Tidbits: Catching Up with Shojo Beat

New and recent Shojo Beat releases are piling up, which means it’s time for another Tidbits column! In this installment, you’ll find reviews of three newer series—volume three of Dengeki Daisy, plus volumes five and six of Honey Hunt and Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You—while two old favorites, Ouran High School Host Club and Skip Beat!, bring up the rear!

Dengeki Daisy 3 by Kyousuke Motomi: B
In one of her author’s notes, Kyousuke Motomi writes that Dengeki Daisy was originally intended to be only three chapters long. This was pretty obvious in the second volume, where the sudden introduction of a lot of plot felt pretty awkward, but things have evened out by this third volume.

Though the threat that someone is after the software that Teru Kurebayashi’s brother, Soichiro, was working on before his death persists, the focus here is mostly on Teru’s relationship with Tasuku Kurosaki, the surly custodian at her school who secretly doubles as DAISY, the anonymous contact Soichiro recommended Teru seek out in times of trouble.

Teru’s been living at Kurosaki’s place after her own was burglarized, but feels as if she’s imposing. She’s unable to tell whether he cares that she’s moving out, and he’s unable (or unwilling) to admit that he’ll miss her, so she goes through with the move, only to realize her new roommate has rented the place next door. I would find this terribly cheesy in any other series, but somehow I’m okay with it here.

Similarly, a couple who obviously has feelings for one another and yet stubbornly refuses to confess would normally annoy me, but there’s something about these two that I find sympathetic. Kurosaki’s been giving Teru mixed signals, so she can’t tell exactly what she means to him. Kurosaki has the advantage of knowing Teru’s feelings—she’s confided in DAISY—but feels unworthy because of something he did in his past that he’s unsure he’ll be forgiven for. Their relationship progresses at just the right speed, and though I might wish they’d spend less time saying mean things to one another they don’t mean, it’s nice getting both characters’ perspective on their strong feelings, rather than solely the female’s point of view.

I was a little unsure about Dengeki Daisy after the disappointing second volume, but this one has assured me that it’s a keeper.

Honey Hunt 5-6 by Miki Aihara: B-
When Honey Hunt is at its dramatastic best, it can be a fun read, but sometimes it’s so immensely frustrating I contemplate hurling it across the room.

Yura Onozuka is the daughter of celebrity parents, and after they divorce in spectacular fashion, she vows to best her mother in show business. Even though her success as an actress comes quite easily, this is still the most interesting aspect of the story, since she seems to have found something she truly enjoys and is surprisingly good at. Unfortunately, lately Yura has begun to lose focus on her career goals, instead spending most of her time mooning over her pop-star boyfriend, Q-ta.

Probably I am supposed to find the efforts of Yura’s manager, Keiichi, to break up the lovebirds sneaky and wrong, but I honestly applaud him. I find Q-ta creepy—he says things like “I wish she’d give up acting so she could be all mine”—and want to shake Yura violently by the shoulders every time she ignores someone telling her she should forget about him and concentrate on her work. As much as Q-ta wants her to give up everything to be with him, the minute he gets the chance to work with his idol, he bails on a special date without a moment’s hesitation. His career is important but hers isn’t.

What makes it worse is that when Q-ta asks Yura to accompany him to New York—even though things are starting to go quite well for her professionally—she drops everything and goes! She says at one point that she’ll at least fulfill her current obligations and graduate high school, but we never see her actually do these things. To her, it’s more important to be needed by some dude than to do something for herself. Ugh.

Honey Hunt went on hiatus after these chapters, so at present, the story remains in limbo. As much as it gets on my nerves, if the series should ever relaunch (as Aihara claims it will), I will undoubtedly continue reading in the hopes that Yura gets a clue at last.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 5-6 by Karuho Shiina: A-
Unintentionally scary-looking Sawako Kuronuma began to come out of her shell when befriended by her well-liked classmate, Shota Kazehaya, and she has recently come to realize that what she feels for him is not only admiration but love. This discovery is spurred in part by the machinations of Kurumi, another girl who loves Kazehaya.

I love how mangaka Karuho Shiina deals with Kurumi, because the girls actually end up bonding over their feelings for Kazehaya. They both like the same qualities in him—his ability to see the best in people, his honesty—and come to understand each other through their shared appreciation of the same person. If not for their rivalry, they might even have become friends, but, as Sawako wonders, would they have understood each other so well without it?

