjo Sensei: Senpai and Kōhai

If you've watched anime or read manga long enough you've undoubtedly come across the term senpai. Even without a dictionary it was pretty easy to figure out that a senpai was someone with more experience and was looked up to. In shōjo manga it is most commonly seen in a school setting, when an underclassman refers to an upperclassman, however it can also be seen in work settings when a new hire refers to a co-worker with more experience. Senpai and kōhai have a reciprocal relationship in that the senpai are obligated to lead and train the kōhai, while the kōhai help the senpai with their tasks in order to learn from them.

For a long time I knew the honorific of senpai, but didn't realize that the "underclassman" also has the honorific of kōhai. There's only been one instance in which I've seen kōhai used, and it was in a scanlation. This made me wonder why the English publishing companies don't keep ALL the honorifics. You see senpai commonly enough, so why not kōhai? Usually it's replaced with the term freshman or first year.

Senpai and kōhai relationships are very common in shōjo manga since many are in a school setting. Some examples are Haruna and Yoh from High School Debut, Chiaki and Nodame in Nodame Cantabile, Ren and Kyoko from Skip Beat, and Mayama and Takemoto in Honey and Clover.

If you want to add any more senpai-kōhai relationships to the list, please feel free to comment.

Until next time - Arigatō!

Jun 22, 2009

Pretty Poison - Yutta Narukami

Pretty Poison is part of the LuvLuv publications of comics for women, known as the redikomi or josei genre in Japan.

Synopsis: This one shot manga tells the story of a young career woman Riyako, who is looking forward to moving in with her current boyfriend. Only her no good boyfriend has three other women and pays a young high school guy, Shogo, to distract her after he dumps her. Shogo has done this for him before with other girls, but for some reason, Riyako makes an impression on him. After a purely physical relationship Riyako begins to care about Shogo, and wants to help him with his future. Shogo has feelings for Riyako too, and must deal with his own familial issues in order to become a better man for Riyako.

Review: This story reminds me of a Harlequin romance novel in the sense that the plot is quickly executed, the characters are only developed up to a point, and instead of using your imagination for the sex scenes, it's all drawn out for you to see. I was somewhat surprised as to how graphic the content was. Sometimes I was trying to figure out exactly what body parts were being drawn. But if you can get past those scenes, then the rest of the drawings are decent. I don't care that much for Narukami's style. There could have been more detail in the drawings. It looks like simple line art with amateur toning. As for the story, it could have been developed more. I think some more scenes outside of the bedroom would have made the characters more realistic. The female lead, Riyako, came across as weak willed, even though Shogo states that he thinks she's strong. She is portrayed as being easily controlled by her body.

Pretty Poison also contains a short called Yugi Scores. A girl who becomes engaged to a professional soccer player gets cold feet when she begins to contemplate the domestic life. There is very little depth to the story, which leaves no impression upon me.

Romance Rating: Erotic - There is an explicit warning and mature rating on the font and back of the novel for good reason. There is plenty of nudity and explicit sex scenes. They do help define the characters' relationship, but it's also drawn for the women readers who enjoy such displays. I'm trying not to be too judgemental here, but it really is good ol' smut. The book's sole purpose is to provide a short story with all those steamy scenes. Hey, if you like that, then go for it!

Media Status: Pretty Poison is available in one volume from LuvLuv publications.

Jun 19, 2009

M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Skip Beat

This week's is from a fairly recent release, Skip Beat vol. 18, by Yoshiki Nakamura. It's technically two different moments, but I really like the reactions shown by the two men. Koo, whom Kyoko is assisting for LME, assigns her to act like a young boy, Kuon, who was once his son. The man's reaction on the first day she comes as Kuon is great! He's half-asleep and was really expecting his son since Kyoko was talking in English, then he looks and realizes it's Kyoko.

But what's even better is when Ren sees Kyoko when they both end up at the same site during the work day. Kyoko is acting her role as Kuon when she runs past Ren in a hallway.

Oh, such good stuff! Ren's reaction is heartstopping. If you've read the story then you know the connections between Koo, Ren, and Kuon. The fact that Kyoko nails the role just shows how well she understands "Kuon". The two guys' reactions are priceless. Two very memorable Skip Beat moments. Great plot, Nakamura!

Jun 17, 2009

Kare Kano - Masami Tsuda

Kare Kano ran in the publication LaLa from 1996-2005. It tells the story of two high school academic rivals that form a relationship when they reveal to one another that their "perfect" selves are just facades.

