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.

Honey Hunt 4 by Miki Aihara: B

Despite having no prior interest in acting, Yura Onozuka, the relatively normal daughter of celebrity parents, discovers a talent for it when she resolves to surpass her mother in the dramatic sphere. She has achieved some moderate success pretty quickly, including a spot in a commercial and a supporting role on a new TV drama.

Yura’s career is less the focus in this volume than are her romantic prospects, however. While volume three ended with one pop star (Haruka) confessing his feelings, here Yura is swept away by his twin brother (Q-ta, also a pop star), to the point where she’s distracted during an audition and later ditches a dinner planned by her housemates—to celebrate her drama’s debut—in favor of spending a night on the town with Q-ta.

Although one might wish for a heroine more doggedly dedicated to her career, it’s not hard to sympathize with Yura as she faces the choice between two dreams—the nurturing family-type environment offered by her housemates and the love of a prince-like suitor. Even though she makes some mistakes, she’s still likeable. Q-ta, however, comes off as quite the brat here, and one can’t help but wonder whether his protestations that he likes Yura for herself rather than for her famous father are truly genuine. If not, I suppose it’ll make for good drama.

In the end, while Honey Hunt doesn’t leave a particularly strong impression with the reader, it’s still something I enjoy reading.

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

Honey Hunt 3 by Miki Aihara: B+

honeyhunt3After being deserted by her celebrity parents, Yura Onozuka decides to best her mother at her own game: acting. After bombing several auditions, she’s landed the lead role in a commercial with a TV series tie-in and, after struggling through the first table read, manages to go back in and nail it thanks to the efforts of her friends Q-ta and Haruka Minamitani, a pair of fraternal twin pop stars, who both help by either encouraging her or smoothing things over with her less-than-impressed costars.

Yura has developed a crush on Q-ta and doesn’t realize that Haruka, one of those “kind on the inside, surly on the outside” types, has feelings for her. When he gets the idea that seeing him in concert will make her fall for him, he promises to answer all her questions about Q-ta if she’ll come to his shows. She does go, and is enthralled by his performance, but her mind’s still on Q-ta, forcing Haruka to finally make his intentions clear.

Honey Hunt is briskly paced and lighthearted, with Yura attracting near-instant notice in her career and in romance alike. It’s also completely engaging—the Minamitani boys are both genuinely sweet and Yura herself, though given to bouts of insecurity, is sensible and sympathetic. One thing I particularly like is that she always thanks those who’ve done nice things for her; too many shojo heroines get all embarrassed and feisty in similar circumstances.

If you’re in the mood for frothy fun, Honey Hunt would surely fit the bill. Too bad there’s a five-month wait for volume four!

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

Honey Hunt 1-2 by Miki Aihara: B+

honeyhunt1It’s not easy being the daughter of famous parents, as Yura Onozuka well knows. Her mother’s a sought-after actress and her father a renowned composer, and people are always expecting Yura to have that special celebrity air. She walks a tightrope at school, trying to appear neither aloof nor smug, and the only person who really sees her for herself is her childhood friend, Shin. She dreams of leaving her parents behind, but they beat her to the punch, as she learns when her mother comes home one day and spontaneously announces that she’s divorcing Yura’s father and selling the family home, and that he’s having a baby with his girlfriend. Yura thinks to turn to Shin, only to catch him in her mother’s arms. The betrayal is too much and she ends up declaring on live TV that both her parents can go to hell.

Determined to beat her mother at something, she accepts an offer from her father’s manager, Keiichi, to represent her and starts staying with him while going out on auditions and bombing terribly. Along the way, she meets a pair of twin brother pop stars, Q-ta and Haruka, and advice from Q-ta gives her the confidence she needs to intrigue the director of a commercial enough to finally get a callback. It’s not until Yura’s cast as the main character that she learns that a TV series is part of the deal and that, though he pledged to keep her parentage a secret, Keiichi broke that promise pretty much immediately, since it’s his job to make her popular. Most of the second volume involves Yura coming to terms with this reality and also trying to work out how to intentionally access the “switch” in her that flips and allows her to become a character.

honeyhunt2Superficially, Honey Hunt has some similarities to Skip Beat!. Both Yura and Kyoko have been betrayed by male childhood friends they had feelings for, both have cruel mothers, and both seek to achieve fame as a means of revenge. In execution, though, it’s really a lot different. For one thing, with two fairly sweet male rockers hanging around and offering encouragement, the potential for and emphasis on romance is much stronger. Also, Yura is much calmer than Kyoko is. In fact, one of the best things I like about her is that she’s refreshingly normal. She has bouts of insecurity, true, and sometimes her refusal to believe that people could like her for herself gets a little tiresome, but on the whole she’s smart, interesting, sympathetic, and free of over-the-top smackworthy behavior. If Yura were a real person, I’d be happy to know her.

Miki Aihara’s art is generally good. Her interior backgrounds are lovely, and she’s a master of the profile angle. Sometimes, though, the three-quarter view seems to give her a bit of trouble; either that, or the characters’ eyes are supposed to look kind of misshapen and weird at those moments. In any case, I like Yura’s character design a lot, I like how the twins will occasionally look very much alike when taken unawares, and I like how Yura’s confidence when really getting into a role is portrayed.

It’s kind of unusual for me to like a shoujo heroine this much; I’ve been feeling lately that I’ve been rather down on them, so it’s nice to be able to really like one for a change! While the story interests me, it’s really for Yura that I’ll continue reading.

Honey Hunt is published in English by VIZ and three volumes have been released so far. The series is up to five volumes in Japan and is still ongoing.