Never entirely setting aside progress between Sawako and Kazehaya, the romantic woes of Sawako’s friend, Chizu, soon take center stage. It’s pretty common for a shoujo manga to focus on the heroine’s pals once the main couple has reached a kind of stasis, but here it feels organic and not like filler (I’m talking to you, Love*Com). Sawako, having awoken to the possibilities of romance, wants for her friends to be happy, too. She believes the guy for Chizu is Ryu, a childhood friend who adores her, but Chizu’s heart belongs to Toru, Ryu’s older, newly engaged brother.

Chizu is a really fabulous character—she experiences any and all emotions with gusto, and somehow appears tough and girly simultaneously—and easily carries the story about her unrequited love. Like Sawako, I think Ryu’s the guy for her, and I would totally read a spin-off manga about the two of them. Chizu’s starring turn gives me hope for a similarly illuminating focus on Ayane, who seems to have no difficulty acquiring boyfriends but hasn’t yet managed to find love.

Ouran High School Host Club 15 by Bisco Hatori: B
The president of the Host Club, Tamaki Suoh, has been uncharacteristically serious lately, so the other members organize a Curry Creation Orienteering Tournament to cheer him up, with the secondary purpose of teaching a new student how to express her own opinions. Lesson learned, she promptly disappears, but not before Tamaki admits to her (and himself) that he’s in love with Haruhi and “probably [has] been for a long time.”

Later, Hunny and Mori, the two third-years in the club, announce that they’re about to graduate and that they’ll be pursuing different majors at Ouran’s affiliated university. The fact that mangaka Bisco Hatori has finally acknowledged the passage of time is a sign that the series is winding down, and I am amused by some of the characters’ baffled reactions. “For some reason I feel as though we’ve spent several long years together already,” muses Haruhi.

For the most part, this is all hijinks as usual, but Ouran can usually be counted upon for at least a few pages of genuine romantic progress between good-hearted but excitable Tamaki and pragmatic Haruhi. On a couple of occasions throughout in the volume, Haruhi tentatively reaches out to comfort Tamaki, who’s always spazzing about one thing or another, only to withdraw at the last moment. Finally, in a very sweet scene, she discovers him dozing in the club room and pats his hair while he sleeps. That might not seem like much, but for someone as undemonstrative as Haruhi, it’s truly a significant step! Moments like that are what keep me reading this series.

Skip Beat! 21-22 by Yoshiki Nakamura: B+
Skip Beat! is one of those series that doubles as a panacea for me; I highly recommend it for raising one’s spirits when one has been sidelined with a stomach bug.

Kyoko Mogami has achieved a small measure of success as an actress, most notably as Mio, a villainous role in a drama. She’s been tapped to essentially recreate that character for a new drama, but it just doesn’t feel right. These two volumes deal with Kyoko’s efforts to get into her new role, Natsu, and differentiate her from Mio. Meanwhile, the director is demanding, her co-stars are snooty, and one in particular seems bent on getting Kyoko fired.

The process of Kyoko learning to understand and then wholly inhabit a role always makes for a great read. For help, she turns to the more experienced Ren Tsuruga—a successful actor who loves Kyoko but keeps mum because of their age difference—and with only a little bit of scolding and advice ends up discovering the essential qualities that make Natsu tick.

I love how Nakamura draws Kyoko in character, too—she’s clearly identifiable as the same person, but her expressions and body language change completely. Maybe the awed reactions from the director and co-stars are a little much once she returns with her new take on the part, but I can’t be bothered to care. Skip Beat! is a story about a talented girl who works very hard to achieve her goals—who doesn’t want to see her succeed in spectacular fashion?

Review copies for Honey Hunt 6 and Skip Beat! 22 provided by the publisher.

Millennium Snow 1-2 by Bisco Hatori: B-

Millennium Snow is the first series by Bisco Hatori (of Ouran High School Host Club fame), one of those that began as a stand-alone but eventually achieved serialization. It’s been on hiatus for some time, but now that Ouran has wrapped up, some fans are hoping that Hatori will return to it. I’m not so sure that’s a worthy endeavor.

Chiyuki Matsuoka has had a weak heart since birth, and wasn’t expected to live past the age of fifteen. She’s managed to make it to seventeen, but spends most of her time in the hospital. One day, as she is gazing out the window, she spots a boy fall from a building and dashes out of the hospital to check on him. He is Toya, the very personification of the seemingly gruff hero who actually has a heart of gold. He’s also a vampire, weak from his refusal to drink blood.

