Why I Love Pochamani

Pochamani_Chp_1_001Shoujo is not the most respected genre in the manga world. On one hand, the plots, though often dramatic, are also simple. They usually involve a pretty but stupid high school girl and a handsome, smart, rich, and arrogant high school boy. This odd couple is usually thrown into some sort of situation that, while technically plausible, is very unlikely.

They include eye-rolling plot lines such as marrying for parents’ debt, working off a debt in the mansion, something else to do with a large sum of money and shitty parents, their parents got married so they are now step-siblings, etc. Whatever problems shoujo may have, though, there are more than a few gems in the genre, and even some that go against those pretty people. One of these fabled gems is Pochamani by Kaname Hirama. Continue reading

Manga Mondays: Fruits Basket

Fruits.Basket.full.9697I think this is the first shoujo I got into, and like many manga, Fruits Basket just seemed to go on for way too long, though it never quite reached Naruto and Bleach levels in terms of length. (Then again, not many things can.) At the very least, Fruits Basket had a set ending and a more or less cohesive plot, and though it also has a fair number of characters, it never actually deviated too far from its plot to develop them separately from what was actually happening in the story. What I’m trying to say is that it never punishes the reader with more filler than actual plot. It only punishes them with fluff, which is almost just as bad. It is twenty-three volumes, which is a pretty decent length, and if the story’s decent as well, there’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

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Manga Mondays: Saint Dragon Girl Miracle

You know how the manga sites have that “Surprise me!” or “Random” button? Well, I clicked it and got taken to Saint Dragon Girl Miracle. It is only nineteen chapters, but each chapter is about fifty pages. And this is shojo by the way, but with a couple random fight scenes.

The story follows a middle school girl named Anju. When she was two, she was really too strong for her age (Mom being a Kendo champion and Dad being a sorcerer and all) so her parents sealed away her strength. For her entire life, she thought she was a weakling. However, to prove she’s strong enough to earn a spot on the Student Council (with the hot guys), she agrees to try and catch a thief. The first time she fails, but then she discovers her hidden power. Her strength hides in the form of her pet bird, which is actually a dragon child. If Anju recites an incantation, she can unseal herself and become a dragon girl with pretty wings and awesome power. The manga continues to follow how Anju protects the school as Saint Dragon Girl from the random peeping tom to the kids after the magical pendants (that never get explained). At the same time, she is torn between having a crush on the Student Council President, Ren (the tall dark silent type) and the VP, Ryuuji (the cray-cray one).

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Manga Mondays: The Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity in Manga and Anime

From an historical viewpoint, just about every culture on the planet has idealized males as dominate figures, while dismissing females as the lesser sex. Japan is certainly no exception to this way of thinking. Though in recent years, while the gap between both genders has slimmed, it is still there, and the Japanese reflect this ideology in their manga and anime. Manga has been around for quite some time, and anime first appeared in the last century to represent manga on the television screen. While manga has an incredibly wide fan base that continues to grow each year, it normally targets either boys or girls. Manga for boys is called shounen, and for girls it’s shoujo.

Both may display similar characteristics regarding gender roles, but they are quite dissimilar in their portrayal, and normally cater to different genres. Shoujo, for instance, tends to center more on romance and finding true love, while shounen, even though it may also have romance, focuses more on action and adventure. This is not to say that shoujo has neither action nor adventure; those are just not the main focus in a typical shoujo.

So what I’m going to talk about today are two different shounen, Kisimoto Masasi’s Naruto and Takahasi Rumiko’s InuYasha. I also hope to explain why they are both shounen and not shoujo. Obviously, Naruto is a shounen, but there are some discrepancies about what category InuYasha falls under. And you’re going to have to brace yourselves, but I’m also going to be discussing gender roles.

Okay, let’s get to it.

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Manga Mondays: Kare Kano

After last week’s foray into… whatever you would call that, I decided to give myself time to recuperate and return to a series that I really love despite the fact that I actually haven’t finished it yet (whoops).

