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

Mar 24, 2010

Venus Capriccio Vol.1&2 - Mai Nishikata

Venus Capriccio was serialized in Hana to Yume magazine from 2006-2008. This is Mai Nishikata's first serialized work.

Synopsis: Takami Habara was raised in a family with four older brothers. So it's no surprise that along with her tall, attractive physique, she has a bluntly honest and outgoing personality. This is far from her ideal girly personality of a beautiful and demure princess. Her long time childhood friend, Akira Sasaki, has served that role in her mind; a talented pianist whose blond hair and blue eyes project a delicate beauty rivaled by any princess - except that Akira is a boy. Now teens, Akira decides to enlighten Takami about his own masculinity and sets out to prove which of them is really the "princess".

Review: While Venus Capriccio is Nishikata's first serialized story, I find many aspects of this piece nostalgic. I can easily refer Takami and Akira's story to other characters and events from popular shojo titles I've previously read. Strangely, this doesn't diminish the story. I find that Nishikata stuck with what appeals to a shojo audience and used it to her advantage. Unsure if her work would be serialized or not, Venus Capriccio starts out episodic in nature. This seems to be what works best since the two protagonists only have the piano school as a common setting. As the series continues though, there are longer story arcs as the couple spends more time together outside of piano school.

I find the gender reversal in this series entertaining. Takami, the female protagonist, plays the oblivious teen in this series, which is usually the role of the male. She is clueless to her own femininity and desirability. With four older brothers, she's used to being "one of the guys" and thinks of her relationship with Akira as having a cute younger brother. Akira, on the other hand, plays the more feminine role. He is declared the more beautiful of the pair. Even though he is the guy, he is the one frustrated by attempts to get his feelings of love across to clueless Takami. He gets jealous of other guys, tries to protect her, shows her she can be beautiful and attractive, and still Takami avoids the obvious presentations of his feelings. It's classic role reversal, and the personalities of Nishikata's characters pull it off fantastically.

The art in this series is very simplistic. I would say Nishikata uses conservative toning and coloring, when compared to other shojo works. The paneling and layouts tell the story well. I find the main characters attractive, drawn with expressive faces. My only complaint would be cover art layout and lettering, which would be the design of the publisher. The title lettering doesn't fit the series, especially when you see the original Japanese fonts.

Overall, Venus Capriccio is a fun and enjoyable read. I highly recommend it, especially if you like classical music or gender role reversal. I'll have more on volume 3 coming soon!

Romance Rating: Cuddly.

Media Status: Venus Capriccio is published here in the states by CMX. Volumes 1-3 are currently available.

Mar 17, 2010

Cactus's Secret Vol. 1 - Nana Haruta

Synopsis: First year Miku Yamada has harbored a crush on classmate Kyohei Fujioka since middle school. After working hard for two years to remake her plain image, she scrounges enough courage to confess her feelings to the boy. Kyohei happens to be the oblivious type, and Miku's attempts to confess are misinterpretted by Kyohei time and again. Frustrated, Miku despairs if she'll ever get through to Kyohei. Although Kyohei eventually gets the message, he doesn't know how he really feels. In the meantime, it looks as if another classmate has his eye on Miku.

Review: I don't remember where I read the premise for this story, but I had it in my head that I was going to be seeing some magical, fantasy elements in this story. I thought that it was "Cactus's Secret" because the girl accidentally turned into a cactus a la "Fruits Basket" style. Don't ask where I got that idea, because that's obviously not the premise of this manga after reading it. It's called "Cactus's Secret" because the main protagonist Miku has a prickly personality and is harboring a secret love for her classmate Kyohei. Despite my misconceptions, I found Haruta's story to be entertaining, especially for a younger crowd.

There's nothing that makes this series stand out from other shojo mangas, and that makes it somewhat formulaic and clichéd. Girl likes boy, boy is oblivious, the two characters clash emotions, and to add more conflict, another love interest is introduced. The character designs seem cookie-cutter style cute girl and boy. No personality developments set them apart from other shojo protagonists.

That being said, I can see tween and teen girls really loving this series. The frustrations of the main protagonist Miku can easily be related to. Kyohei is a typical oblivious teen boy, and watching Miku try to get her message across to him shows her courage and determination. She never gives up, even when so many things are misunderstood, and she eventually gets an answer when Kyohei tells her he's not sure how he feels. The first volume ends with the introduction of a rival for Kyohei and a new love interest for Miku.

The art is decent with nice line drawings and toning. I found the paneling to be confusing in places when I couldn't tell if Miku was having a flashback or if it was actually happening in the present. Other readers may not have a problem. Overall the designs are attractive and fitting for the story.

I can recommend this series for a younger crowd, but I myself found it to be a forgettable read. Enjoy it for the moment and let it entertain you, but don't expect anything deep. It will make a great escape when you just want fluff.

Romance Rating: Cuddly.

