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.

Dengeki Daisy 1 by Kyousuke Motomi: B+

From the back cover:
After orphan Teru Kurebayashi loses her beloved older brother, she finds solace in the messages she exchanges with DAISY, an enigmatic figure who can only be reached through the cell phone her brother left her. Meanwhile, mysterious Tasuku Kurosaki always seems to be around whenever Teru needs help. Could DAISY be a lot closer than Teru thinks?

One day at school, Teru accidentally breaks a window and agrees to pay for it by helping Kurosaki with chores around school. Kurosaki is an impossible taskmaster, though, and he also seems to be hiding something important from Teru…

Dengeki Daisy, from the creator of the charming Beast Master, is the latest series to debut under VIZ’s Shojo Beat imprint. It’s the story of orphan Teru Kurebayashi, whose older brother recently passed away, but not before giving her a cell phone that will enable her to contact “Daisy,” who will always be there to protect Teru in her brother’s place.

Due to her status as a scholarship student, Teru faces bullying at school, but pretends like everything is fine when text messaging Daisy. Little does she know that Tasuku Kurosaki, the delinquent school custodian, is actually Daisy and has been watching over her all this time. When Teru accidentally breaks a window at school, Kurosaki uses it as an excuse to keep an eye on her while he plays mahjong on his laptop and she does all the work.

There are definitely some familiar elements to this story. You’ve got the impoverished heroine being called a pauper, the all-powerful student council, and the somewhat-jerky-but-really-kind male lead. What makes Dengeki Daisy stand out from the pack are the original twists Kyousuke Motomi employs. Student-teacher romances are fairly common, but I’ve never seen a student-custodian one before. I like that Kurosaki is in love, but Teru is oblivious (though she does suspect right away that he might be Daisy, which he denies). And I genuinely like the characters and the way they interact, especially Teru’s group of misfit friends and the scene in which Kurosaki wields an edger as a weapon!

I really don’t have any complaints about this volume—it’s light, cute fun—but I can see how Kurosaki’s protectiveness and occasional dispeasure with Teru’s actions could possibly be viewed as patronizing. It honestly didn’t come across this way to me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others took issue with it.

All in all, I really enjoyed this debut and am looking forward to continuing the series. Thanks, VIZ, for bringing us something else from this talented mangaka!

Volume one of Dengeki Daisy is available now. The series is still ongoing in Japan—volume seven will be coming out there in a couple of weeks.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Beast Master 2 by Kyousuke Motomi: A-

From the back cover:
Leo Aoi looks like a crazy animal with wild eyes, and he goes berserk whenever he feels threatened or sees blood. That doesn’t stop animal lover Yuiko Kubozuka from befriending him, however. In fact, Yuiko is the only person Leo will listen to when he has one of his violent fits…

Leo’s 18th birthday is around the corner, but celebrating seems impossible as someone is after Leo’s life! Can Leo overcome the dangers of his past? Or will this beast-like boy be separated from his beloved “master”… forever?

I suppose there’s not anything terribly original about these final three chapters of Beast Master. In the first, we get a little more information on Leo’s backstory, including the revelation that he’s worth billions and began living in the wild in the first place to avoid his murderous relations. In the second, Leo’s dad reenters the picture and, after another attempt on his son’s life puts him in the hospital, suggests a move overseas. Finally, Yuiko develops insecurities about how Leo feels about her upon seeing how popular he’s become with other girls.

What makes this series so special, then, is how truly sweet it is. Not some cloying and irritating approximation of sweetness, either, but something truly genuine and moving. After Yuiko witnesses Leo being hit by a car, it makes sense that she’d support his father’s plan to relocate him someplace safer, and the scene where she attempts to maintain a brave face as she bids him good-bye, only to break down as he drives off is perfectly painful. Although we, as readers, can expect him to return, Yuiko’s sadness is nicely portrayed, as she realizes that simply knowing he’s safer will not make her miss him any less.