If I were to put His and Her Circumstance, more commonly known as Kare Kano (short for Kareshi Kanojo no Jiyou), on the spectrum of genres, it would fall somewhere between Kitchen Princess and Honey and Clover: there’s no way it’s not shoujo, but it’s certainly more ‘slice-of-life’-y than a lot of other shoujos. The series starts out following Yukino Miyazawa as she goes through her school life acing tests, having a bunch of friends, being basically perfect in any way. What I mean by ‘starts out’ is that this image lasts approximately seven pages into the first chapter and immediately slips when the other main character, Soichio Arima, is mentioned.

You see, Yukino is living a lie, and it’s a lie that many of us know very well. At school and in public she is the image of high school beauty and brains, what everyone aspires to be. Yet at home she is a slob who lounges around in sweats all day and works her butt off to achieve that public image for the sole reason of being praised. She is a self-proclaimed egomaniac. However, all of her hard work is seemingly for naught when Soichiro becomes the class representative. Not only did he ‘steal’ this title away from her, oh no, he also seems to be everything she’s not. He actually is the perfect, good looking, smart person that she has to act at being. Needless to say, this pisses her off. It pisses her off even more when he catches her slipping up in class, and so she starts working even harder to throw him off his high horse. It all seems to be coming together for her after she scores higher than him, but the façade is ruined when he visits her at home.

However, from his end Soichiro genuinely admires her. He continuously wants to be near her and feels as though it makes him better for it. He even confesses his feelings for her at some point (she turns him down at first). After the incident at Yukino’s house, he uses his insight into her actual self as a means of blackmail and forces her to help him with his student council work, least she be exposed to the entire school. However, it ends up being just a ploy to have her spend more time with him in a manner where she could actually be herself. It’s a little underhanded, but ends up being a mutually beneficial arrangement.

From these two chapters—yes, this all happens in the first two chapters—the two of them begin reconsidering what they really want out of life and how to balance their “public” selves with their “actual” selves (spoiler: Soichiro isn’t actually perfect). As with Honey and Clover, this seemingly mundane task is what makes the rest of the series. Both of them go through school, deal with relationships (with each other and apart), and handle the drama that comes with them and we see how it shapes them into the adults they are in the last volume of the manga. Of course, what I find most interesting is how author Masami Tsuda creates such a meaningful, three-dimensional relationship from Soichiro and Yukino. Never do you feel that they aren’t their own people and never do they lose the strengths and insecurities that make them interesting. In such a long series (I think it’s about 21 volumes), it’s rather difficult to keep interest in a single relationship but by keeping the his/her style of storytelling the audience really becomes attached to the characters, so the relationship is actually a secondary thing.

I would definitely recommend giving this series a try. Yukiko is a hilariously awkward character and the friends they both make later into the series really round out the cast into characters that you may not like all the time, but you can respect their actions because they have purpose beyond building up the main characters, unlike many other shoujos.


Manga Mondays: Honey and Clover

This week we’re taking a look at a manga that outgrew the slot it was shoved in. My first exposure to this series by Chika Umino was in Shoujo Beat magazine. Before its untimely demise, this magazine featured several manga that, as you could probably guess, fit the shoujo genre along with other articles on cooking or arts and crafts. While it has shoujo elements, I wouldn’t ever call Honey and Clover a shoujo series. If you’re familiar with these, I would compare this series more to Azumanga Daioh than something like Kitchen Princess. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to explain.

The main thing that separates Honey and Clover from other would-be shoujo series is that the main character is a boy, Yuuta Takemoto. Even then, the series doesn’t explicitly focus on him. In thematically sound shoujo, the plot focuses on one main female character, only deviating to see a pensive look of heartbreak on the love interest or a disgusted monologue on the part of the heroine’s enemy. Although it’s obvious which characters (plural) are supposed to take main stage, the other characters are still well-thought out and feel fleshed out beyond the usual tropes.