Media Status: Cactus's Secret volume 1 is available from Viz Media. Volume 2 will be released in June 2010.

Mar 7, 2010

Manga of the Month: High School Debut 13 - Kazune Kawahara

Synopsis: Yoh's graduation means it's time for this quirky couple to make commitments or part ways. Haruna struggles with her selfish desire for Yoh to stay local, or supporting him in his future studies that take him to Tokyo. Yoh realizes what it will mean to leave Haruna behind when she becomes the target of another boy's interest, and waffles with this important decision as well. In the meantime, Haruna meets Yoh's mom and leaves a lasting impression. Haruna's special graduation gift to Yoh is also very memorable, and Yoh feels strongly enough to respond. The volume concludes on a bittersweet moment, then comes full circle with a scene that will have readers in stitches.

Review: High School Debut has been a joyful ride, and volume 13 does not disappoint as the series comes to a close. Haruna's boisterous, outgoing personality continues to compliment Yoh's quiet, reserved one. The couple's strong emotions for one another surface when they realize that their school days together will shortly come to an end. At first, Haruna begs Yoh not to leave, knowing the separation will be sad and painful. When Yoh decides he'd rather stay with Haruna than leave her behind, she quickly realizes her error and encourages him to pursue his dreams for the future. Her strong resolve to support Yoh in his decision to attend college in Tokyo is difficult, but her enthusiasm and determination, so characteristic of Haruna, eventually put the couple's difficult decisions to rest.

Yoh shows some stronger emotions in this final volume when his feelings for Haruna are tested. Not wanting to leave Haruna behind, Yoh worries what may happen to her once he leaves. He gets a reality check when Haruna gets hit on while the gang is attending a skiing trip. We finally get some actual jealousy from him, and see his uncertainty of his hold over Haruna once he is gone. His emotional response to Haruna's graduation gift is very touching. Although mostly reserved, in this volume Yoh shows some passionate responses to Haruna's love for him that are tell-tale signs that he returns her feelings just as strongly.

Though there are many memorable scenes in this volume, my favorite has got to be the concluding one. I don't want to provide spoilers, so you'll have to check it out yourself. Kawahara does a fine job of bringing the plot full circle and providing a comical moment for what could have been a bittersweet ending. The artwork in this volume is as nicely paneled as always. Moving between a realistic style or more abstract forms, the main characters' actions play out in the right tone of comedy or seriousness. The toning is over the top in places, but not distracting and still fitting into what is typical for a shojo manga.

Of all the shojo manga I've read in the past couple of years, High School Debut is one of my favorite series to date. The series is full of comical as well as sentimental moments, and Haruna and Yoh's relationship is based on friendship and mutual respect. Volume 13 is a well thought out ending to the series and leaves readers satisfied that Haruna and Yoh will still be together far into the future. If you haven't delved into this series yet, I highly recommend you pick up volume 1.

Romance Rating: Cuddly - passionate kisses leave this series very teen appropriate.

Media Status: High School Debut Volumes 1-13 are available from Viz Media.

Mar 1, 2010

Yack Your Stack - March 2010

With fewer reviews as of late, my TBR pile has not gotten any smaller. It seems I just keep adding more to the pile. Literally, I have a 2 foot stack of books on my bedside table, and another one on my dresser.

With my personal life interfering, I have not spent much time writing about books lately. I planned on participating in the Movable Manga Feast, and got through three-fourths of Sexy Voice and Robo. But with the stack of books I have, my interest got pulled in another direction. After seeing The Lightning Thief movie, I had to go back and read volume one of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series because the plot of the movie was so different than I remembered from the book. Despite getting side-tracked, I was able to finish Shinobi Life 4, Happy Cafe and the rest of the High School Debut series. Seeing as I picked volume 13 for Manga of the Month, that review will be forthcoming. I'm still withholding judgment on Happy Cafe until I see more.

So, the stack, or stacks as it is. There's a mix of genres at this time. I have next to pick up King of RPGs and am highly looking forward to that one. Also in the shonen category is Pandora Hearts. I've got to catch up with ongoing series like Vampire Knight 9, Kimi ni Todoke 3, We Were There 9, Rasetsu 4, and Skip Beat 20. I have a few newer series to explore like Basara, V.B. Rose 1-2, Cactus's Secret, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei 1-5, Land of Silver Rain, With the Light 1-3, Hollow Fields Omnibus, and Natsume's Book of Friends. Then there are the series that I've started and just need to finish up to what's released like Ouran High School Host Club 10-13, Red River 25-28, D N Angel 3-13, Venus Capriccio 2-3, and LoveCom 10-15. And no, I still haven't tackled all of Suzuka.

As you can see I have plenty on my plate. I hope I can get some writing done soon. If there's something you'd like me to review, let me know. I may have already read it and just haven't done a write up. Plus, I'd like to know what books others are interested in reading. Just post in the comments. Arigato!
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