Shojo Times 2

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The manga short story in graphic novel form is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the short story allows a creator to tell a complete story that’s not long enough for a single graphic novel (much less a continuing series) without padding the story far past it’s natural length. On the other hand, there’s nothing like waiting 3 months for a book, plopping down ten bucks for it and then finding out that a quarter, third, or even half of the book isn’t even of the story you were paying to get. That discovery doesn’t exactly predisposition a reader to be very open towards a short story completely unrelated to the graphic novel series, even if the story itself is excellent. 

While short stories don’t show any sign of leaving the tail ends of manga graphic novels, they are starting to make a niche in the format of short story collections. As I mentioned in a preview article, Viz seems to be making the most effort at pushing this format and their most recent offering is “Times 2” (“X2” if you’re looking at it at the store) by Shouko Akira. Times 2 consists of five short stories, the first four of which focusing on how to tell the person you like that you like them.

The first story, “Love At First Touch,” features Eri, an uptight and responsible girl who has a reluctant crush on Kohei, who may not be the class clown but is probably next in line for the position. While it’s easy to see why Eri likes Kohei - even though they tend to fight, he’s always open and friendly and never hesitates to offer his assistance, not to mention the fact that he’s always hanging around is a pretty good indicator that he’s interested - it’s not so clear why Kohei likes Eri. While she’s clearly a nice person in general, at best she’s outwardly dismissive, disdainful if you don’t want to be quite so nice, even when he goes out of his way to help her. It’s no wonder that his reaction to her telling him that she likes him is a resounding “WHAT?” That said, Eri’s stiffness and lack of confidence are a good match for Kohei’s openhearted exuberance and over confidence and while Eri’s reservations can be annoying, they do make for entertaining reading.

In the next story, “Expiration Date 2001” Kenta gives his classmate, Miwa, a can of his favorite soda, not knowing she has a crush on him. This is in the summer of 1999 and Miwa, just as caught up as everyone else in the end of the millennium, takes this as a sign and resolves to have Kenta as her boyfriend by its expiration date, July 2001. She then spends the next two years staring at an unopened soda can sitting on her desk at home, until her friends point out that’s it’s now June 2001 and she still hasn’t down anything about it. So, with the deadline looming over her shoulders, Miwa sets out to make Kenta her boyfriend, or at least confess her crush. Naturally, fate, insecurity and well meaning but clueless classmates are conspiring against her until the deadline is just around the corner and a poorly worded statement almost ruins her chances with Kenta. While Miwa’s centering her future (as she sees it) around an expiration date may be a bit much, the story itself is quite entertaining and I couldn’t suppress a few sympathetic twitches as Miwa experienced pretty much everything a teenager worries about when trying to figure out how to ask someone out.

In the middle of the book, we have a light hearted summer school tale titled “Second Impression.” Haruki, another earnest, hardworking good girl, gets roped into spending her summer vacation working on the planning committee for the school festival, only to get accidentally doused with a water hose by a school delinquent, Naoki, who’s tending the sunflowers. The two end up meeting everyday at the garden. While enjoyable, this story doesn’t leave quite as much of an impression as the others, aside from the fact that Naoki, being a typical teenaged boy, doesn’t bother asking her name, just (wrongly) assumes that he knows it.

Next up we have “Frequency,” where nice but loudmouthed Kaori is constantly driven crazy by class representative and model student Morihiro, who she can’t believe is as nice, forgiving, polite and all around perfect as he seems to be and wishes he would just speak his mind. She gets her wish, in a way, when they accidentally bump heads one day and she’s suddenly able to hear his thoughts. This story cracked me up almost the whole way through. While Morihiro doesn’t believe in showing his real reactions, Kaori doesn’t believe in hiding hers and her reactions to his thoughts, particularly those she was just saying she was sure he had and wishes he would just say, are hilarious.

Wrapping up the book we have “Baby Universe,” a slightly more adult story than the others. Unlike the other stories in this collection, the perspective in this story is from the male protagonist, Kengo, who finds himself noticing his childhood friend, Saki, who he watched for UFOs with as a child. This may not be a good thing, as Saki has acquired a reputation in recent years and not one that he’d want to be associated with. They start talking again when Saki starts coming to the restaurant where he works in the afternoons and he almost starts to forget about her reputation, until the man who may or may not be her boyfriend comes with her one day and he has to decide whether or not to fight for her and how much her reputation matters to him. One notable thing about this story is that, unlike in so many others, it seems that Saki has, reluctantly or otherwise, earned quite a bit of her reputation, giving more credence to Kengo’s hesitations than there would be otherwise.

All in all, an enjoyable collection of short stories, definitely worth ten dollars. If nothing else, what we have here is an excellent example of how much story can be told with a tight page constriction (none of these stories is lacking in content) and for a good taste of variety in the high school romance niche of Shojo manga.

- Megan B. Moore

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