Another aspect that sets this series apart from other, more traditional shoujo series is the way in which the romance is handled. Honey and Clover shares with other shuojo that romance is a driving force in the plot, but the way it mixes in with other natural human desires sets it apart for me. How does one deal with having defined their place in the world, only to feel alone and cherished?  Should one sacrifice one precious thing to chase another? These hard, relatable issues and more are discussed through the struggles of the characters. Although I’m sure that this isn’t the only series that talks about these aspects of life, it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t make it seem like you’re getting beat over the head with blushing and unrequited feelings every other page.

Now that all of that’s out of the way, I should probably actually go over the plot. For once, I’m going to leave spoilers out, one, because I want you to read it and two, because I actually haven’t finished it myself. Whoops.

As I mentioned earlier, the series focuses mostly on one, Yuuta Takemoto, who attends an art college in Tokyo with his two roommates and friends, Takumi and Shinobu. All three of them are noticeably different from each other, which creates for interesting dynamics and viewpoints of their career and relationships. Yuuta takes the role of the naïve, younger brother type who is still trying to figure out what he actually wants to do with his life and talents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinobu is a somewhat chilly and jaded fellow who may not be particularly happy with the route he’s chosen, but he’s going to stick it out until the bitter end. Lastly, and perhaps contrary to ones expectations, we have Takumi. It’s difficult to describe him as he’s a rather

complex character, but he bears a lot of resemblance to Vash the Stampede personality-wise: he’s a rather serious character, but acts so batshit at times that it’s almost surprising to find him being introspective.

These three fellows are joined also by our two, lovely female characters: Hagu (the other ‘main character’ of the series) and Ayumi. At first, one may assume that Hagu is just there to fit some sort of loli (little girl) trope and to be super cute. Whereas she is really cute, she’s so much deeper than that. Her art is already well respected by professionals, but she can’t deal with being around people very well, even to the extent of making herself ill from stress over the issue. She is extremely sheltered and shy, and has no method other than to hide herself away when she becomes stuck in a love triangle, no matter how passive it is. Ayumi, on the other hand, is almost Hagu’s complete opposite. She’s outgoing and has taken it upon herself to admit her feelings to the people around her, no matter how much they may hurt her. Ayumi is actually the character I enjoy the most because she’s just so open and fun, but she can’t stop hurting herself by holding onto an unrequited love. I’ve been there, to the point where you just can’t let them go, so I know exactly what she’s going through in her character arc and it hurts.

In fact, this bittersweet tone is something that never leaves this series and I like it that way. Life doesn’t always have happy endings, nor is it always terrible. There are ups and downs, and the important thing is to not take those ‘ups’ for granted. In my opinion, I think Umino has chosen a very skilled way to present this message and it’s why I’m glad this isn’t a straight up shojou. Beyond the characters, there’s not much else I can say because it’s so much closer to a slice-of-life genre that I can’t. They go to school, they interact and their characters evolve based on those interactions. There’s no bad guy, there’s no adventure. It’s just life, un-distilled in all its complexities. The series isn’t very long, so it’s possible to sit through it in a day, plus the art style is refreshingly different and fits Umino’s method of storytelling perfectly. Just make sure you have some tissues around, some parts are tear jerkers.


Manga Mondays: Saint Tail

One of Japan’s favorite themes to use and re-use is the magical school girl. Those punishers of good and evil. Those middle school-ers who learn how to kick ass and take names with the help of a fancy new costumes and neat weapons. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica entering back into mainstream discussion, this genre is also experiencing a rebirth of sorts. So, in this spirit, let’s visit an old friend who didn’t manage to age as gracefully as its sister series.