Synopsis: Yukino Miyazawa strives to be the model student for the attention and praise she receives, when she is actually a slob and not as demure as she appears. When she is bested by Soichiro Arima for top class ranking during entrance exams, she becomes obsessed with him and strives to beat him academically come first exams. Arima accidentally discovers Yukino's true personality and decides to black mail her for fun. He threatens to tell all the rest of their classmen about her fake personality unless she does his class work for him while he's at kendo club. When Yukino finally admits that she's fed up with being his slave and doesn't care if he tells the others, Arima confesses that he never planned to tell on her and just wanted an excuse to spend time with her. Thus begins the long, complicated relationship of Yukino and Soichiro.

Review: There are a lot of side stories in Kare Kano, including two other romances, that take the reader in another direction away from the main characters. When the mangaka comes back to the main characters, it's to point out a problem in their relationship, and then she begins more back story on Soichiro Arima. It's important that Soichiro gets developed more, but the plot goes from being a tender and comedic high school romance, to a serious drama about childhood scars. Then there's the sudden jump in time halfway through the story. Without much plot development, the main characters are choosing careers and preparing to graduate. The outcome of Soichiro and Yukino's relationship is somewhat unexpected, and the ending, well...the development with their best friend Asaba just blew it for me. As this was Tsuda's first serialized work, it's not surprising that things were so disjointed.

The art work in Kare Kano is well done with nice layouts, drawings, and toning. Tsuda does a good job aging her characters from the beginning to the end of the story. She also adjusts the backgrounds to fit the mood and tone of the story. As for romance, there's plenty of tender moments as well as implied intimacy. You won't be disappointed.

Romance Rating: Steamy - Yukino and Soichiro do have an intimate relationship, but all nudity is implied and even the intimate moments are symbolized with visual metaphors.

Media Status: Kare Kano is a completed series with 21 volumes available from Tokyopop. The anime known as "His and Her Circumstances" was produced by Gainax and tells the story of Kare Kano up to volume 7, in 26 episodes. It is rumored that the anime was canceled due to a disagreement of the direction the story would take between the writers of the anime and Tsuda.

Jun 15, 2009

NG Life Vol. 1 - Mizuho Kusanagi

NG Life (NG meaning No Good, as far as I can find), has been serialized in Japan's Hana to Yume publication since 2006. The main character, Keidai Saeki, is a high school student who has a serious condition - he remembers his past life of an Italian gladiator named Sirix. Though many of Sirix's friends and rivals have been reincarnated around him, none remember their past life in Pompeii. Then to add insult to injury, Sirix's best guy friend has been reborn as a woman, and his wife -"tah-dah"- she's reborn as a man! Confused yet? It gets crazier. In current time, Keidai meets Yuuma, a middle school boy who lives across the street. He recognizes Yuuma's soul as being his past wife, Serena, and his heart beats madly for him. This plays havoc with Keidai's emotions. Then Yuuma gets a crush on Keidai's girl pal Serizawa, who was once Sirix's best male friend, Loleus, in past life. Only, the Serizawa of current times really likes Keidai. Confused now?

In this story we have a nice little love triangle with Keidai (frustratingly) crushing on Yuuma, Yuuma crushing Serizawa, and Serizawa crushing on Keidai. The whole situation is maddening for Keidai since no one remembers the past, yet he is constantly haunted by dreams of his past life. Especially of leaving Serena, on the day of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and never getting to return to her again. Now when they are finally reunited, she's a he. Not to mention the fact that his best friend has romantic feelings for him, and he unknowingly hurts her time and again by emphasizing their friendship. I don't know how the main character can retain his sanity. Even his best friends question it, because they don't remember their past lives. Oh, and did I mention that Keidai's parents are actually his little sister and main rival from his past life? That just adds more kindling to the fire.

This story is emotionally chaotic, and if you hate love triangles, you definitely DON'T want to read it. The characters are pretty flat at this point, since they've just been introduced. Trying to make the connections between past lives and current lives wasn't too difficult, but Kusanagi's insertion of flashbacks isn't always smooth. So far the plot mostly evokes sympathy for Keidai, whether it's because he's emotionally strung out, or because you wonder if he really might be crazy. The plot also jacks with your own emotions for the characters. The mangaka first gets you empathizing with Sirix to get back with Serena, then she pulls you the other direction when Serizawa shows how she feels about Keidai. It leaves you confused about how you want the love triangle to work out, which I'm sure is the author's intention. The art work is fitting for the piece; nothing is really striking, or feels out of place. Kusinagi had to do her research for the setting of Pompeii. I think she does a good job of making Yuuma look feminine and masculine in the right places, without distorting his character. As far as romantic moments, there's only one true moment in the first novel, and it's surprising who it happens between.