Toya is exceedingly abrasive to begin with, but eventually demonstrates he’s not such a bad guy by doing things like accompanying Chiyuki on an afternoon outing (vampires have overcome their aversion to sunlight) and catching a little kid’s loose balloon. Chiyuki falls for him pretty quickly and offers to become his partner. Having a human to feed upon will cure the exhaustion he suffers from abstaining and the arrangement will also allow Chiyuki to share his 1000-year lifespan. Toya refuses, because if his partner should ever despair of their unending life, he would be the one to blame—he’s watched humans he cared for die, and wouldn’t want to wish the same on his partner.

It’s an interesting dynamic, and the first chapter—which I assume constituted the original one-shot—is quite good. Unfortunately, one the story gets serialized, Hatori seems hard-pressed to come up with plots. First, she introduces Satsuki, a werewolf boy whose transformation is limited to fangs and clawed hands and feet in order to best preserve his bishounen appearance. When the story focuses on his desperate attempts to be normal, he’s a fairly compelling character, but he quickly becomes dim-witted and entirely too glomp-happy, existing only to incite Toya’s perturbation. Their incessant squabbling means that on practically every page someone’s yelling or getting kicked in the back of the head.

To demonstrate the dearth of plot ideas, in volume two the trio is suddenly lost in the Alps in Switzerland, where they stumble upon a deserted mansion. It is incredibly random, and brings home the point that while you may have two likable leads—plus a completely adorable talking bat!—you may find yourself without sufficient material to sustain a longer story.

I’m not sure how it can be salvaged at this point, honestly. I think I’d rather see Hatori embark upon something new and leave this one unfinished. When the romantic tension between Toya and Chiyuki takes center stage, the story’s potential is obvious, but the directionless plotting and constant bickering makes for a frustrating reading experience.

Millennium Snow is published in English by VIZ. The series is currently on hiatus in Japan.

Ouran High School Host Club 13 by Bisco Hatori: B

ouran13Feelings. That’s entirely what this volume is about. First, you’ve got Haruhi taking a love quiz and finally realizing that what she feels for Tamaki isn’t just admiration of his many good qualities, but actually love. Not that she’s ready to deal with that just yet, so she resolves to take his advice and start accumulating more life experience. Next, Hikaru informs Tamaki that he loves Haruhi, which sends Tamaki into a tizzy that still doesn’t result in him realizing his own feelings.

Even though I get the sense that not too much about this series is planned in advance, Hatori-sensei does at least offer a credible explanation for Tamaki’s family fixation and exactly why he may be unable to acknowledge his feelings for Haruhi. I also like how Haruhi realizes that Tamaki’s been encouraging her to be less apathetic for quite some time now and how he, who is pursuing his new career goals with much energy, has actually become her role model in a lot of ways.

This series is nothing if not lighthearted, but sometimes the side trips into comedy (or unnecessary appearances by other host club members) get in the way of the love story. Still, it’s fundamentally a warm, fuzzy, and satisfying read.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Ouran High School Host Club 12 by Bisco Hatori: B+

ouran12From the back cover:
Hikaru and Kaoru’s fight over Haruhi is taking its toll on Hunny and Mori, who are trying to watch over the estranged twins. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Tamaki, Kyoya starts looking for Tamaki’s mother in France.

Three plot threads are simultaneously underway in this volume, though they converge nicely by the end. In the first, Kyoya is using the class trip to France to look for Tamaki’s mother. In the second, Kaoru and Hikaru are fighting over their feelings for Haruhi and Kaoru launches a plan to spur Hikaru into action. And in the third, Tamaki is trying to decide what he wants to do with his life, and a job offer from his dad gives him a lot to consider.

Although I like the twins and enjoyed the chapters focusing on them—wherein Kaoru rightly sees the need for him and Hikaru to establish themselves as individuals but has a rather convoluted way of going about it—the heart of this series for me will always be Haruhi and Tamaki. Tamaki has backed out on the class trip to France at the last minute, but everyone else believes he has gone. There’s a priceless scene around the middle of the book where Haruhi’s on the phone with Kyoya asking how Tamaki’s doing and then spots him lurking in front of her house. There’s a lot more to the scene than that, but I don’t want to spoil it.

