19 Nov, 2009

On the Shojo Beat: Beast Master, Honey Hunt, and More!

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi and Jennifer Dunbar

In the spirit of the holidays, this month’s column is stuffed with goodness! Jennifer starts us off with a look at the debut Shojo Beat title for November, Beast Master. Michelle revisits some ongoing series with reviews of High School Debut and Honey Hunt, and Melinda does the same for NANA and Rasetsu. Enjoy!

Beast Master, Vol. 1

beastmaster1By Kyousuke Motomi
Viz, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen Plus

I knew I was going to love Beast Master’s heroine, Yuiko Kubozuka, within one or two pages of her introduction. At first it seems like a sweet scene: here is a teenager in a school uniform, bent over to coax her pet cat to come closer. Then her true nature appears and she picks that cat up and gives it a big ol’ snuggle. Yuiko, my friends, is a cat snuggler. I myself am a cat snuggler, and know too well the pain of cuddling with a cat who just doesn’t want to be cuddled. Lucky for me, my cats are sociable, affectionate beasts who don’t mind the odd belly rub or snuggle.

Yuiko is lucky in a whole other way. Her kitty is having none of this cuddling business and trees himself. Yuiko’s fretting about how she’s going to get him down when a fierce-looking young man leaps down from the tree, a happily purring Lightning in his arms. She doesn’t get his name or even a chance to thank him—or so she thinks. The next day, the young man shows up as a new transfer student in her class! His name is Leo Aoi, and between his feral looks and rumors that he beat some thugs up by himself cause the rest of the class to shy away from him.

Not Yuiko. During lunch, she follows him up to the roof, and we get to see his true nature. Despite his looks, Leo is sweet and naive. He spent his childhood in remote and uninhabited areas with the local wildlife as his only friends. It’s caused him to have lightning-fast reflexes and fantastic instincts when it comes to danger, but it’s also left him without any idea of how civilized society works. Yuiko, unusually confident for a shojo heroine and full of energy and cheer, befriends him quickly and helps him learn to navigate the jungle that is high school. When the school’s gang of young delinquent wannabes tries to pick a fight with Leo (treeing him in the process!), it’s Yuiko who greets them with ease, turning what could have been a dangerous situation into one where Leo has the opportunity to make even more friends.

Not that Leo is completely squeaky clean. As a result of his wild upbringing, he’s a berzerker. If he’s attacked, if he sees his own blood, he will fly into a rage and defend himself with deadly force. One of their classmates finds this out the hard way, when he tips off the remaining members of the gang that had attacked Leo before. The only thing that keeps Leo from actually killing one of his attackers is Yuiko, who jumps in and shoves her forearm in his mouth. She keeps a remarkably cool head, talking to Leo in a soothing tone and calming him down, bringing him back to herself. Crisis averted, Yuiko tells Leo something he’s never heard before: she’s not afraid of him.

I’m not gonna lie. I love this. The rest of the volume contains the introduction of Leo’s guardian Toki and the continuation of the story that began with the attack where Yuiko calms the beast. I’m not used to seeing shojo heroines like Yuiko—she’s confident in an easygoing way, well liked by her classmates because she genuinely likes them. Leo’s more of a classic “don’t judge a book by its cover” case, but still very likable and fun. I found myself giggling out loud at this manga, something I rarely do. I also like the art; it’s steady and well drawn, especially the action sequences.

In short, Beast Master is awesome, and you should be reading it.

The first volume of Beast Master is available now.

–Reviewed by Jennifer Dunbar

High School Debut, Vol. 12

hsd12By Kazune Kawahara
VIZ, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen

It’s Yoh’s birthday and Haruna has arranged for them to take an overnight trip together. Originally ignorant of the implications but now armed with information about what boys typically expect in such situations, she has endeavored to prepare herself as much as possible but suffers second thoughts as the big moment approaches. Later, Yoh’s sister throws a hissy fit about his relationship with Haruna, Mami reveals that she betrayed Haruna in the past, and Yoh must determine what career path he’d like to pursue at university.

Under no circumstances could a volume of High School Debut ever be bad, but this one proves that some are capable of not being as good as the rest. The first disappointment comes when Yoh and Haruna’s night alone together is interrupted by one of my least favorite plot devices, which I shall dub “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here!” Next, Yoh’s sister, Asami, has never been a favorite character of mine, and I didn’t enjoy reading about her incredibly bratty behavior (that she expects others to forgive), particularly when the issues she brings up were theoretically settled some time ago.

The bright spot in the volume is the chapter focusing on Mami, Haruna’s long-time best friend. I really enjoyed this celebration of their friendship, even though Haruna did go a little kooky when she thought Mami’s big secret was that she has feelings for Yoh. Every now and then one encounters a heroine’s best friend that one could happily read a series about—Yuki in Boys Over Flowers is one such character, and Mami is another.

The emphasis on college and careers is an unmistakable reminder that the end is nigh for this series. I hope I like the thirteenth and final volume at least a little more than this one.

Volume twelve of High School Debut is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Honey Hunt, Vol. 3

honeyhunt3By Miki Aihara
VIZ, 192 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

After being deserted by her celebrity parents, Yura Onozuka decides to best her mother at her own game: acting. After bombing several auditions, she’s landed the lead role in a commercial with a TV series tie-in and, after struggling through the first table read, manages to go back in and nail it thanks to the efforts of her friends Q-ta and Haruka Minamitani, a pair of fraternal twin pop stars, who both help by either encouraging her or smoothing things over with her less-than-impressed costars.

