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

Jan 30, 2010

Manga of the Month: We Were There Vol. 8 - Yuki Obata

Synopsis: With one year of high school left, Yano and Nana are making decisions that will greatly impact the future. Yano's mother has decided to get a divorce and move to Tokyo. Torn between going to Tokyo to care for his mother, or staying in Hokkaido to finish high school with Nana, Yano knows either decision will leave him with regrets. College choices only emphasize the uncertainty of the couple's future. Despite that, Nana and Yano's emotions still flow strongly. When Yano comes to a final decision, it only deepens Nana's devotion.

Review: Opening this volume, I began watching scenes from my high school days unfold before my very eyes. I've always wanted to write a story using the experiences I had with my first love. In We Were There volume 8, Yuki Obata has done it for me, and exceptionally well. She portrays the couple's indecisive agony of pending separation. The special secluded trip to spend those last precious moments together. Then there's the farewell scene on the train platform, where the boy leaves the girl full of hopeful devotion and grief at the same time. Obata has got the emotional naivety of young love nailed.

Excluding my own personal connections, this volume has some memorable moments of characterization. Motoharu Yano's growth in maturity shines as he struggles with difficult decisions. Should he leave for his last year of high school? He is forced to choose between his fragile mother, who needs caring for herself, or Nana, whom he loves and cares for deeply and fears losing. It's a no win situation, and either choice will leave him unhappy. How does he cope with the outcomes? In later scenes it becomes apparent how much he really does love Nana.

Masafumi Takeuchi, Yano's best friend who also pines for Nana, plays the responsible friend in this volume. Supporting both Yano and Nana at times, he's there to be the confidant and adviser. Going so far as to point out to Yano that it will be he, not Yano, that will be helping Nana study, and taking her for coffee, if he leaves. He even encourages Nana to tell Yano how she really feels; that she doesn't want him to leave. Of the two boys, it appears Takeuchi will be the one that remains stable in Nana's day to day life.

Nana Takahashi's reactions to events characterize the typical emotions of a 17 year old girl. Her indecisiveness about her feelings on Yano's decision to leave or not, along with her selfless devotion to Yano exemplifies young love. Her naivety on how events will come to pass, and her belief that their love will endure, perfectly personifies the heart of a teen girl in love. Even in the flash forward scene, where Nana is shown at age 21 in college, we see how such emotions linger through the passage of time. A fact that rings true for anyone who has ever parted while in love. The conclusion of the volume left me speculating what has happened in the time that passed. Even now, I'm still trying to imagine how volume 9 will unfold.

Artistically, We Were There volume 8 is a pleasure to read. Smooth pacing, balanced layouts, and stylized characters only add to the overall impact of the story. While the more serious moments are drawn in a more realistic style for effect, the day to day or lighter moments are drawn more abstract, or cartoonish. The English translation does not interfere with the story telling, and there are a few editor's notes included in the back for more obscure references.

We Were There is a slice of life shojo that treads the path of a more realistic look at relationships. Even with some typical cliches, the story feels fresh because Obata isn't afraid to address the awkward and even unhappier aspects of loving someone no matter his or her flaws. Though volumes 1-7 were deeply engaging, volume 8 left a deeper impression upon me since it paralleled some of my own personal experiences. It is because of this mangaka's ability to connect her characters with the audience, that this story has resonated with so many. I highly recommend this series.

Romance Rating: Steamy.

Media Status: We Were There is available in English from Viz media. Volume 9 will be released March 2, 2010. A 26 episode television anime was aired in Japan in 2006. The series known as Bokura ga Ita in Japanese, is currently serialized in Betsucomi magazine.

Jan 22, 2010

New York Times Best Seller Ending 1/16

Read vampires much, America? Looks like Hino's series has found more new readers. Vampire Knight 1 has resurfaced on the bestseller list two years after its debut.
Vampire Knight 8
Vampire Knight 1

Jan 4, 2010

Black Bird Vol. 2 - Kanoko Sakurakoji

The other day while flipping through channels I came across a marine program that showed the mating process of octopi. I don't usually watch animal planet or anything like that, but I was so intrigued by the idea that I couldn't help but stop and watch as the narrator explained what was happening. When the commercial break occurred, it dawned on me what I just watched, and though now enlightened on the mating process of octopi, I was just as confused as why in the world I actually watched it.

That's kind of like my fascination with this new series by Sakurakoji. Although the characters in Black Bird 2 continue to push the envelope with sexual innuendos aplenty that make me cringe, I just can't help but be drawn in by the fantasy story elements. Volume 2 introduces a new cast of characters that includes the eight daitengu or tengu clan retainers, known fondly by Misao as the "Tengu Host Club" for their looks. With the new cast we get a new perception of Kyo, shown as more of a heroic and gentle leader, than the previous overbearing pervert. A new adversary arises when the daitengu arrive. Amongst the retainers is Shojo, Kyo's older brother and previous heir to the clan leadership. Once Misao learns about Shojo's interference with her past, she finally makes up her mind about her feelings for Kyo.