Haruhi and Tamaki proceed to have a lovely scene with just the two of them, wherein he gives her license to ask anything about his childhood. He also confides in her that his desire to make people happy comes from a vow to his mother and that he’d also like to carry this oath further into a career. Haruhi’s encouragement clearly means the world to him, and it’s also clear that Haruhi admires him and is getting a bit flustered in his presence (something that completely failed to happen during an outing with Kaoru in the volume’s earlier chapters). When Kyoya is later able to report that Tamaki’s mother is doing well (sniffle alert!), Tamaki decides to embrace his place in the Suoh family and accept his father’s offer to work with a chain of hotels the Suoh corporation owns.

So here we have a volume that features several characters maturing, two reticent characters displaying fondness for Tamaki, a classic bit of comedy, and a scene that brought tears to my eyes. I guess that may not seem like much, but for a largely episodic series like this one, it really is quite a lot. It also, as someone mentions in uncredited narration, is starting to feel like the beginning of the end. I think the timing’s perfect—we’ve had quite a while to enjoy these characters in a variety of situations and now it’s time for some of them to grow up enough to realize that it’s not a bad thing if relationships evolve from their current states. From all present indicators, it would seem the ending is shaping up to be a satisfying one.

Ouran High School Host Club 11 by Bisco Hatori: B+

Eleven volumes in, things are still pretty much where they started with this series. Haruhi is still concealing her gender and participating in the Host Club, Tamaki is still ignorant of his feelings for her, and characters like Mori and Hunny haven’t changed a bit. This volume finds the gang competing in a sports festival that Tamaki has orchestrated in an attempt to spur Kyoya to compete passionately over something that yields him no personal benefit.

Ouran High School Host Club walks a fine line between comedy and plot progression and, honestly, dwells on the humorous side of the divide most of the time. When it does visit the other side, however, the results can be surprisingly gratifying. While many of the characters have been stuck in the same places for a while, the same cannot be said of the Hitachin brothers. Originally a pair of practically interchangeable pranksters, they have matured significantly and are now distinct individuals. Kaoru has been aware for some time that both he and his brother have feelings for Haruhi, and when Hikaru finally catches on, it makes for some great scenes between them.

The comedy is sometimes funny and sometimes not, but the more serious elements are always a hit with me. It’s for moments like that that I continue to read this series.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Ouran High School Host Club 10 by Bisco Hatori: B+

From the back cover:
Ever since the day he helped her up from a nasty tumble, Black Magic Club member Reiko Kanazuki has been obsessed with Hunny. She is devoting all her knowledge of the dark arts to curse him and steal his soul. Will the sweetest member of the Host Club fall victim to her spells?

This series is starting to remind me of Hana-Kimi, which isn’t a compliment. While I enjoy some recurring characters, especially Kasanoda, I don’t particularly like it when long-forgotten characters reemerge out of the woodwork, like a coworker of Haruhi’s dad and a fruit-obsessed rival of Kyoya’s did in this volume.

A new character is also introduced. Mei is the rebellious daughter of the aforementioned coworker, and she’s not very interesting in and of herself. She does work well as a catalyst, however. When she decides to romantically pursue Tamaki, it prompts a tiny bit of progress from Tamaki and Haruhi regarding their feelings, which she picks up on. When she relates this to Kaoru, it coaxes out a bit more development. So, I suppose she’s useful in that respect.

One thing I wish is that the entire Host Club didn’t always have to show up to everything. It turns out that Tamaki was trying to help Mei and her father reconcile, and Haruhi decided to help him. It could’ve been so great if these two had just been doing it on their own. But no, the whole gang has to turn up and tip the scales in favor of hilarity.

There’s one completely random thing I do like, though. Towards the end of the volume, Mori is seen a few times with a baby chick in tow. Puzzled, I had to flip through the previous chapter until I finally spotted the panel where, quite unobtrusively in the background, Mori is seen patronizing a baby chick stall at a summer festival the gang attends. I like silly little things like that.

Ouran High School Host Club 9 by Bisco Hatori: B

From the back cover:
In middle school, Tamaki Suoh must entice the coldhearted twins, Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin, to join his newly created Host Club. But in order to get them to accept his proposal, he must first best them at their own game.

