Honey and Clover – The End

Another of my favorites that finished its run this year, Honey and Clover is also one of my all-time favorite manga. Perhaps it’s because the characters aren’t teenagers, but students closing in their twenties at an art college. Perhaps it’s because the romance is woven skillfully into the story rather than being the chief focus. Perhaps it’s the potato croquettes.

Honey and Clover (ハチミツとクローバー) is about five art school students who become close friends for one reason or another. The three guys – Morita, Takemoto and Mayama – all live together in a crumbling apartment, while Yamada lives with her parents on the local shopping street and Hagu – the shy, tiny art prodigy – lives with her cousin, a teacher at the school.

It wouldn’t be a group of young folks without a few love triangles, but the relationships of the students and their interests are realistic and very easy to relate to, even for those of us who have long since become jaded adults. But Honey and Clover is much more than that. It’s about discovering who you are and what you’re meant to do, even if the path is painful and the result is last thing you want to hear. Not everyone in the story got a happy ending and some of the stories didn’t seem to “end” at all, but everything was tied up in some way or another and I cried through most of the final chapter at how wonderful and beautifully written it was.

While I’m terribly sad that Honey and Clover is no more, it will always be one of those stories I can pick up and read in its entirety like it was the first time, and one that I will suggest immediately to anyone who asks for a recommendation.

B. Ichi

Almost as soon as it was published in Shonen GanGan as a one-shot, Soul Eater became wildly popular in Japan with fans clamoring for more. However, B.ichi was actually Atsushi Ohkubo’s debut series.

In an alternate world there are dokeshis who have special abilities and are generally hated by the rest of the world. B. Ichi (B壱; B.One) is about one named Shotaro with the ability to take on the power of any animal whose bone he puts in his mouth. He is searching for his childhood best friend Emine when he meets Mana and Yohei, who decide to help him out when the other dokeshis run amok.

What seemed like an enjoyable, interesting story quickly seemed to fall apart  as the author became more interested in introducing a lot of side characters with wacky, weird abilities rather than sticking with those of the main characters.  Shotaro’s search for Emine becomes little less than an afterthought, though we are given a few flashes of him that feel like they’re only there to make sure we remember he’s a part of the story. It almost felt at a lot of points like an old-school RPG where just when you think you’re getting somewhere, another lame boss pops out of the woodwork for you to fight. Just when the plot seemed to be getting back on track and interesting again in Volume 4, the story ends with a quick reveal and an “ending” that was obviously set up so a sequel could be written.

If you’re a big fan of Soul Eater, I suggest you read this series (possibly via a library) so that you can use it to gauge how far Ohkubo has come as a manga-ka. Otherwise, just head straight to Soul Eater.

Arina Tanemura Otaku Week: Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross

In Japan, Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross (紳士同盟†; Shinshi Doumei Kurosu) was affectionately referred to as ShinKuro, which I adopted immediately as both the original and translated titles were both tiring. It’s fitting, though, for a series that spans 11 volumes and has something along the lines of 30-40 characters.

Haine is a former delinquent who was given to the Otomiya family in return for a business loan to save the Kamiya family from bankruptcy. She ends up going to the prestigious Imperial Academy to chase after Shizumasa Togu, a boy she’s been in love with since they were children, only for him to treat her coldly and refuse any contact with her whatsoever. Haine is upset but the blow is softened just a tad when she walks in on Shizumasa and his lover – who happens to be another guy.

Secrets and betrayal are the key to ShinKuro, possibly more than any other of Tanemura-sensei’s long-running stories. It’s not just that one or two people are hiding something from Haine, everyone has a secret they’re keeping from their friends, their lovers and even their family members. We’re let in on these as they are revealed to the other characters, rather than getting blatant exposition, and some of them are pretty shocking for a series that runs in a magazine like Ribon.

All in all, I think this is Arina Tanemura’s best series. The story is addictive and multilayered, the art is tight and she’s made a real effort to make sure the characters don’t all look alike. She herself says that she did a lot of things in ShinKuro that were a departure for her – gay characters, for one – and I think it all really came together perfectly. If you’re only going to read one of her series, pick ShinKuro and bring a tissue or two.

Arina Tanemura Otaku Week: Fullmoon o Sagashite

Fullmoon (満月をさがして; Fullmoon o sagashite) is the magical alter ego of Mitsuki, a girl with throat cancer whose only dream is to become a singer. Forbidden to have anything to do with music by her domineering grandmother, she submits a demo to a record company’s talent contest and wins a spot – only to be locked up by said grandmother and have a pair of shinigami come through the wall to take her soul.