If I had the internet at the time, I’m certain that, after Elfquest, Saint Tail would have been my first fandom. Like every other magical girl series, we follow after the young school girl, Meimi Haneoka who attends St. Paulia’s Private school by day and takes on the persona of the theif, Saint Tail, at night. While she is thieving, she’s also being pursued by the detective—rather, the detective’s son—Asuka Jr. Asuka is also Meimi’s classmate who somehow doesn’t put blonde hair together with blonde hair, and so he’s continuously obsessed with figuring out Saint Tail’s identity. The third player in our main cast is Meimi’s friend, Seira. It’s from her that Meimi is able to get all of her information. It is a little strange that a young girl would have so much information pertaining to items of interest, but Megumi Tachikawa explains this partially away with Seira’s after school job. No, she’s not a computer whiz like Amy in Sailor Moon, Seira is a nun. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently Seira is incredibly lucky in that all the people with problems about stolen items come to her church to confess. I’m not exactly sure that’s how going to a confessional works (aren’t you supposed to confess to a sin you’ve done instead of crying about something that got stolen from you?), but it’s at least is plausible-sounding.

This brings up two things about this series that separates it from other magical girl stories. First off, Saint Tail is a much different heroine than we’re used to. In fact, I would say that she’s more comparable to Kaito Kid from Case Closed/Detective Conan than someone like Wedding Peach. Despite her acting more like a Robin Hood figure than Catwoman—she only steals back items that have already been stolen to return them to their previous owner—she’s still a legitimate thief. She is actually breaking the law, and thus deserves having the police go after her no matter how good her intentions are. She also gives Asuka advance warning of where she’ll strike next to give him a fighting chance on catching her. Kaito Kid also does this, but for him it’s much more smarmy since he does it in codes and puzzles rather than just saying it straight out. Main antagonists in a magical girl story usually are mystical or extra-terrestrial, so seeing the genre taking a foray into the more realistic is refreshing.

As a sub-point to this, Saint Tail also has no magic powers. …Let me rephrase that. Saint Tail has no magical powers that thwart her foes. As Meimi’s father is a magician, her shtick is using subterfuge and other magician tricks to fool her opponents and help her get away. This series is much more about outsmarting the other person rather than overpowering them. I wish more magical girl series focused on this, actually.

Secondly, the clear connection to religion is somewhat unique. Although it can be easily argued that every magical girl series has a god figure, I find that it’s hardly ever actually THE God. Granted, it isn’t used in the same way: God didn’t come down onto Meimi and give her magical tools. But with Seira being a nun, St. Paulia’s being an assumedly religious academy, and the two girls praying before each ‘heist’ it’s a factor that can’t be ignored. In fact, it was so un-ignorable that in the first seven episodes of the anime they tried to remove every mention to the religious figure. Considering the setting, you can imagine how well that went.

Is this one of the better examples of the magical girl series? No. But it is enjoyable to read and some of the arcs are genuinely interesting. I haven’t been able to find a scan online, though, so if you want to see for yourself it may take a little digging. Not a series I would recommend off the bat, but if you’re bored I’d give it a try.

Manga Mondays: Fall in Love Like a Comic

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I figured it would be appropriate to review another shojou manga. …Who am I kidding? I was going to do that anyway, but I’ll take any excuse I can get. And boy, do I need an excuse for this one. Back in the day when I used to subscribe to Shojou Beat magazine, there was a preview for this story and maybe it was the main character’s horrendously big eyes that got to me but I fell in love with it. Fell in love despite the fact that it’s probably about the most cliché, contrived shojou manga in this modern era. Readers, I would like to introduce you to Chitose Yagami’s two volume l♥ve-l♥ve fest, Fall in Love Like a Comic.

Our protagonist is Rena Sakura—it’s already starting to sound like a bad fanfiction, isn’t it?—who suffers from ‘looking five years younger than you actually are’-itis, is in high school, and is also secretly a manga artist for a popular magazine. In addition to being really cute, Rena is also hardworking, has a really good friend, and is incredibly silly. Basically she’s the everygirl. Her comic, unoriginally titled ‘Girl in Love ♥’, is incredibly popular but in a shocking turn of events we find that Rena has never had a boyfriend! Gasp! Thus, to improve the quality of her comic she ends up employing the help of the popular, athletic, perfect-in-every-way Tomoya Okita.