When it's obvious that the artist tries to make every other scene somewhat erotic, it does begin to get old quickly. There are some scenes and dialogue that I just had to roll my eyes at. What I realized as the plot reached a more serious point, was that the perverseness of the male protagonist is supposed to be a corny character trait. I guess in a josei manga I would not have blinked an eye. A guy in his twenties would say some of those perverted things flirtatiously, but his counterpart would usually be in her twenties also - not a teen in high school. That's what made those comments seem out of place to me. At least Misao responds by smacking him every time. As for the storyline, I found one transition a bit sudden in the plot line, when Misao goes missing. There is not much set up for that event. And although I complimented the artwork last time, I do have a gripe about the toning in this volume. The patterns chosen for the clothing are distasteful. In some scenes there were too many conflicting patterns in one layout.

Despite the more thorough analysis this time, the only reason I can fathom I'm still reading this series is that, at the heart of the storyline, it's about a boy who waited ten years to return to the girl he cares for. There's so many questions I have still unanswered. I'm hoping the cheesy sexual innuendos will calm down once the tension between the two protagonists is eased. Who knows how many volumes that may take. It could be at some point it will no longer intrigue me, and I'll move on and change the channel. In the meantime, I'm declaring this title only for hard core romance fans. Other casual readers beware.

Jan 2, 2010

New York Times Best Seller Ending 12/26

Looks like Vampire Knight was on many Christmas lists this year. Volume 8 jumps back up a spot from last week and volume 7 returns for an encore.

Vampire Knight 8
Vampire Knight 7

Jan 1, 2010

Best New Shojo of 2009

One more "best of" list that focuses only on the shojo genre of 2009.

1. Kimi
ni Todoke - Adorable and heartwarming, Kimi ni Todoke is a high school slice of life love story between Sawako, a shy, socially inept girl and Kazehaya, a kind, popular boy. Art style and paneling combine to accent the poignant moments in this story.

2. Black Bird - Spicy and naughty, Black Bird is the newest shojo guilty pleasure. The target of demons due to the power she holds, Misao can only accept the protection of her perverted childhood friend, Kyo, leader of a tengu clan and a demon himself. Does Kyo only want Misao for the power he can gain, or is there more behind his desire to possess her?

3. Rasetsu - Supernatural romance with beautiful artwork, Rasetsu continues the story of Yako Hoshino from Yurara. Cursed to find love before her 20th birthday or be taken away by a demon, Rasetsu works as an exorcist while looking for the right guy. Yako Hoshino with spiritual powers of his own, works as part of Rasetsu's team while pining for his lost love. Will he become the one who saves Rasetsu from her horrible fate?

4. Honey Hunt - Another girl becoming a celebrity title, Honey Hunt provides a love triangle between brothers. Yura's parents are both famous celebrities. When her parents divorce, Yura finds her first love with her mother. Furious, she decides to destroy her mother's image by becoming an actress. With the support of two brothers, she determines to make her way as a success.

5. Otomen - Otomen is the teen girl's fantasy male character that could be your best friend. Captain of the kendo team with excellent judo and karate skills, Asuka Masamune is considered the manliest guy on campus. He has worked hard to preserve his darkest secret. He loves cooking, sewing, the color pink, shojo manga, and plushies. However, once he meets outgoing Ryō Miyakozuka who has just transferred to Ginyuri Academy, his hobbies become more difficult to hide.

6. V
enus Capriccio - Playing with the idea of role reversal, Venus Capriccio tells the story of tall and athletic Takami Habara who 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".

7. Name of the Flower - Serious and sentimental, Name of the Flower tells the story of a young girl Chouko, taken in by a distant relative when her parents suddenly pass away. The relative Kei, a young novelist, relates to the girl's grief and watches her as she begins to live again. In his latest novel "Hana", his deepest feelings are expressed. Will Chouko reach Kei and help him find happiness?

8. Maid-Sama! - A fun romp, Maid-Sama! centers around Misaki Ayuzaka, president of the student council at her recently all boys turned co-ed high school. Working hard to keep the school in high reputation to increase the girl population, she is considered a tyrant by the boys. Since her father left her family Misaki must work part time after school at a maid cafe. When one boy finds out her secret she expects to be belittled at school. Instead he keeps the secret. What could his motive be?


The following titles I would have included except the first book was released in November 2008.

Shinobi Life - A time-traveling romance, Shinobi Life brings together an orphaned ninja from history and a modern day rich girl. Kagetora believes himself to be protecting his princess Beni-Hime, and modern day Beni, who has already been the subject of numerous kidnappings, thinks he's a bodyguard hired by her rich father. When both realize the time difference, Kagetora's feelings get confused, because he realizes he is now developing emotions for the new Beni, and poor Beni just wants Kagetora to love her for herself and not think of her as Beni-Hime.

We Were There - Serious and depressing, We Were There focuses on a boy's grief and angst at his first love who dies in an accident, and the girl who tries to love him. Yano cares for Takahashi Nanami but has numerous issues with jealousy and trust. Takahashi loves Yano, but until he can heal himself, there is only so much she can give him to provide happiness. A realistic look at a relationship and how emotions linger in one's heart.
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