Will I continue to read it? That's a hard call at this point. On one hand, I know that in book 2, another person who remembers the past life comes along, and that might add more to the story. On the other hand, the emotional drama and chaos of the love triangle is very taxing. It can be frustrating and at times silly. Hmm...maybe I've already decided. Hehe.

NG Life vol. 1 is available from Tokyopop, with vol. 2 being released in July.

Jun 12, 2009

M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Absolute Boyfriend

Well fans, some of you may have read my review of Absolute Boyfriend where I stated that the only saving grace of Watase's work was that there were some laugh out loud funny gags. Here's one of the most memorable.

I find the exchange between Riiko's parents giggle-worthy since it refers back to a previous scene where Riiko's dad is remembering when she used to take a bath with him as a kid and asks him what his "bleep" is and why she doesn't have one. Thanks, Watase, for trying so hard to throw in the crude humor! {Ughh! I'm trying not to visualize what her dad says. %-( }

Jun 11, 2009

Shojo Flash Interview

Recently, fellow blogger Laura over on Shojo Flash, did an interview about my blog and experiences with manga. Today she posted her interview. Go check out her blog if you're interested.

Shojo Flash Interview

Thanks, Laura, for the post and the feature. It's an honor for a newbie blogger like myself. I hope more shojo fans discover your informative site!

Jun 10, 2009

First Impressions - Sugar Princess Vol.1-2

Sugar Princess is Hisaya Nakajo's second title to be released by Viz here in the states. It originally ran in Japan's Hana to Yume publication from 2005-2006. The main character Maaya Kurinoki goes ice skating with her sister one day and is scouted to become a figure skater. At the rink she meets Shun, a professional pairs skater, who does not have (nor does he want) a partner. He is told to instruct Maaya in skating basics but refuses. Maaya then turns to the children at the rink for beginning lessons. After watching her from a distance, Shun then decides he will help her out. Maaya discovers the reason behind why Shun no longer pair skates. In order to save the rink from being closed down, Shun and Maaya are asked to pair skate in a competition.

A decent setup for the story so far, however the characters fall flat. Nakajo follows too similar of a formula to Hana-Kimi. Shun is like Sano in that he's cool and quiet, and has given up doing what he loves for an unknown reason. Maaya is similar to Mizuki with her positive, sunny attitude. It's like the same character personalities have been thrown into a different setting and given different backgrounds. The artwork is the same style, and even the character designs seem familiar. Not a lot of newness here, except for plot.

Only the first two volumes have been released, and at this point Nakajo is unsure if the story will be completed, as she went on hiatus from this series in order to draw for the DS video game Duel Love: Koisuru Otome wa Shouri no Megami, released in March 2008 in Japan.

My opinion-skip it for now. If there is ever more to this series, I may change my mind, but with so little story and rehashed characters and drawings, it's not worth your time. Too bad, I like the ice skating plot, but Nakajo really needs to spend more time on this series to make it any better.

Jun 9, 2009

Shōjo Sensei: Onigiri

Rice balls are a staple food in Japan because they are easy to make and very portable. These common eats are found in various manga, but I was introduced to the term onigiri through the series Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya. Tohru Honda tells of her experience playing the game Fruits Basket in school. Although every one is assigned the name of a fruit, she was assigned the name onigiri (rice ball). Unaware of what the other children were doing, she later realizes that they were intentionally leaving her out of the game, since an onigiri is not a fruit.

Onigiri are made with sticky rice and a variety of fillings. Wrapped in nori, or strips of dried seaweed, they are compact and comparable to a western sandwich. Here is a simple onigiri recipe that uses salmon as a filling. Below is an insightful video that shows the process. Many different fillings are used.

Have you had any fantastic onigiri? Share your experience with us in the comments. Until next time, いただきます - Itadakimasu! {Thank you for the food!}

Jun 7, 2009

Castle of Dreams - Masami Tsuda

Castle of Dreams: Stories from the Kare Kano Creator is an anthology of short stories written by Masami Tsuda, better known for her shojo title Kare Kano. The volume consists of a three story trilogy loosely linked by the appearance of a sorcerer, then four more short stories of shojo romance for a total of seven stories. The following are short synopses for each story:

