18 Mar, 2009

On the Shojo Beat: Love*Com, NANA, and more!

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi and Grant Goodman

Grant’s up first with a look at volume three of Matsuri Hino’s Captive Hearts; Michelle checks in with the latest volume of a particular favorite, Love*Com; and Melinda wraps things up with reviews of volume fifteen of NANA and volume six of Wild Ones.

Captive Hearts, Vol. 3

captive3By Matsuri Hino
Viz, 216 pp.
Rating: Teen

You have to wonder about the quality of a manga when even the author writes, “I never would have thought the manga would continue long enough for me to finish it!” Indeed, the contents of this volume may make the reader wonder how a story this lukewarm made it to a third release.

Early on in the volume it is established that the serving curse on Megumi has grown stronger—to the point where if he leaves Suzuka’s side, he will die. Apparently, all one has to do to break the curse is go to China. Or scour the ancient library in Suzuka’s house. Everyone talks about breaking this curse, but the attempts are threadbare (getting in a plane to meet with a professor, checking the top shelves of the library where the dusty books are) and the characters never truly seem desperate to set themselves free. (Thinking about it from Megumi’s perspective, it might not be so terrible since his curse keeps him close to a girl who loves him.)

The arrival of another maid (Rui) who seeks Megumi’s affection is meant to spice things up, but only leads to a predictable challenge from Suzuka: they are both going to fight for his love and both swear to never give up. Hino then takes two chapters to explain the origin of the curse on Megumi’s family, which involves a princess in an arranged marriage, a thief who kidnaps her, a Dragon God, and a whole lot of unsurprising “love at first sight.”

One last thing worth mentioning is the actual amount of Captive Hearts material contained in this volume. After 160 pages, the main story comes to a close. The remaining 60 pages are dedicated to a completely unrelated Christmas romance story. Hino writes to her readers “…this story seems so stiff…I’m embarrassed…” While I could not agree with her more, the one-shot does contain the single best moment in the entire volume: a reference to a fictional children’s story that has Santa Claus fighting an Ice Witch.

Volume three of Captive Hearts is available now.

–Reviewed by Grant Goodman

Love*Com, Vol. 11

lovecom11By Aya Nakahara
Viz, 184 pp.
Rating: Teen

After briefly breaking up in the previous volume, things are going okay for series protagonists Risa Koizumi and Atsushi Outani. It’s up to the supporting cast, therefore, to deliver the angst. Risa’s best friend, Nobu, fulfills her obligation by suddenly deciding to attend college in Hokkaido so that she can be with the ailing, much-beloved grandmother whom she’s never previously mentioned.

Well, I guess every series can have a dud now and then. I would’ve been far more interested in Nobu’s decision if she had ever actually talked about her grandmother, if any seeds at all had been planted in advance of this suddenly sprouting plotline. As it is, it feels completely random, like saying, “Oh yes, I have this best friend who I’ve never ever mentioned but I am suddenly very devastated that they have died.” Also, Nobu and her boyfriend Nakao are simply not very thoroughly developed characters in their own right, existing primarily to advise, chastise, or encourage Risa and Outani as situations warrant.

The art also looks a lot different to me in this volume. At first, I thought maybe the reason Nobu looks almost like a different person is because we usually see her in background and not close-up. But then I noticed that Outani looks rather different, too. I compared the art to volume ten and it was obviously evolving back then, too, but it wasn’t as noticeable. The new style might actually be more polished, but it’s also more generic-looking.

The final chapter is an improvement on its predecessors. For the past few volumes, Outani has been studying furiously for his college entrance exams. Risa went through a range of reactions to his efforts, from attempting to dissuade him from a futile endeavor to resolving to stay out of his way until his exams are over. When a family flu outbreak, snow, and cancelled trains threaten to keep Outani from making it to the testing facility on time, it’s Risa’s determination that gets him there in the end, which is nice to see. They may bicker far too often for my liking, but when they really come through for each other, it’s very satisfying.

Volume eleven of Love*Com is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

NANA, Vol. 15

nana15By Ai Yazawa
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Mature

After Search’s cruel delivery of a suggestive photo of Ren and Riera at the end of volume fourteen, this volume opens with the fallout from that and Takumi’s brilliantly manipulative efforts to keep the photo out of the papers. Unfortunately, the ramifications of the photo run deeper than that and Nana and Ren’s relationship continues to unravel further. Hachi and Takumi finally get married (thanks to Takumi’s manipulations) and Yasu and Miu begin to solidify their relationship as well. All of this brings Nana’s abandonment issues to the fore as she watches the most important people in her life drifting further away from her. Shin, too, feels the effect of the Search incident as Reira, suddenly aware of how vulnerable her world is to scandal, suggests they stop seeing each other. The appearance of the Search photo highlights how fragile everyone’s world is and how far a single act of thoughtlessness or cruelty can reach.

