License Request: Crazy for You

I contributed a guest license request to David Welsh’s weekly feature at his blog, Manga Curmudgeon. My pick was Crazy for You, a six-volume shoujo series by Karuho Shiina, creator of Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, a series which I adore.

I don’t expect to love Crazy for You to the same extent, but it certainly sounds interesting! Check out the post for more details. In the meantime, I’ve got the German editions (published by TOKYOPOP!) on their way here, and will be getting my Google Translate on something fierce.

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.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 4 by Karuho Shiina: A-

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.

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

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 3 by Karuho Shiina: A

From the back cover:
Sadako finally becomes friends with her classmates, instead of scaring them off. Even Kurumi, the cutest girl in school, wants to be her friend. But will this new friendship make Sadako realize that her feelings for Kazehaya might be more than just friendly?

I was bowled over by the surfeit of cute in this volume of Kimi ni Todoke. Let us count the ways!

1. Sawako has begun doing things after school with Yano and Yoshida, and is absolutely thrilled. Her parents are also adorably excited for her.

2. Sawako is beginning to realize that Kazehaya is a boy, and that she likes him in a way that is different from how she likes her other new friends. This results in her being somewhat flustered in his presence, which leads to him being flustered right back. Seriously, when these two are together, they just glow, and the art and pacing really make these moments special.

3. Yano and Yoshida are extremely awesome, and nudge Sawako into doing things like calling Kazehaya on the phone or dropping the -kun when she addresses him. Her reactions are cute, but Kazehaya’s are especially telling. Yano and Yoshida are kind of evil in how much they tease him, but their machinations result in a story that shows these characters’ feelings for each other rather than simply telling us about them.

4. Sawako’s friends have to inform her that she has earned the right to call them by their first names, because she’d never presume to do so otherwise. In fact, there’s a lot of emphasis on honorifics in this volume, making it a great candidate to prove why it’s necessary to retain them in translations.

I continue to love that friendship is so important to Sawako. Though she’s finally beginning to realize her romantic feelings for Kazehaya, her friends play a big part in that, encouraging her to reach out to him a little more and putting the two of them in situations where they can interact. Yano and Yoshida are at least tied with Hanajima and Uotani from Fruits Basket in the category of Best Best Friends.

A rival for Kazehaya’s affections—Kurumi, a girl he knew in junior high—also appears in this volume. I like that she’s not as over-the-top villainous as some rivals have been, but is still somewhat scheming. Happily, Sawako balks at Kurumi’s request to help her get together with Kazehaya; it’s evident that Kurumi thought Sawako was so self-effacing she’d just bend over backwards to accommodate her new friend’s request. It’s clear, too, that Kurumi knows exactly how Kazehaya feels about Sawako, thanks to some more excellent nonverbal storytelling.

In the end, this volume solidly establishes Kimi ni Todoke as one of my current shoujo favorites. I liked the first two volumes a lot, but now that Sawako and Kazehaya are hesitantly moving closer to a relationship, it has escalated to a new level of greatness.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 2 by Karuho Shiina: A-

kiminitodoke2In volume one of this charming series, Sawako Kuronuma learned that by sharing her true feelings she could clear up misunderstandings. When malicious rumors begin to circulate about two classmates who’ve been kind to her, with Sawako named as the source of the stories, she desperately wants to clear up the “misunderstanding,” too innocent to understand that the tales have been spread purposefully to turn her new friends against her and make the sought-after Kazehaya disgusted with her.

Happily, the two classmates in question, Yano and Yoshida, aren’t fooled for a second that Sawako could be responsible. That is, until her hesitance to presume that they could actually already be friends makes them wonder how she really feels about them. I love that these two tough girls have clearly grown attached to their strange classmate and when everything is explained, with Kazehaya once again providing Sawako with helpful advice and encouragement, it’s rather sniffle-inducing. It’s depressingly rare that female friendships are given so much attention in a shojo series, and I heartily approve!

That’s not to say that romance is entirely missing. Although their relationship is developing slowly, Sawako seems to be starting to view Kazehaya in a different light, while Kazehaya is holding back in order to let Sawako enjoy having friends for the first time. I’m sure that when they finally do get together, it’ll be touching and sweet, just like everything else about this series.

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

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You 1 by Karuho Shiina: A-

kiminitodoke1Sawako Kuronuma doesn’t mean to terrify her classmates. In fact, she wants nothing more than to befriend them, but her resemblance to a character from a horror movie combined with her reserved demeanor keeps them at bay. Everyone, that is, except for a cheerful boy named Kazehaya, who is friendly to all and known to look out for those who don’t quite fit in. When Sawako accidentally says something about him that might be construed as insulting, Kazehaya gives her the opportunity to explain her true feelings. Learning from this experience, she henceforth attempts to clear up misunderstandings about her temperament and rumored psychic powers by revealing her true feelings all over the place, earning her a few additional friends who are moved by her earnest efforts. Kazehaya continues to encourage her to open up, though the attention he pays Sawako causes rumors to fly, including one that might put her new friendships in jeopardy.

I could tell before I even confirmed it that Kimi ni Todoke was serialized in Margaret or one of its offshoots. There’s a similar (but not identical) kind of warmth to series like High School Debut and Crimson Hero that really I really like, and Kimi ni Todoke possesses it as well. Part of the appeal is the importance of friendship as the basis for a relationship, as in each of the series mentioned, the romantic leads have many reasons to like and respect each other, with their feelings developing as a result of one another’s good qualities rather than reasons more shallow. Friendships between female characters are also important, something which is sometimes lacking in shojo manga.

Another point in Kimi ni Todoke’s favor is that the main cast is genuinely likable. True, Sawako is somewhat clueless at times, but her inability to realize that Kazehaya has feelings for her is not due to ditziness; she just’s so very happy and grateful to have him as a friend that it simply doesn’t occur to her that he could possibly want something more. I’m also quite fond of Sawako’s first new friends, Yano and Yoshida, who look kind of tough but end up rallying around her at crucial moments. Sawako, with her long dark hair and spooky vibe and Yoshida, who is brash and rumored to be an ex-gang member, also remind me of Hanajima and Uotani from Fruits Basket, which is definitely a compliment.

Karuho Shiina’s panel layouts and sparse backgrounds pretty much adhere to the shojo standard, but she does possess a unique style where faces are concerned. They’re drawn simply yet expressively, perfectly suited to all of the sincere feeling on display. Sawako is depicted in a variety of ways—creepy-looking, super-deformed—and only manages an unselfconscious smile once, eliciting surprise from all around and prompting Yano to remark later that it actually made her seem “pretty normal.” It does take a little while to tell Sawako’s new friends apart, but they’re distinct enough that it’s not a major problem.

The bottom line: Kimi ni Todoke is feel-good shojo at its best.

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