16 May, 2009

On the Shojo Beat: Kaze Hikaru and Beauty Pop

By: Michelle Smith, Melinda Beasi and Isaac Hale

Michelle starts us off this month with a look at the tenth and final volume in the hairstylist saga, Beauty Pop, and also checks out the second volume of the quirky comedy, Otomen; Isaac catches up with three volumes of the “samurai romance drama” of Kaze Hikaru; and Melinda enjoys volume ten of the music-oriented La Corda d’Oro while finding volume seven of Wild Ones to be pretty pointless.

Beauty Pop, Vol. 10

beautypop10By Kiyoko Arai
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

Narumi’s father has goaded him into entering the Scissors Project into the All-Japan Beauty Tournament in order to prove he’s serious about forming his own salon with his schoolmates rather than inherit the family salon. In this final volume, the outcome of both the tournament and the love triangle between Narumi, his friend Ochiai, and protagonist Kiri, is revealed.

I was pretty disappointed in this conclusion. Kiri is sidelined for most of the first half for an incredibly contrived reason—she catches a cold by going out in the rain to forgive the rival hairstylist (I lost count, but I believe he’s the fifth or sixth to appear in the ten-volume series) who stole her special scissors but who we are supposed to care about because he is a sad orphan—and a lot of the romantic momentum built up in the previous volume is squandered. The outcome of the tournament is treated as an afterthought and while we do, courtesy of a comedic bonus story set ten years in the future, ultimately learn which boy Kiri ends up with, we never see her admit any feeling for either of them or witness any reaction from the boy not chosen.

Ultimately, Beauty Pop is a silly and cute tale that shows occasional glimmers of a more satisfying story but fails to deliver in the end. In some ways, I am reminded of the conclusion to Hana-Kimi, which had similar issues involving the unsatisfying resolution to a romantic triangle. How one felt about the final volume of that series would be a good indicator of what to expect from this one.

Volume ten of Beauty Pop is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Kaze Hikaru, Vols. 11-13

kazehikaru13By Taeko Watanabe
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Older Teen (16+)

In my last review of Kaze Hikaru, I mentioned that it was a samurai romance drama—heavy on the romance, light on the samurai. To say that this holds true would fortunately be disingenuous. Since then the samurai intrigue has caught up and the series has taken a turn for the better. Letting the central romance dynamic of Sei and Okita get some well-earned reprieve really allows the secondary characters to shine and remind us that there is a world outside of the samurai encampment. Though this series still has some confusing aspects (who all exactly knows Sei is a girl?), these volumes are a marked improvement. If you need your fix of political intrigue, romance, character development, and even some hardcore seppuku, look no further.

What continues to really catch my attention in this series though is its singular angle on sexuality. Though Okita knows Sei is a girl and their quasi-romance progresses (like molasses in a Minnesota winter) as such, many of the other characters after eleven volumes still don’t. Indeed, one particularly awkward interchange in volume eleven features Sei’s über-serious mentor, Saito, informing Okita that shudo, or samurai mentor/young man homosexuality, is the only true form of love. Though Okita places little stake in it, the entire point of Saito’s speech is to verbalize some of his internal struggle over his attraction to Sei (or as he believes “Kamiya”).

While many male characters express an attraction to Sei’s male persona, Kamiya, in the series, it is impossible to tell what Taeko Watanabe is getting at. Are there “homosexual” feelings vindicated because Sei is actually a girl? Is Watanabe implying that shudo was common and not discrete in samurai communities? Or is Watanabe reacting against the gender norms of today’s society by pointing out that Sei’s gender doesn’t affect who should be allowed to be attracted to her. Indeed, in volume twelve, Sei dresses up as a beautiful woman (girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a woman) and manages to coerce monks to take her to their leader. Whatever Watanabe’s intent behind the constant homosexual overtones the likes of I’ve seen nowhere else in standard shojo comics, it’s certainly fascinating and keeps you interested in how the men attracted to “Kamiya” will feel once they realize that Sei is a girl.

Regardless, add Kaze Hikaru to the top of your shojo reading list. It and NANA are easily the best manga coming out of the Shojo Beat lineup right now.

Volumes eleven through thirteen of Kaze Hikaru are available now.

–Reviewed by Isaac Hale

La Corda d’Oro, Vol. 10

lacorda10By Yuki Kure
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

As Kohoko and the other contestants head into the final selection of Seisou Academy’s music competition, there is a last-minute shake-up when the decision is made to change the order of their performances to reflect their scores up to that point in order to show off the strongest musicians for Mr. Kira, a young man whose family runs Seisou Academy and who believes the music competition is, in his words, “a bit silly.” The change is a shock for all of the contestants, though prickly violinist Len surprises everyone by protesting that it undermines their performances to make them suddenly aware of their standing in a competition that is supposedly about promoting the enjoyment of music. Finally, however, the performance goes on with each of them demonstrating the impressive growth they’ve experienced during the competition, especially Kahoko who is performing for the first time without magical assistance.

There is a lot of reflection in this volume, especially on the part of Kahoko, who spends much time pondering her first meetings with the other contestants and how her relationships with them have progressed to this point. It’s quite an emotional volume, too, with some very moving moments, particularly Kahoko’s encounter with Len just before she goes on (in which he offers to help her replace her E string with the one formerly magical string remaining, saying, “It means something to you, right?”), her performance itself, and her tearful goodbye with Lili who made it possible for her to learn that she loves music.

