Oh! My Brother 2 by Ken Saito: B-

It’s been one month since Masago Kamoguchi’s brilliant older brother, Shiro, died and began possessing her. With all of this going on, Masago hasn’t been studying, so when exam time comes around, she allows Shiro to take the tests for her and ends up with a perfect score. Her impressive performance prompts a teacher to encourage her to run for student council, a decision she waffles about for a little while until gaining some confidence. Meanwhile, Shiro debates the wisdom of lingering in his sister’s body while his friend, Kurouma, deals with the knowledge that Masago likes him but views him as utterly unattainable.

I really want to like Oh! My Brother, and sometimes I manage to do so. I like Kurouma a lot, for example—it’s so refreshing that he actually notices Masago’s feelings!—and also the way Shiro’s possession is portrayed as a double-edged sword. True, his presence lends Masago strength in crucial moments, particularly in dealing with a bullying older girl, but her reliance on him is also holding her back in certain areas; although Shiro is willing to let go, it’s Masago who desperately makes him promise to stay with her forever.

On the other hand, there is a lot of extranneous material here that detracts from what’s good about this series. Some of the comedy feels out of place, and there are a few too many Shiro-obsessed characters floating around, from the aforementioned bully, to a former soccer rival, to a cool and competent member of the student council. If the focus had been more on the drama of Masago’s situation, coupled with the need to let go of Shiro in order to become open to other kinds of love, I’d like it so much more. As it is, I must be content with the occasional glimmer of what could have been.

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

Oh! My Brother 1 by Ken Saito: B-

ohmybrother1-125Masago Kamoguchi is a normal girl: normal looks, normal grades, and normal athletic ability. But normal isn’t good enough for Masago when she’s constantly being compared to her older brother, Shiro, who is smart, good-looking, popular, and someone who draws people to him wherever he goes. As the story begins, Shiro is leading the student council in preparations for the school’s Cultural Festival and Masago is keeping a relatively low profile. All of that changes when Shiro dies saving Masago’s life and his consciousness somehow ends up sharing his sister’s body. Assuming that the incomplete plans for the festival are the “unfinished business” keeping Shiro around, Masago (with some oratorical assistance from her brother) convinces the remaining members of the student council to put aside their grief and make the festival a success in his honor. The students do just that, and though Shiro doesn’t move on as a result, that’s okay with Masago, who has decided she likes having him around.

The name Ken Saito might be familiar to some as the creator of The Name of the Flower. I like that series a lot, so I’d been looking forward to Oh! My Brother ever since the license acquisition was announced. Unfortunately, I found it to be somewhat of a disappointment. There are quite a few characters introduced all at once, and their various reactions to Shiro’s death—stemming from unrequited love or unfulfilled soccer rivalry—lack poignancy when we’ve only just met them; the tone is inconsistent, with the comedic aspect of the body-sharing predicament vying with teary moments for dominance; and I literally groaned aloud when the first page revealed the series was entering well-trod school festival territory already. Also, the relationship between the siblings is kind of icky at times: seriously, who blushes furiously when their brother gives them a peck on the cheek?

That isn’t to say it’s without good moments or the potential for a compelling story. When the successful completion of the festival fails to free Shiro’s spirit from this earthly plane, Masago realizes that his unfinished business is actually her and that his wish is for his sister to live life more fully. Of course, one of the ways in which she might do this is by allowing her feelings for Shiro’s friend, Kurouma-sempai, to flourish (and most likely be reciprocated), a path that Shiro seems determined to thwart by taking control of her body any time he thinks they’re getting too close. This dichotomy in Shiro’s intentions is interesting; I hope it’ll be explored later in the series. Also, it’s always completely clear which sibling is in control of Masago’s body at any given time, either by mannerism, expression, or dialogue. That can’t have been easy to achieve.

Artistically, Oh! My Brother has a cute style, though it’s a little too sketchy sometimes, particularly where light-haired characters are concerned. There’s one panel in particular in which a wispy-looking Masago appears right next to a solid-looking, dark-haired Kurouma-sempai. Perhaps there’s actually some deep symbolism going on here—she’s not fully here while he’s got both feet firmly on the ground?—but I rather doubt it. Also, there are a few errors in CMX’s script, a “your” that should be a “you’re,” and a “thoese” that should be either a “those” or a “these,” but definitely not both at once.

Ultimately, while I am slightly disappointed in this first volume, I plan to continue reading. Maybe this one just needs a little time to grow.

Oh! My Brother is published by CMX. The series is complete in Japan with four volumes, though only one has been published in English so far.

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

The Name of the Flower 1 by Ken Saito: A-

When Chouko Mizushima was in her first year of high school, she lost both parents in a traffic accident. The shock and grief left her unable to speak and she was shuffled around amongst various relatives before finally ending up with her father’s cousin, the reclusive and cold-seeming author, Kei. Kei sets some conditions for living with him that include tending to his decrepit garden. As Chouko cares for the plants and flowers, her heart slowly begins to mend. She credits Kei with spurring her to shake off the darkness of her grief with her own two hands, not realizing just how much her presence has affected him in return.

The first adjective that comes to mind to describe The Name of the Flower is “quiet.” Although it has its funny moments, the overall feel is serene, focusing on small moments of interaction between the lead characters rather than intense drama. One way in which it accomplishes this is through the story structure. I had been expecting that the story would begin with Chouko moving in with Kei, but actually, it begins after she’s been living with him for two years. Gradually, over a series of flashbacks from both Chouko and Kei, we see not only how they were then but also how they have changed because of each other. I found this to be a very eloquent way of getting the point across.

Kei’s garden also plays a big part in the series. Not only is Chouko’s transformation of the neglected garden into a thing of beauty indicative of her own painful journey, but it also symbolizes the gradual thawing of Kei’s heart. He had been known for very dark literary works before taking Chouko in, but his latest novel is actually a love story based on his life with her.

After reading the novel, Chouko asks Kei about it, but he cowardly claims it isn’t based on reality. Therefore, she doesn’t know that he has romantic feelings for her and he can’t believe that her love for him is real, thinking instead that it’s “more like a newborn chick following its mother.” I thought this was an interesting way to deal with the age difference (twelve years) between them. Although Chouko is technically an adult now, Kei feels she hasn’t experienced enough to know what real love is, and thinks it’d be unfair to saddle her with his unworthy self when she might be able to find someone else who could make her really happy. This makes me like him for not only his maturity but also the angsty possibilities of a hero with an inferiority complex.

Saito’s art works well with the story, though the character designs are rather familiar. Kei is the bespectacled kimono-wearing author, Akiyama (Kei’s editor) is so bland-looking I can’t even describe him, and Chouko occasionally bears a distracting resemblance to Asami from High School Debut. I really like the chibi art, though; it’s very cute.

If a calm love story sounds intriguing, or you’re a fan of CMX’s other shojo offerings, then you might want to check out this series. It’s also short, at four volumes total, if that’s any incentive.

The Name of the Flower was serialized in LaLa DX and is four volumes long. Volume one is available now and volume two will be released on May 19, 2009.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.