This was actually the first manga I ever read in English by Arina Tanemura, which is why I thought it best to start off the week. I had heard of Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne some years back and picked my way through some untranslated chapters in Ribon but nothing serious. I was surprised to find that Fullmoon had a much more serious-sounding premise and was interested from the start, even though it took me almost three full volumes to really get into it.

Tanemura-sensei has a master at writing series that seem to be very fluffy and optimistic but have a dark, sad side lurking just under the surface. Though the ending itself is happy, the last scene where we finally see Mitsuki’s first love, is so heartwrenchingly sad that I tear up just thinking about it. Some of the plot points, though, are admittedly confusing and seem as if they were tossed in as an afterthought or an excuse to draw another gorgeous man with long hair. The good far outweighs the mediocre, however, and I would recommend this to fans of both shōjo and the cute, sparkly versions of shinigami.

Arina Tanemura Otaku Week: Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne

I knew of Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne (神風怪盗ジャンヌ; Kamikaze Phantom Thief Jeanne) before I’d ever really read any of it simply because I saw a few chapters in Ribon. Oddly, Viz (who holds the rights to every other Tanemura series) didn’t have the rights to it and it was published by CMX, making it a bit harder to find. But we have ways, don’t we?

Jeanne has one of the oddest premises for a manga ever: Maron Kusakabe is the reincarnation of Jeanne D’Arc, able to seal off the demons that are hidden inside beautiful paintings. She shows up at the scene of the crime amidst great fanfare, “steals” the “beauty within” the painting and disappears. Out of nowhere appears Sinbad, another Kaitou who is trying to get her to give up on her mission, but his motives are unclear. Is he working for Satan, God or none of the above?

The answer to that is extremely complicated. This is one of Arina Tanemura’s older works, and although her art style may have changed a bit, her storytelling hasn’t. There’s death, the allusion to rape and Maron even has a conversation with the original Jeanne D’Arc as she’s burning to death at the stake. The ultimate clash between good and evil was kind of a disappointment, but everything leading up to it was so beautifully and heartbreakingly done that I can overlook it. And while the explanations for “Kamikaze” and why no one seems to get that Maron is Jeanne despite numerous photos of her being in the press are a little cheesy, they don’t induce nausea.

If you’re starting out reading Tanemura-sensei, start with Jeanne and go from there. It’s interesting to see how much she’s changed and how her pacing and plotting ability has changed. Also, screentones.

A Short Break

I have good news, bad news and some other good news!

The good news is that Mystyr E and I have finally cowboyed up and got ourselves an apartment! That’s right, we are – at this very moment, perhaps – moving all our junk into a spacious, 800 square foot place that will no doubt be filled to bursting with manga and comics in a few months’ time. Also, fish tanks. We have an asston of fish tanks.

The bad news is that we’re not going to have internet for a little while. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but since he and I are both net addicts and have online obligations of one thing or another I assume it won’t be long. Also, I already own an AT&T router so that’s one less thing to deal with.

The other good news is that I have a little buffer set up, at least for next week, in the form of an Arina Tanemura Otaku Week (similar to my long-ago Matsuri Akino Otaku Week, only with screentone frenzy and huge eyes). So if you just can’t stand the thought of not reading my ramblings on manga and so forth, never fear! Next week is covered, and I’m hoping to either have internet back soon or make it to Borders to schedule another week’s worth of posts.

See you on the flip side!

Mermaid Saga

When otaku think Rumiko Takahashi, the older ones think of Ranma 1/2 and the younger ones think of Inu-Yasha. Completists think of Mermaid Saga.

Mermaid Saga (人魚シリーズ) is a series of darker stories that follow a young man named Yuta in his quest to find a mermaid. Legends tell of the flesh of the mermaid granting eternal life, but the reality is far uglier – both literally and figuratively. Along the way he rescues Mana, who ends up following him in his search.

The stories in this series are darker than anything Takahashi-sensei has written since Laughing Target, with murder and frightening creatures being the norm. They’re also very sad at times, because of the nature of immortality itself. You may live forever, but you also must watch your loved ones grow old and die one by one.

I actually owned the original “flopped” printings back in high school and the cover of Mermaid Forest fell off within days of getting it home. Subsequent copies yielded the same unfortunate results and I ended up taping the damn thing on. These days the original art has been preserved by printing them in the proper format, but they weren’t printed very long. This means that if you want to read them now, you’re going to have to do some searching on Amazon or similar. But trust me, they’re worth all that trouble and more.

Because they were never meant as an actual series, the story is unfinished with four volumes of episodes/mini-arcs that wrap up fairly neatly and are satisfying. Takahashi-sensei has talked off and on about writing more, but whether she does or not I highly recommend picking up Mermaid Saga. It’s not what you’d expect.