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Shojo: Pretty in Pink

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In a society where gender is color coded before we’re even born, nothing screams “girl” louder to Americans than the color pink. Viz Media seems to have kept this fact in mind while preparing for their new “Shojo Beat” magazine and imprint, as the primary color scheme for both is pink. In fact, the cover of one book of the imprint, “Tokyo Boys and Girls,” is comprised of the color grey and at least three shades of pink.

While the covers leave no doubt as to the intended audience of the books, and “girly” is definitely a good description for all the books of the imprint that I’ve read so far, they aren’t necessarily books that would blend into the masses of other shojo manga on the bookshelves (the stark white of the spines may help them to stand out amongst all the other more flamboyantly colored manga spines, too.) Though I haven’t read all the offerings from the Shojo Beat imprint, one thing that stood out to me was that, with one exception, the dominant “girl meets cute guy and develops a major crush” theme in most manga is either absent or sidelined in these first volumes.

“Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden” is likely the most high profile book of this line, being the prequel to the long running and very popular manga and anime series, “Fushigi Yugi.” In the book, Yuu Watase comments that it was seven years between when she ended the original Fushigi Yugi series and began this one, and it shows. Both the art and the writing have matured considerably, and most of the annoying aspects of the original series are absent. Our heroine, Takiko, is much more mature and together than most Watase heroines, especially Miaka of the original series. Unlike other Watase heroines (indeed, most shojo heroines), she seems more than able to take care of herself, so long as she’s not called on to deal exceptionally out of the ordinary threats, such as giant monsters and wind demons. While some may worry about being lost as this is the second Fushigi Yugi series, they shouldn’t be, as it’s set not only a considerable amount of time before the original series but is also set in a part of the world that was only just touched on in the first series. In fact, it’s more likely that a reader would get lost in the first series, as much of it springs out of the events of “Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden,” which features the origin of the Fushigi Yugi mythos. While the requisite Watase humor and cute guys are present, the main emphasis of the series so far is Takiko’s troubled relationship with her father (readers of the original series have a fair idea of how that turns out) and the fantasy world Takiko finds herself in.

“Ouran High School Host Club” reminds me considerably of one of my favorite mangas; “Wallflower.” Like “Wallflower,” the shojo elements of the book, while present, are a far second to the comedy, and are mostly of the “look, cute guy!” variety. Between her father’s grungy old sweater, her glasses, and her self-inflicted, unkempt boyish haircut, most of her fellow students mistake Haruhi for a guy. Not the least of which are the members of the Host Club (something of a glorified escort service, where girls go to ogle and be pampered by cute boys) who blackmail her into working for them after she accidentally breaks a very expensive vase of theirs. While some of the humor comes, not unexpectedly, from the “girl posing as a boy” aspect of the plot, it’s not reliant upon it as so many similar shojo manga are. The majority of the humor comes from the antics of the boys, most of whom I’m fairly certain would be designated as insane should they ever be analyzed and from their having to grow accustomed to having a “proletarian” member as Haruhi is a rare soul who actually tested into the prestigious academy, as opposed to having her way in bought by rich parents.

Of the four books of the “Shojo Beat” imprint, “Tokyo Boys and Girls” is likely the closest to what is considered to be “standard” shojo manga. A high school romantic comedy, this one features Mimori, a girl who plans to have fun in high school, but whose plans get sidetracked, not only by her own tendency to get into trouble, but by Atsushi, a boy who claims she bullied him in elementary school, but who she doesn’t remember. In a lot of ways, this feels like a test version of the author’s better know book “Hot Gimmick,” in that it’s a book about characters that range from annoying to unlikable, with a heroine who could benefit great from either a keeper or a healthy dose of common sense, and a hero who’s a bully and a jerk, and actually makes it work.

Next to “Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden,” “Ultramaniac” was likely the book I was looking forward to the most from this imprint, having stumbled across the first disc of the anime a few months ago. This is the story of two girls, Nina and Ayu, stumbling their way along the path to becoming best friends, surviving junior high and first crushes. Ayu has spent the last year trying her best to appear super cool and collected in attempt to impress her crush, Tetsushi and has become the heroine of her school as a result. Her efforts are overturned, however, by the new transfer student, Nina. Sweet, good hearted and more than a little clumsy, there’s no getting around the fact that Nina is a complete ditz, and, after Ayu performs a good deed for her, she latches onto Ayu with all her might and Ayu soon finds her super cool image being replaced by her becoming the straight man in a comedy act. Add to this the fact that Nina is a rather inept witch in training who can’t resist trying to use her magic to help Ayu with her problems, and Ayu’s nice, orderly life will probably never be the same… at least until graduation.

While I haven’t read the other two initial books of the Shojo Beat imprint, “Full Moon” and “MeruPuri,” respectively about a dying girl given a second lease of life and a chance to fulfill her dreams, and a girl working to fulfill a school legend who takes in a little boy and wakes up beside a handsome prince, both sound equally interesting. While the price, at $8.99 a volume, isn’t quite comparative to Viz’s similar Shonen Jump line, it is competitive with most other manga, and a much easier to justify impulse buy than higher priced manga.

If you don’t mind pink, of course…

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