In the Forest - A girl of nobility enjoys her simple life taking care of animals in the forest, when she is called on to become the concubine of the widowed prince in order to bear him an heir.
I Am the Mermaid - An island priestess, descended from a magical union of a man and a mermaid, shoulders the burden of protecting her island from invaders. When she falls for a castaway found drifting close to the island, great tragedy occurs.
Castle of Dreams - A bastard peasant boy becomes a castle servant at his late father's estate. There he befriends the lord's heir, and wishes he could tell the boy that they are brothers.
The Room Where An Angel Lives - Set during the industrial revolution, an orphaned boy rescues a lost little girl and takes her into his care. During his hard days of labor he looks forward to coming home to his little angel, and sacrifices much in order for her to have a happy life.
Awkward Relationship - Two childhood friends drift apart through their school years only to realize at graduation that they have each misunderstood the other's intentions.
I Won't Go - A girl's first love from a middle school relationship is challenged by deeper feelings for a new high school man.
Because I Have You - A middle school girl is inspired to achieve more by a boy she admires and remembers him fondly for it.

I have to say that nothing in this volume was so remarkable that it stuck in my mind once I put it back on the shelf. I had to flip through it again in order to remember the stories so that I could write the synopses. What it does showcase is Tsuda's storytelling ability. The stories are in diverse settings from typical school, to industrial England, an island village, and even a medieval castle - giving you a variety of genres to choose from such as fantasy, historical, and slice of life. Every story centers around a relationship and the emotions of the main character. Of them all, Castle of Dreams was the story I liked most, and ironic enough, that one isn't even about a boy-girl relationship, but a sibling one. The art is typical Tsuda style. I say that, but being as I've seen only one other series by her, my conclusion is that it looks the same as Kare Kano. I could easily pick out the main protagonists of Kare Kano in many of the character designs. The layouts were about as striking as the characters. Nothing really dynamic or note worthy. What was obvious was that Tsuda did her research to draw the costumes and backgrounds, as they are well tailored to the settings she chose.

All in all this was a bit of a disappointment. Having a soft spot for Kare Kano, I was hoping that this anthology would be much more than it is. As it turns out, it will probably sit on my shelf collecting dust. You won't miss much if you don't read it. It looks like it was just a marketing scheme to get fans of Tsuda to spend more money for her name. However, if you're a devout fan or just curious, it is a good amount of reading material for the price.

Castle of Dreams: Stories from the Kare Kano Creator is available from Tokyopop in one volume.

Jun 5, 2009

M³ - Memorable Manga Moments: Lovely Complex

Since we discussed festivals earlier this week, I decided a memorable festival moment was in order. This one is from Aya Nakahara's Lovely Complex, aka. Love★Com.

This one stands out to me because it's the first time that Risa notices that Otani is a "guy". Up to this point she hasn't considered him as datable material. Funny how holding his hand triggers it. Has anyone ever had this similar experience, where a guy you're around all the time, all of the sudden becomes considerable? Risa's reaction is spot on. Then there's Otani's embarrassment where he drops Risa's hand. That's so characteristic of a shy guy. Nakahara has the boy and girl reactions nailed.

Jun 3, 2009

First Impressions - Nodame Cantabile

Nodame Cantabile won the 2004 Kodansha Manga Award for best shojo manga. It is currently serialized in Japan's Kiss publication and has been running since 2001. Considered a josei manga aimed at young adult women, the story is centered around a group of college students at Momogaoka Music College. Megumi Noda, known as Nodame throughout the series, is an eccentric piano student who wants to be a kindergarten teacher. Although she plays with great passion by ear, Nodame lacks technical skills such as site reading a score, playing a piece exactly as written, or basic music theory. She lives next door to music student Shinichi Chiaki, a pianist/violinist who desires to become a conductor. His father being a famous musician, Chiaki has spent most of his life in the music world, even growing up in Prague. The two students meet by accident, but slowly become acquainted through the piano department. Nodame falls for Chiaki in short time, seeing as he often cooks her dinner and helps her practice. Chiaki slowly develops an appreciation for Nodame's musical passion and accepts her little quirks. A visiting professor at the school, Stresemann, decides to challenge Chiaki by having him conduct a student orchestra. Because of Nodame, Chiaki learns how to work with the struggling musicians and is able to make a name for the student orchestra. In hopes of one day playing for Chiaki as a conductor, Nodame begins to develop her musical skills and challenges herself to play better. With the help of Nodame, Chiaki overcomes a phobia and is able to leave Japan, where he becomes the conductor of a more well known orchestra in Paris.