With at least two more volumes to go, it’s hard to see where the story will find the momentum to move forward now that the competition’s final selection is complete. There is the question of Kahoko’s love life and perhaps some drama to come regarding the flippant Mr. Kira, but it will be interesting to see where this goes now that it has passed what would seem to have been a comfortable stopping point. La Corda d’Oro may not be a masterpiece, but it is sweet, heartwarming, and oddly addictive with its cast of attractive characters so sincere in their musical pursuits.

Volume ten of La Corda d’Oro is available now.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

Otomen, Vol. 2

otomen2By Aya Kanno
Viz, 192 pp.
Rating: Teen

This volume presents three episodic tales, two of which focus on Asuka’s challenge to be true to himself despite the expectations of others. In the first of these stories, he acquires an apprentice who wants to use him as a reference on how to be cool and masculine, requiring Asuka to suppress his girly tendencies, and in the other, his mother attempts to set him up in an arranged marriage and manipulates him by warning that her health will suffer if he should thwart her or betray any sort of preference for feminine things. This last story is insanely kooky, but it gives Ryo the opportunity to ride in on a white horse and rescue the about-to-be-wed Asuka, so I can’t fault it too much.

Kanno’s art is very attractive in general, but I was especially impressed by it in this volume because she was able to adopt a completely different style—one reminiscent of ‘70s shoujo—to depict the parents of Asuka’s fiancée. What’s more, there are scenes where they are sitting at a table with Asuka’s mom, and seeing the two very different artistic techniques juxtaposed in the same panel is pretty awesome.

The other story in the volume is more of a romantic one. Asuka finds out that Ryo has never celebrated Christmas before, and so plans the perfect Christmas party for her. It’s a nice chapter overall, but the best part is Asuka’s inexplicable fixation upon a yule log as the essential ingredient for the event. I often find straightforward comedies unfunny, but the absurdity of Otomen gets me every time.

Volume two of Otomen is available now.

–Reviewed by Michelle Smith

Wild Ones, Vol. 7

wildones7By Kiyo Fujiwara
Viz, 200 pp.
Rating: Teen

Volume seven of this series begins on a low note with a jealous student scheming to keep a girl he likes from confessing to young Yakuza bodyguard and school prince Rakuto (a plot which proves hopeless in the end), though this story line eventually takes a more serious turn as Rakuto’s teacher decides to visit his home to determine why he’s been unable to decide on a career track. This scenario is followed by an aimless romp at an amusement park where Rakuto and rival Azuma bicker over who should get to share rides with the object of their affection protection, Sachie. Later, another seemingly pointless story begins with a rival “heiress” challenging Sachie to a meaningless duel. Surprisingly, this ends up providing the first real turning point in Sachie and Rakuto’s endlessly drawn-out romance, as Rakuto is forced to admit to himself how much Sachie cares for him, and Sachie learns that it might actually be okay to show her true feelings.

This volume starts off weaker than the one previous, but it ends (uncharacteristically) with a little cliffhanger which offers up some small hope that something might actually happen between Sachie and Rakuto at long last. It suddenly seems possible that the spark that has been missing all along may finally appear to rescue this vaguely attractive series from the dregs of mediocrity. As both characters finally drop their false disinterest in each other, there is actually some real chemistry between them for the first time as well, making it easy to root for them and providing some real impetus going into the next volume.

Though for the most part this volume is no more exciting than those that precede it, its final chapter makes a tentative promise of better things to come.

Volume seven of Wild Ones will be available on June 2nd, 2009.

–Reviewed by Melinda Beasi

5 Responses to "On the Shojo Beat: Kaze Hikaru and Beauty Pop"

1 | Beauty Pop 10 by Kiyoko Arai: B- | Soliloquy in Blue

May 16th, 2009 at 8:37 pm


[...] can find that review here. Michelle 16 May 2009 Manga, Shoujo Shojo Beat, Viz Beauty Pop 9 by Kiyoko Arai: [...]

2 | Otomen 2 by Aya Kanno: B | Soliloquy in Blue

May 16th, 2009 at 8:38 pm


[...] can find that review here. Michelle 16 May 2009 Manga, Shoujo Shojo Beat, Viz Beauty Pop 10 by Kiyoko Arai: [...]

3 | Age Called Blue & the Drabble | There it is, Plain as Daylight

May 17th, 2009 at 1:13 am


[...] Recon (and one that should appear here sometime tomorrow). First of all, I review volume ten of La Corda d’Oro and volume seven of Wild Ones for the On The Shojo Beat column. The greatest treat for me, however, [...]

4 | MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Bizenghast online, a Glyph for manga

May 18th, 2009 at 8:04 am


[...] The Manga Recon team posts some short reviews of shoujo manga in their latest On the Shojo Beat column and more brief reviews in the Manga Minis section. Melinda also reviews Age Called Blue at [...]

5 | Click 6-8 by Youngran Lee: B- | Soliloquy in Blue

August 5th, 2009 at 10:18 am


[...] My problem’s not with the ultimate pairing, though, but rather with how it was carried out. Like Beauty Pop, instead of actually showing the protagonist confessing her feelings to the person of her choice, [...]