16 May, 2010

On the Shojo Beat: Flower in a Storm and More!

By: Michelle Smith and Melinda Beasi

The Shojo Beat debut title for May is Flower in a Storm, which Michelle discovers is much better than the back cover blurb leads one to believe. She also takes a look at volume four of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, and Melinda wraps things up with her review of volume ten of We Were There.


Flower in a Storm, Vol. 1

By Shigeyoshi Takagi
VIZ, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen

After being rejected by her first love because of her superhuman strength, Riko is trying to live as unremarkable a life as possible. She believes that the only way she’s going to fall in love is to be “normal,” but this point of view is challenged by the dramatic arrival (with gun and menacing retinue) of rich boy Ran Tachibana, who barges into her classroom one day and proposes marriage.

Unlike her first love, when Ran caught a glimpse of Riko’s abilities he was smitten and his unstoppable pursuit leads him to transfer to her school. Ran’s got quite a few enemies, so his proximity involves Riko in all sorts of dangerous situations involving assassins and treacherous friends, but his acceptance of her as she is gradually endears her to him despite all the chaos he introduces into her life.

In no way did I expect to enjoy Flower in a Storm as much as I did. In fact, I remember reading the back cover description aloud to someone and the two of us groaning. In reality, though, it’s actually a lot of fun, even though some of the situations the leads find themselves in are fairly ridiculous. Ran might be outrageous, but the fact that he appreciates Ran for her competence and independence goes a long way toward making his presumptive actions more tolerable. Also, this isn’t one of those series where the domineering guy must come to the aid of the helpless heroine; instead, they do their fair share of rescuing each other.

After Ran and Riko’s tale comes to a nice stopping point, there’s a bonus story called “Need for Artificial Respiration.” It’s about a girl, Toko, with a bad reputation at school due to frequently being spotted kissing different guys. After having his first kiss stolen by Toko while napping in a classroom, Kiyoharu becomes interested in figuring out why she does what she does. The answer is rather surprising, but the story is quite good and definitely more interesting than many bonus stories tend to be.

I like Takagi-sensei’s art a lot, especially Ran’s character design. Riko resembles the title character from Alice in the Country of Hearts, but Ran—with his tied-back hair and impressive collection of stylish specs—has a look all his own that I actually find kind of sexy. Also, there’s just something about Takagi’s angular profiles that reminds me at times of Tomoko Yamashita, creator of Dining Bar Akira.

Ultimately, Flower in a Storm was a very pleasant surprise. Probably a story like this would fizzle out over a long serialization, but the fact that it concludes in its second volume (due in August) reassures me that its end will be as unexpectedly entertaining as its beginning.

Volume one of Flower in a Storm is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, Vol. 4

By Karuho Shiina
VIZ, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

When Sawako Kuronuma was ostracised by her class due to her gloomy disposition and resemblance to a character from a horror movie, she never would have guessed that there are so many nuances to interactions with other people. Because of her inexperience in this area, she hasn’t learned to be distrustful, and so accepts as genuine the friendly advances of Kurumi, a girl who wants Kazehaya-kun for herself.

Kurumi does everything within her power to convince Sawako, who is growing increasingly curious about the depth of her feeling for Kazehaya, that what she feels for him isn’t anything special, and that she ought to try chatting up some other guys for the sake of comparison (then arranges for Kazehaya to witness this, of course). Things backfire for Kurumi, though, as Sawako manages to interpret this advice in the best possible light and ends up confirming and accepting that what she feels for Kazehaya is genuine love.

This is a huge step for Sawako, and her happiness at this achievement in self-discovery is contagious. In fact, the depiction of her thought process as she works this out is simply terrific throughout, as is that of Kazehaya as he realizes that, no matter what he may personally feel, Sawako is still not ready to begin dating anyone. The skill with which nonverbal and internal storytelling convey these revelations to the reader elevates Kimi ni Todoke beyond other sweet love stories and into the realm of great manga.

Volume four of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith


We Were There, Vol. 10

By Yuki Obata
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)

After volume nine’s jump to the future, We Were There returns again to the past. This volume follows Yano in his first year away from Nanami as seen through the eyes of a classmate, Sengenji. While things continue to decline for Yano’s mother, Yano strives desperately to cling to his long-distance relationship with Nanami, even if this means shutting her out of everything he’s going through. Meanwhile, Yamamoto enters the picture once again and Sengenji battles her own feelings for Yano.

So much of this series revolves around questions of trust, and once again Yano falls short–not in terms of his own trustworthiness, but rather in his inability to trust Nanami with the things she most needs to know. Though he tries to justify this as concern for her, it’s obvious that what he’s really protecting is himself. “Even if wounds heal, scars are left behind,” he says to Takeuchi over the phone, following a labored metaphor about broken plants created to justify shielding Nanami from further truth. “So it’s better not to experience hardship if you don’t have to.”

Even watching Yano stumble, however, it’s impossible not to feel for him, and it’s exactly this kind of emotional ambiguity that this series handles so well. Every poor choice and heartfelt miscalculation is perfectly in-character, forcing readers to examine their own reactions just as in real life.

With its thoughtful tone and exceptional insight into the human mind and heart, We Were There continues to be a must-read for fans of mature shojo.

Volume ten of We Were There is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

4 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Flower in a Storm and More!"

1 | We Were There, Vol. 10 | Manga Bookshelf

May 17th, 2010 at 9:53 am

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[...] Today’s review appears over at PopCultureShock, where Michelle Smith and I offer up a few items for the latest On The Shojo Beat column. My contribution is a review of volume ten of Yuki Obata’s We Were There. [...]

2 | Danielle Leigh

May 17th, 2010 at 1:50 pm

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Great takes on Kimi ni Todoke volume 4 and We Were There 10, Michelle and Melinda!

Kimi makes me so happy, there’s so much warmth and happiness to the title but We Were There is like this fascinating pit of despair. I don’t even *like* Yano that much but somehow he’s somehow so desperately sad I end up wanting so much better for him just in general.

3 | Danielle Leigh

May 17th, 2010 at 1:52 pm

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And….ignore one of those “somehow”s….geez.

4 | Michelle Smith

May 17th, 2010 at 2:33 pm

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Thanks. :) I like the sad stuff, but it’s the warm and fuzzy (ran in Margaret) kind I tend to like the best.

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