Monkey High! 8 by Shouko Akira: B

monkeyhigh8Beginning with volume seven, the age rating of Monkey High! was changed from Teen to Older Teen to reflect the leads’ growing interest in consummating their relationship. They finally achieve their goal in the first chapter of this final volume, but thereafter are kept busy with studying for exams and preparing for their final school festival.

An irksome last-minute rival pops up in the form of Gotoda, Haruna’s father’s secretary and his choice for her fiancé. Because her father, recuperating from an illness, and Gotoda are working from home constantly, Haruna accepts Macharu’s offer to stay with him for a while. Gotoda’s a scheming sort, though, and Haruna unfortunately allows herself to be swayed by his assertion that one day she’ll be a burden to Macharu. Happily, by the end of the volume she has found the confidence to believe that if such a time ever comes, they’ll work through it together.

The things that’ve been kind of annoying about Monkey High! all along are still annoying at the end: the reliance on shojo clichés and the occasionally intrusive antics of the supporting cast. Against the zany backdrop of a maid and butler café, for example, Haruna and her father have an important conversation. It’s a big moment, but is hampered by the shenanigans going on around it.

Still, despite its faults, the conclusion of this series made me sniffly and, really, isn’t that the best possible outcome for a Shojo Beat title?

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

Monkey High! 7 by Shouko Akira: B

monkeyhigh7From the back cover:
Different classes, college preparations, and a disapproving father all make it hard for Macharu and Haruna to be together. So when they win tickets for an overnight stay at a resort, it seems like a great chance for them to take their relationship to the next level…

Although I liked this volume of Monkey High! somewhat less than the others, it certainly has its share of positives. Macharu and Haruna, sent by their class to fetch a wedding gift for their teacher, spontaneously enter a raffle and win tickets to “Mouse World,” including an overnight stay at a resort hotel. Haruna is anxious and Macharu, who frankly admits he wants to have sex with her but is not the least bit pushy about it, realizes that the situation is troubling her and so gives the tickets to the teacher. This moment of genuine sweetness works to quell Haruna’s doubts and, when the trip won’t fit in with the newlyweds’ itinerary, it’s Haruna who now advocates going.

The resulting date is wonderfully awkward. Both are so concerned with making it a special day that every time something goes wrong, it’s a crushing blow. It’s a bit painful to read, but it’s a situation with which most people can likely sympathize. I also like how a couple chapters later, when Macharu suddenly gets gung ho about working to get into college, it’s Haruna who feels that she’s being left behind even though she’s the one with better academic prospects. She has several goals that she’s been pursuing independent of Macharu, but it’s only now that she realizes he’s going to be experiencing things without her, as well.

On the negative side… the whole resort plotline reminds me of something I just read in High School Debut and of course the two leads are interrupted (by the collapse of Haruna’s father) before they can consummate their relationship. It’s not that I’m all pro-teen sex or anything, but because they don’t go through with it, we’ll probably be in for more angst about whether they should. At least the interruption puts Macharu in contact with Haruna’s dad, who says nasty things about his lack of prospects and inspires all that hard work that has Haruna fretting.

Also, it feels like the whole volume centers on the question of closeness for the couple. How close are we? Are we less close now? It feels like we’re more close now. Oh, wait, now we’re less close again. Now we’ve had a poignant conversation and we’re close again. I still like the characters a lot, and these moments provide opportunities for Haruna to show her vulnerable side and Macharu his more mature side, but it does get a bit repetitive.

Monkey High! 6 by Shouko Akira: B+

monkeyhigh6Volume six of Monkey High! builds on issues between reserved Haruna and her cheerful boyfriend, Macharu, that began to develop in the previous volume. Macharu, in his optimism, keeps trying to help bring about reconciliation between Haruna and her distant politician father while the mere thought of her family woes is sufficient to ruin any fun Haruna might be having. Macharu’s friend Atsu, who also has feelings for Haruna, tries to take advantage of the situation to convince her that he’s a better choice, but in the end Haruna decides that it’s time to stop running from her family problems and face them head-on.