The final chapter’s a nice spin on the “I don’t know how he feels about me” idea, too. It works here because Leo is so child-like, Yuiko has to wonder whether he even realizes that there are different levels of liking someone. He can “like” a girl classmate who loans him some CDs, but does he feel anything more than this for Yuiko? Well, of course he does, and his eventual shy confession is so adorable it made me sniffly.

Rounding out the volume is “Cactus Summer Surprise,” a short story about a body-swapping cactus. Yes, you read that right. In a nutshell, Akira is a cactus fan who once gave her prized plant to her middle-school crush, Kaito, who told her that he threw it away. They’ve been enemies ever since—though, of course, it’s obvious they really fancy each other—and through the machinations of a middle-aged female spirit who transitions from the cactus in which she resides into possessing Kaito’s body, they manage to patch things up. Again, like Beast Master, this story ends with a particularly adorable scene of a guy trying to get his feelings across.

When I finished this volume, my first thought was, “That was good! I’d like to read something longer by Kyousuke Motomi.” And my second thought was, “Oh yeah! Dengeki Daisy is coming in two months!” Thank you, VIZ!

Beast Master 1 by Kyousuke Motomi: B+

beastmaster1From the back cover:
Leo Aoi looks like a crazy animal with wild eyes—and no one at his new high school will go near him! He does seem to have a special connection with animals, though, which intrigues overzealous animal lover Yuiko Kubozuka. In reality, Leo isn’t as frightening as he appears, but Yuiko finds out that he goes berserk whenever he sees blood! Will Yuiko be able to get through to Leo during these violent fits? Or will Leo’s ferocious side eventually devour her?

I initially didn’t expect much from Beast Master but, like other reviewers before me, I found it to be surprisingly adorable.

It’s the story of an enthusiastic animal lover named Yuiko Kubozuka whose attempts to hug and squeeze various furry friends all end in disaster. One rainy day, after her attentions have driven her pet cat up a tree, a bloodstained boy with wild eyes rescues the kitty then runs off. As always happens in shoujo manga, the boy, named Leo Aoi, turns up as a transfer student in her class the next day. The other students are all frightened of him, save Yuiko, and when some thugs arrive to seek retribution for a fight in which Leo thrashed several of their compatriots, it’s Yuiko who explains his circumstances and, with her natural ability to get along with anyone, handily converts the main thug, referred to simply as “Boss,” into a recurring ally and resource. She’s less successful in deflecting the violent intentions of another gang, though, and Leo ends up going into a berserker mode and nearly biting a classmate until Yuiko soothes him.

What follows from there is a series of chapters in which Yuiko is threatened and Leo’s bloodlust is triggered. Simultaneously, she uses her social skills to introduce him to others and show that he’s not really a bad guy, despite what his appearance may indicate. What makes this different than other series in which “heroine requires rescue” is a common theme is that sometimes Yuiko is able to take down the suspicious person herself, even if that person is actually Leo’s guardian, Toki. Sometimes, unfortunately, she’s a liiiiitle stupid, like when she decides that she’s capable of calming a violent stray dog despite much evidence to the contrary and a sincere warning from Leo. I found this lapse in reasoning especially disappointing, because up until then Yuiko had seemed competent and quick-thinking.

Leo himself is completely endearing, much more like a kitten than a wild beast and transparently overjoyed to have met a kind person who isn’t afraid of him. His plight actually reminds me a lot of Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke: he looks frightening until he smiles, at which point he’s utterly transformed. In fact, Leo in chibi mode bears a striking resemblance to Sawako in the same state; is this a case of long-lost manga siblings?! My very favorite moment in the volume comes in a rooftop scene when Leo, wanting to cheer up a depressed Yuiko, puts his arms around her so that birds will land on her like she’s always wanted. It’s very, very sweet.

Overall, Beast Master is adorable and, though it employs a few shoujo clichés, unique. It’s not quite a romance yet, but I have no doubt that the second and final volume will take care of that!

Review copy provided by the publisher.