As you have probably guessed already yes, they do fall in love. In fact, it happens in chapter three (which is only half-way through the first volume!). I use the term ‘fall in love’ very loosely because Rena is definitely in lust and I honestly don’t know what Tomoya’s deal is. The only thing he knows about her is that she’s cute, she draws manga, and that she’s very excitable. Maybe it’s too much to expect a little depth here, but it is Yagami’s sixth manga series. So, if the main conflict is essentially solved by not even the end of the first volume, what’s the rest of the story? Let me sum it up for you.

[Insert event that makes it seem like Tomoya is cheating on or uninterested in Rena]

Rena: OMG! I should have guessed! He doesn’t understaaaaaaand!!! *cries*

Tomoya: Rena, u r wrong!

Rena: Nooooo!!

Tomoya: Rena, I luv u 5eva. *kisses her*

Rena: K *giggles*

No, seriously. The rest of it is filler until the end. In fact, the end could be considered filler. Since the first volume doesn’t even end on a cliffhanger, one could just stop there and the story wouldn’t suffer at all. However, in the second volume there actually is one story arc that gives the relationship some depth.

The happy couple and their friends are going on a trip together so Rena gets it in her head that to deepen the relationship between the two of them they’re going to have sex. Rena tries to seduce Tomoya the entire trip (which amounts to her just looking stupid), eventually cornering him in the shower and telling him how she feels and what she wants. Surprisingly, they don’t have sex instead opting to wait until later. Although Tomoya directly says, “We’re going to wait until I’m ready”, I feel as though this is for both of their benefits rather than him being selfish. It’s obvious that Rena isn’t as ready as she thinks she is as she cannot even handle kissing him without becoming a flustered moe-blob. Literally. Also, this sends a really good message to the readers that sex isn’t the only way to deepen or intensify a relationship. That an emotional connection that involves an understanding between each other is more important than the physical. That it’s okay to not do it. It’s also refreshing to see the male be the one to refuse the sexual advances, especially in a shojou manga. In addition to that, Rena is not shamed for her sexual desires and it’s treated as it should be: a normal occurrence and something to be explored at a later time. For this arc alone, I have to give Yagami credit.

However, that credit fades away slightly when [spoilers] the comic ends on a wedding! A fucking wedding! They haven’t even been in the relationship for a year, they haven’t graduated high school, they’re not even telling their parents and they’re getting married!! It’s so cliché. And there’s nothing leading up to it either! They have a fight where Rena is ignoring Tomoya’s calls because she thinks he’s falling back in love with his ex-girlfriend—her tutor—and then bam! Wedding! What the hell?!

As much as I love this series, I can’t recommend it in good faith. The art ranges from decent to ‘why is their face melting?’ and the story is just not strong at all. Even the bonus stories at the back of the manga aren’t very good. However, if you want something that doesn’t require any brain power to enjoy or just is some meaningless fluff, this comic just may be your godsend.

Manga Mondays: Call Me Princess

Are you feeling the love yet?

Hi! While Lady Saika takes care of her obligations I’m going to take care of this new segment she has planned. Spoiler warning right here, right now.

Let me be blunt: I am a romance addict. Rom-coms? Love them. Trashy novels? Can’t get enough. I will watch Pride and Prejudice and 10 Things I Hate About You until the disk is run ragged. So it’s really is no surprise that my manga collection is stacked with shojou. For those of you unfamiliar with manga terms, “shojou” manga refers to what can be boiled down to romance: usually centered on young girls in high school coming into their own. Needless to say, these plots are a breeding ground for exaggerated drama. However, the somewhat more realistic scenario presented in Tomoko Taniguchi’s Call Me Princess is what really drew me in and keeps me coming back to those black and white pages even to this day. This was my first manga so it seems only right for me to review it.

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