I didn’t find much to get excited about in this volume. Tamaki’s cuteness was its saving grace, enlivening an otherwise ho-hum chapter about the twins’ induction into the host club and making tolerable a story about an insufferable princess who visited the school and issued many orders. In the course of this latter story, at least, Tamaki finally caught a glimmer of his feelings for Haruhi, and they shared a sweet moment together.

I probably liked the last Host Club chapter in the volume the best simply for its final few pages. They were incredibly adorable, and it’s for moments like this that I read the series. I just wish there were more of them.

Another of the “Love Egoist” short stories was also included, about a boy with a sunny disposition in love with a subdued girl, and I was enjoying it pretty well while I was expecting a bittersweet ending, but the actual resolution was kind of disappointing.

This series definitely has patchy success in terms of keeping the right balance between episodic stories and character development; it didn’t manage too well this time.

Ouran High School Host Club 8 by Bisco Hatori: A-

From the back cover:
The first-years in Class 1-A are taking part in a test of courage, where the loser will receive the dubious honor of being dubbed “Best of Cowards.” Kazukiyo Souga, the class president and a fraidy-cat at heart, is happy to be on a team with the levelheaded Haruhi, but will he be able to stomach the antics of his other teammates—the twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin?

The first story in this volume involves a test of courage, which is really not very interesting in and of itself, though it does bring up again the feelings of the twins for Haruhi. The next episode is about how Kyoya and Tamaki first met in junior high and eventually decided to start the Host Club. It’s cute and fun, and I liked it a lot.

The rest of the volume (three episodes) is devoted to a story about a tough-looking yakuza heir called Kasanoda. Kasanoda (nicknamed Bossa Nova) unintentionally scares off people he wants to befriend and comes to Mori for tutelage. This story did not interest me much at first, but got much better as it progressed.

As the Host Club seeks to interrupt perceived flirting between Kasanoda and Haruhi, Kaoru is led to present an insightful hypothesis (much to Hikaru’s surprise): Tamaki pretends the Host Club is a family in an effort to keep the relationships they all have now from changing.

I normally don’t care much for episodic manga, and if there weren’t enough suggestions of impending developments on the relationship front, I think all the comedy and cuteness in Ouran would wear thin. This volume did a good job combining all the elements into a consistently entertaining whole.

Ouran High School Host Club 7 by Bisco Hatori: B+

From the back cover:
Hunny’s little brother, Chika, pays a visit to the Host Club—and immediately starts attacking Hunny, using all his martial-arts prowess against his older brother! Chika seems to be the absolute opposite of his sweets-loving, Bun-Bun-toting sibling, but why is he so angry with Hunny? The Host Club is determined to find out the cause…

This volume as a lot more consistent than the last, unified by the theme of Haruhi is contemplating the wall that she feels separating her from the other members of the host club. Learning some of the family backgrounds of the others might gradually be helping her make progress in understanding them.

The first story is about Kyoya in a commoners’ store, and is quite cute. He looks especially nice in his casual clothes, and I love the panels where he’s rummaging in his pockets for money or a cell phone. The chapters about Hunny’s brother were better than I expected them to be, and also reveal how Tamaki lured Hunny from the karate club to the host club. Insight into the twins comes from a tale about their first time crying in public.

Rounding out the volume are a pointless chapter about Roberia Gakuen and a fun bonus story in the “Love Egoist” saga, continuing the tale of the cold-blooded teacher and the student who fancies him.

Ouran High School Host Club 6 by Bisco Hatori: B

From the back cover:
The school festival opens at Ouran, and the Host Club members are busy entertaining the visiting parents. Teasing his son is a favorite pastime of Tamaki’s doting father, the school chairman, but Tamaki’s grandmother is cut from a very different cloth. She despises and shuns Tamaki, banning him from the main Suoh Mansion. It’s now time for Kyoya to take action with the Host Club to help their favored leader out.

The first few chapters aren’t very interesting or amusing, though they do provide a bit of background on Kyoya’s home life. The last chapter is also fairly pointless. Chapter 26, however, was a good one. We learned more about Tamaki’s family, and how it’s actually a fortunate thing that he is so upbeat and energetic.

The art also seems to’ve changed a little bit. I noticed several times that characters shown in profile had virtually no noses; one even kinda looked like Voldemort! Tamaki and the twins looked a little different, too, though I can’t exactly pinpoint how. I realize it’s normal for art styles to evolve over the course of a title, but this isn’t an improvement.