You Can't Beat Shojo!

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The launch of Viz’s “Shojo Beat” anthology magazine is something that I’ve been looking forward to for a while now. As I’ve indicated in past articles, the concept of the anthology magazine is something that interests me a great deal. Unfortunately, neither Dark Horse’s “Super Manga Blast” nor Viz’s “Shonen Jump” have a high enough percentage of titles in their anthologies that interest me to justify picking up the book. However, just skimming through the solicitations a few months ago, I spotted enough to definitely make it worth picking up, at the minimum, the first issue.

The lead story of this issue “Nana,” by Ai Yazawa has 100 pages, over twice that of any of the other stories. Unfortunately, it’s almost the one that I ended up finding the least appealing. Our lead character, Nana, has a bad habit shared by many teenaged girls: she tends to fall for older men. While the story is both well written and well illustrated, the jokes were funny and both Nana and her friends were mostly appealing, I found it rather difficult to sympathize with Nana because most of the story revolved around Nana’s realizing she’d been an idiot in her relationship with her very married boyfriend after he dumps her, and coming to terms with it. Now, I’m not in the least absolving Nana’s boyfriend of any guilt - In fact, I hold him more accountable. But then, the story isn’t about him and I find it hard to sympathize with a character who not only entered a relationship knowing that the other party was married, but seems to have partly entered it because he was married. Most of the story elements introduced in this issue were also resolved, and I believe the series focuses around the lives of several girls with the same name. Hopefully, I’ll be more drawn to the other Nana’s.

Following “Nana” we have “Absolute Boyfriend” by the apparently insanely prolific Yuu Watase. Unlike most of Watase’s heroine’s, who are only somewhat clutzy, our heroine Riiko is an all out clutz, in addition to constantly being rejected by boys. In fact, she’s been rejected enough times that her neighbor/classmate/caretaker/friend/tormentor, Soshi, refers to her as the “rejection queen.” On her way home after her latest rejection, Riiko finds a cell phone that leads her to a salesman who tells her he can get her the perfect boyfriend, on a trial basis, from his mail order website. Riiko, not being known for her intelligence, and thus not nearly leery enough about giving her address to a website she’s only heard of from a man she met on the street, fills out the online application and has what appears to be a dormant body of a cute and naked boy delivered to her in a crate. Like the first chapters of most of Watase’s other works, this is mostly an introduction to the characters, as always a ditzy-ish heroine and cute guys, with only a hint of the overall storyline. But there is enough to show considerable promise for the work. Like “Imadoki,”  “Absolute Boyfriend” looks like it will be mostly romantic comedy.

Next up, we have “Godchild” by Kaori Yuki. This is a title I’ve been curious about for a while, the author having mentioned it once or twice in her notes in “Angel Sanctuary.” While “Angel Sanctuary” was an interesting title, I had reservations about several aspects of the title and, while I was rather fond of several of the supporting characters, I ultimately found the main characters to be less interesting. “Godchild” appears to be a fantasy/mystery series set in Victorian England. This first installment was a stand alone episode, with an “Alice in Wonderland” themed English manor mystery. Our hero, Cain Hargreaves, remains mostly an enigma throughout, as the story is told mostly from the perspective of temporary heroine, Alice. Numerous hints are dropped about his shady family and habits, and it appears he definitely isn’t of the wholly human variety. This episode appears to be self contained, and while the mystery certainly wasn’t worthy of Holmes, both it and Hargreaves’s  way of dealing with it were both interesting and clever enough to make me look forward to future installments, even without hints of the overall story.

“Kaze Hikaru” is another one I’ve been considerably looking forward too, as it deals with one of my favorite subjects, samurais. For reasons as yet undisclosed, but seeming to deal in revenge, like most samurai tales, a young woman named Sei disguises herself as a boy and joins the Mibu-Roshi, a group that will later become the popular Shinsengumi. Not a whole lot of time is spent on the overall plotline, as most of this first chapter is divided between establishing the historical setting and feel of the series, and a considerable bit of silliness brought about by the Mibu-Roshi’s attempts to flush out a traitor. While the silliness concerns me a bit, my concern is lessened by the reasoning behind it, and based on my limited knowledge, the author seems to have a great deal of knowledge of and appreciation for the historical aspect of the book, both in the writing and in the art.

Next to last we have a comedy called “Baby and Me,” about a young boy who becomes his infant brother’s primary caretaker after their mother’s death. This would, I think, be more accurately placed in a children’s book, as it seems to be more likely to appeal to boys and girls about ten and under than to teenaged and older girls. While well written, cute and humorous, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m at least a decade too old and probably the wrong gender to properly appreciate a book about the bond of brotherhood between an elementary aged boy and his infant brother.

Finally, we have “Crimson Hero,” the solicitation text for which I either forgot or originally somehow missed, as it came as a complete surprise to me, being something I would normally be looking forward to checking out. Our heroine, Nobaru, is an uber-tomboy who lives for volleyball and applied for her high school based solely on its reputation for its volleyball teams. Unfortunately, when she gets there she learns that, due to a supposed lack of interest, the girl’s volleyball team has been discontinued, and she sets out to do everything she can to remedy that. This first chapter focuses mostly on Nobaru and her struggle to escape her mother’s influence.

 To be quite honest, the most appropriate words to describe her mother aren’t words that can be used in an article that might be read by impressionable youth. She is, however, an incredibly formal, traditional woman who will stoop to anything, no matter how cruel, underhanded or crushing, to get what she wants. In this case, it is to have Nobaru, as the oldest daughter, take over the family business, something Nobaru not only has no interest in, but knows her sister would be better at. This chapter is mostly a setup for the overall story, which apparently will feature Nobaru trying to get the girls’ volleyball team going again even as she works in the dormitory for the boys’ volleyball team. Even if I didn’t have a fondness for such setups and like Nobaru, I’d keep reading this one just in the hopes of seeing someone tell off the mother.

Also included before each chapter is a short article or interview pertaining to the stories themselves. This is particularly useful with “Godchild” and “Kaze Hikaru,” as in both cases it provides a great deal of historical background and context to help out a reader who might be lost reading it otherwise. As an added bonus, this first issue also contains a mini-comic and the first episode of the “Ultramaniac” anime. While some may find the anime to be a little too giddy and girly, I found it to be quite delightful, definitely worth checking out a free first episode.

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