The expressive genius of Ai Yazawa’s art is what really makes this volume shine, elevating what could easily be trite soap-opera to the realm of top-notch fiction. Her ability to use panel layouts and close-ups to get to the heart of her characters is unmatched. The art feeds the complexity of the characters, transforming them into something that almost feels more real than “real life.” It’s not the art alone, of course. Yazawa resists letting any character fall into pat categories like “good” or “evil,” giving full dimension to each of them and their rich, complicated, gray-shaded world. Even manipulative, controlling Takumi, who frames everything in terms of protecting own interests, is not a clear-cut villain any more than Nana and Hachi perfectly virtuous heroines.

There is an interesting scene early in the volume, where the folks at Search mull over the power that they wield, finally determining that if Ren and Nana break up because of what they print, then the breakup was “meant to be.” “The strength of their bond will be tested,” says one writer, determined to justify the paper’s actions as some kind of righteous social experiment. The lengths to which people will go to justify their own poor behavior is a fascinating (if horrifying) study, and it is this type of insight into humanity that makes Yazawa’s writing so powerful.

Though it is clear that much of the story’s real drama is yet to come, this is a strong volume in an exceptional series that continues to be both beautifully crafted and extremely compelling.

Volume fifteen of NANA is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Wild Ones, Vol. 6

wildones6By Kiyo Fujiwara
Viz, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

After volume five’s focus on holidays and gift-giving between Sachie Wakamura and her Yakuza family, volume six begins with a new school year and the introduction of Sachie’s new teacher who turns out to be her childhood friend, Chi-chan. Unfortunately, Chi-chan has a long-standing grudge against Sachie (of which she is completely unaware) and begins a campaign of harassment with the intent of exposing her family history to the entire school. Fortunately, even Chi-chan is eventually won over by Sachie’s plucky sincerity, and becomes yet another ally by the end. Also in this volume, Sachie saves a man’s family restaurant from unscrupulous loan sharks, and it is this plot that allows further development of the volume’s real drama—the continuing romantic rivalry between Rakuto and Azuma. Not that the rivalry actually gets anywhere. Though Azuma comes very close to confessing his feelings to Sachie, in the end he chickens out, leaving things essentially unchanged.

Out of all the things that are maddening about this series—the unbelievable premise, the warm-fuzzy Yakuza guys, the lack of any actual crime—the most maddening by far is the near suspended animation of the story’s romantic plot. While it’s usually effective to keep romantic tension going for as long as possible, in this case, the romance is just not exciting or complicated enough to withstand the wait. Sachie loves Rakuto, Rakuto loves Sachie, and so it has been for the entire length of the series. Everybody knows this. Nobody appears to object besides Azuma, and even he is visibly frustrated by Rakuto’s persistent inaction. In a more complex story this kind of anticipation might be intoxicating, but here it just makes the drama feel forced and repetitive.

That said, the volume does have some warm moments. The characters grow, little by little, and the uncomfortable bond between Rakuto and Azuma is almost interesting enough to make up for the endless drudgery of the romantic plot. While this series remains decidedly mediocre, there is still some distant hope of it one day finding its spark.

Volume six of Wild Ones is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

5 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Love*Com, NANA, and more!"

1 | swanjun // soliloquy in blue » Blog Archive » Love*Com 11 by Aya Nakahara: B-

March 18th, 2009 at 8:38 am


[...] can find my review of Love*Com’s eleventh volume over at this month’s On the Shojo Beat [...]

2 | there it is, plain as daylight. » NANA 15, Wild Ones 6, Ache of Head

March 18th, 2009 at 8:53 am


[...] have two reviews out in the world today, both at Manga Recon’s On the Shojo Beat column. The first is for volume fifteen of NANA, and the second for volume six of Wild Ones. The [...]

3 | MangaBlog » Blog Archive » MIMC winners announced, with commentary

March 19th, 2009 at 8:15 am


[...] of vol. 2 of Burst Angel at Okazu. The Manga Recon team check in with some short reviews for their On the Shojo Beat feature. Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane also posts some short reviews at Manga [...]

4 | News: Manga Recon 2009 Midterm Report Card | There it is, Plain as Daylight

July 17th, 2009 at 2:17 pm


[...] to mention, but couldn’t: xxxHolic, Vol. 13, One Thousand and One Nights, Vol. 7, NANA, Vols. 15 & 16, Mushishi, Vol. 7, Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 18, Fruits Basket, Vol. 22, and Age Called [...]

5 | Tears and Manga | There it is, Plain as Daylight

July 29th, 2009 at 10:00 pm


[...] to hear that I’ve shed tears over more than one volume of NANA (volume four, anyone? eight? fifteen?) or that I bawled my eyes out during volume fifteen of Hikaru no Go. More unusual perhaps is the [...]