Yura has developed a crush on Q-ta and doesn’t realize that Haruka, one of those “kind on the inside, surly on the outside” types, has feelings for her. When he gets the idea that seeing him in concert will make her fall for him, he promises to answer all her questions about Q-ta if she’ll come to his shows. She does go, and is enthralled by his performance, but her mind’s still on Q-ta, forcing Haruka to finally make his intentions clear.

Honey Hunt is briskly paced and lighthearted, with Yura attracting near-instant notice in her career and in romance alike. It’s also completely engaging—the Minamitani boys are both genuinely sweet and Yura herself, though given to bouts of insecurity, is sensible and sympathetic. One thing I particularly like is that she always thanks those who’ve done nice things for her; too many shojo heroines get all embarrassed and feisty in similar circumstances.

If you’re in the mood for frothy fun, Honey Hunt would surely fit the bill. Too bad there’s a five-month wait for volume four!

Volume three of Honey Hunt is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

NANA, Vol. 19

nana19By Ai Yazawa
Viz, 194 pp.
Rating: Mature

The bit of future story at the beginning of this volume reveals a stunning amount of information about upcoming events and it’s not hard to see how things begin to derail as the volume continues. As Hachi focuses on getting Nana and Ren back together with the magic of Valentine’s Day chocolates, Reira abandons all her defenses in pursuit of her long-held love. Meanwhile, Ren is falling further into darkness all on his own. Shin is released on probation, but it’s a bittersweet moment at best as Nana lets out all her own anger and frustration out on him. Though Shin and Nana reach an inspiring agreement by the end, there’s a pervading sense that it’s all too late to change anything significant in their futures.

Fans of Hachi will have a lot of difficulty with this volume but since that is due only to Ai Yazawa’s incredibly insightful writing, it’s hard to complain even with the sensation of a rusty knife twisting in one’s gut. Also, even though it is an incredibly painful volume when viewed from Hachi’s point of view, there is also a sense of impending freedom if one can shake off the accompanying humiliation enough to get there. “No matter where Takumi went, even if he completely forgot about me when he was gone,” she says in one of the volume’s between-chapter narrations, “I thought I had to make a sanctuary for him to return to when he got tired. That’s the only way I could win.” It’s one of the saddest narrations in the series so far, and that’s saying quite a lot.

Yazawa is brilliant in this volume, capturing the feelings of each of these damaged characters as though they were all her. Even Yuri shows unexpected depths in this volume, as she’s finally face-to-face with a real break in her career which would upset the plans she’s made with Nobu. As painful a destination as everyone seems to be imminently headed for, this story remains so poignant and so real, it’s impossible to leave the road.

Volume nineteen of NANA is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Rasetsu, Vol. 3

rasetsu3By Chika Shiomi
Viz, 208 pp.
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)

The volume begins with a mission to the home of Rasetu’s mother who is being haunted by a malevolent spirit of which she is blissfully unaware. Fortunately, Rasetsu easily sidesteps an attempt by the spirit to intimidate her by dredging up fears from her own mind, and as a bonus, Rasetsu finally finds out the truth behind the name she’s always blamed her father for (whether she’s ready to believe it or not). The volume’s second mission involves an old acquaintance of Yako’s, Dai Tendo, who is the little brother to Yurara’s Mei (the boyfriend of the girl whose guardian spirit was Yako’s first love). His appearance brings back a wealth of sad (and not sad) memories for Yako and awakens some real jealousy in Rasetsu. This volume’s real treat, however, is a final side-story telling the tale of Aoi’s arrival to the agency and the development of his close relationship with its owner.

Fans of Yurara may be happy to see more of Yako’s story coming to the fore here, but the way his past with Yurara’s guardian spirit is brought up so blatantly again just after the previous volume has a bit of a gimmicky feel to it, or at best resembles flogging a dead horse. If Rasetsu is going to come into its own as a spin-off series, it’s going to need to rely on the here and now to keep readers interested. Though Yako’s past is surely sad and definitely a draw for fans of the previous series, perhaps this time would be better spent developing Rasetsu’s original characters so that they have some chance of rising to that level. There are a few compelling moments in this volume, particularly some new hints at Kuryu’s true agenda, but overall the volume is only saved by the charming side-story at its end.

Though it may provoke protests from fans of the original series, the real key to making Rasetsu work is going to be letting it evolve a life of its own. Let’s hope this happens soon.

Volume three of Rasetsu will be available on December 1, 2009.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Review copies provided by the publisher.

2 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Beast Master, Honey Hunt, and More!"

1 | Review: Beast Master, Vol. 1 « A word is a unit of language

November 19th, 2009 at 11:46 pm


[...] master, manga review by Jen I squeed all over volume one of Beast Master for Manga Recon’s On the Shojo Beat column this month. It features a confident, likable heroine, a hero who’s a nice mix of sweet [...]

2 | lanugo

November 20th, 2009 at 1:31 am


I agree wholeheartedly about Beast Master – Kyousuke Motomi is some kind of master with shojo. I loved how Yuiko and Leo’s friendship evolves so naturally, and it is their friendship that is important first. Yuiko is not another heroine who wants to get a boyfriend. She’d rather have an animal!