The strong point of this series is Tomoko Ninomiya's brilliant ability to create unusual, unique characters. Her main protagonists are far from any stereotypes. The depth of development of Nodame and Chiaki, from their backgrounds to their quirks and phobias, really ground this series to a more realistic, believable experience. The two seem far from a compatible couple, with Nodame's immaturity and Chiaki's arrogance. Yet, the mangaka uses these weaknesses as the growth point of her characters; something they each must overcome with the other's help. The story seems slow at first, but picks up quickly after Ninomiya's exposition of Nodame and Chiaki. As for the artwork, Ninomiya has a definite style. She has a good sense of anatomy and perspective, and is very detailed in drawing the instruments - even the sheet music. The toning is simple and fits the mood of the event. I find it interesting that she doesn't go for the "hot and sexy" or "gorgeous babe" character designs that a lot of artists incorporate. Nodame can be characterized as maybe cute, and Chiaki is attractive, but not a hunk. A refreshing change that leaves the characters standing on their personalities, and not necessarily their looks. As for romance, this series has some sweet moments. There are kisses exchanged, but more than the physicality of the relationship, the mangaka focuses on the emotions.

My first impression of this series - fantastic! It well deserved the award. Especially if you have any kind of musical background, I highly recommend it.

Nodame Cantabile is currently being released by Del Ray publishing here in the states, and is on volume 15, with volume 16 due to be released in July. There has already been an anime, a video game, and a live action production in Japan. Also released were CDs that contain all the music that is played in the manga. It will be interesting to see if Nodame Cantabile gets a dubbed anime here in the states.

Jun 2, 2009

Shōjo Sensei: Summer Festivals

A new featurette beginning this week that addresses Japanese words or cultural traditions that can be learned through reading shōjo manga. Since everyone's starting on the summer stretch, I thought this would be a good time to cover summer festivals in Japan.

The most popular summer festival is known as Obon, which celebrates remembering one's ancestors. The date of the celebration varies from region to region, but most temples hold festivities in mid-July or mid-August. Since the events are held in the heat of summer it is traditional for participants to wear yukata or light kimonos. There are numerous manga that picture the female protagonists dressed in yukata with their hair styled up, going out with friends or on a date to a local festival. Wearing a yukata can make a girl appear more feminine than regular western style attire that teens prefer on a daily basis. So for the guys this can be a surprising transformation. Guys wear them too, and in my opinion look just as attractive. Pictured below is a colored image from Hana Kimi artist Hisaya Nakajo.
Other examples: Lovely Complex, Negima! Master Negi Magi, W Juliet, Me and My Brothers, Name of the Flower

Temple festivities often include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food, like watermelon. The festival ends with a lantern floating ceremony, where paper lanterns are floated down rivers, symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits' return to the world of the dead. After the ceremony, spectators watch hanabi, or a fireworks display. Fireworks being one of those magical romantic moments, it is often used in a shojo manga at the end of the couple's date. Sometimes it's a sweet moment, other times not so much.
That's all for this post. Feel free to comment if you know of some other images that I could add. I wracked my brain, but I don't know all manga out there. I'd be happy to add others to this post.

Jun 1, 2009

Review Rating Systems

So I figured it was time to explain my rating systems.

Recently added is a romance rating. I decided this might help readers determine how appropriate a book may be for any audience. The following are the romance ratings:

Cuddly - Sweet and innocent. Maybe a chaste kiss or two.
Steamy - Sizzling romance that may imply intimacy between characters. No nudity.
Lustful - Scenes of making love, or nude drawings done in a suggestive manner.
Erotic - Sexual scenes drawn with little left for the imagination. Graphic imagery.

There are three main areas I look at to determine the overall ratings for each review.
  1. Characters - if the characters are not well developed, or are too flat, it makes for a less interesting story; the relationships between the characters are essential to development, and readers should be able to relate to characters in some way
  2. Plot - how well does the story play out - does it flow smoothly, lag, leave the reader confused, go off on a tangent; is the story character driven, or led by a series of random events. There should be a definite introduction/exposition of characters, an initial conflict or obstacle the protagonist faces, a definite climax, and a resolution to the obstacle or conflict.
  3. Artwork - how well does the artist layout and design pages, frame composition, use screen tone and other design elements; do the characters have proportionate anatomy, do the backgrounds have correct perspective, and are the images themselves pleasing to look at.
As for the ratings, there are three areas that are rated - the story, the artwork, and the overall execution of the piece. The story includes both the characters and plot. This is helpful to know, since sometimes a story may have fabulously developed characters with a dull or meager plot, or it could have stereotypical flat characters with a highly intriguing or fascinating plot, and it can still receive a decent story rating.

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5. Here's what the following ratings mean:
I hope this helps you to understand what my thinking is when I rate titles. I love to hear your feedback too. Feel free to disagree with me, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I am just putting mine out there in hopes that it can help others find decent reading material in a genre that is getting less and less attention. :)
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