I’m always appreciative when the issues a couple faces come completely from who they are as people. Haruna and Macharu have had very different upbringings, and it’s clear that Macharu’s warm and loving environment has rendered him incapable of imagining the coldness with which Haruna’s father treats her until he sees it for himself. I also really like how clear the beautiful Haruna is about her devotion to the goofy Macharu and how she’s neither flustered nor tempted by Atsu’s attempts to woo her.

On the downside, the old shojo cliché of “Oops, I tripped and got to first and/or second base with you!” is employed not once but twice in this volume. In each case, it serves to get Macharu and Haruna thinking about the physical aspect of their relationship, which is good, but it’s too bad that couldn’t have been accomplished in a more original way.

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

Monkey High! 5 by Shouko Akira: B+

When reserved, intelligent Haruna transferred into a new high school, she never expected to fall for the most chipper and scrawny guy in her class. That’s exactly what happened, though, and she and Macharu have now been dating for a year.

In this volume, some difficulties arise in the lead characters’ relationship. It’s not as if they fight in dramatic fashion, but because they see the world differently, they sometimes have trouble understanding each other. Macharu is very open and optimistic while Haruna is neither of those things (she doesn’t even have any internal monologues). She seeks to protect herself and in, so doing, occasionally gives Macharu the impression that she doesn’t care about things that are important to him. Add in the complication that Macharu’s best friend, Atsu, actually sees and understands this side of Haruna better than Macharu does, and you’ve got an interesting romantic triangle forming.

On the negative side, in five volumes of the series, nearly every chapter has centered on the kind of event that veteran manga readers will have seen dozens of times before: a date to an amusement park, a trip to the beach, a summer festival, major holidays, et cetera. It grows quite tiresome. Too, while the art in general is good, some pages are so slathered with screen tone that they are positively grey.

Still, even though I can already predict that the next volume will prominently feature Valentine’s Day in some capacity, I’m looking forward to seeing how the drama plays out.

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

Monkey High! 4 by Shouko Akira: B+

From the back cover:
Macharu’s best friend Atsu is really starting to fall for Haruna, especially since she’s been working at the same place he works and they’ve been spending more and more time together. With a jealous Macharu waiting and a persistent Atsu pursuing, who is Haruna going to choose in this bizarre love triangle?

I think I’m just gonna have to resign myself to semi-clichéd outings and a meddlesome bunch of friends with this series, because neither appears to be going anywhere any time soon.

Summer is approaching and, with it, opportunities for chapters about going to the beach, watching fireworks while wearing a yukata, et cetera. As before, Akira-sensei skillfully uses these familiar backdrops to develop her main characters. In the first chapter, we get some follow-up on the end of volume three, where Haruna admitted that she was uncertain of her own capabilities, seeing as how her father’s clout might’ve been responsible for her past successes. Now, when the opportunity comes to start a part-time job at a café, she goes for it, saying that she’s been inspired to try new things.

Macharu is supportive, but once he spots that Haruna and his best friend, Atsu, also an employee at the café, are becoming a bit more friendly, he begins to grow jealous. It’s something he can’t shake even by the end of the volume, despite Haruna saying that she wants to be closer with him and various occasions where she reinforces that he is the one that she likes. Playboy Atsu, too, seems to be growing more serious in his feelings about Haruna, and takes his mission to pester Macharu to the point that Yuko—one of those omnipresent supporting characters whose name I finally learned—comments, “Atsu, sometimes I just don’t know if you’re teasing Macharu or actually trying to sabotage him.”

I continue to like the relationship between the main characters, especially that Haruna continues to be quite unabashed in initiating smoochy time. In this volume, they talk about one day doing more than just kissing, and also admit that they’re scared. “It’s difficult to see where this love is headed.” It’s moments like these that enable scenes with overly familiar settings to seem like something new and unique. Too, it’s also difficult for a reader to see where this love is headed. While I highly doubt that Haruna will chose to be with Atsu in the end, I definitely think that interesting times lie ahead.

Monkey High! 3 by Shouko Akira: B+

From the back cover:
On Valentine’s Day, it’s no surprise that playboy Atsu gets plenty of chocolates from fawning girls. But everyone’s shocked when a heart-shaped box is found on Macharu’s desk—especially since it’s not from Haruna! Does Macharu have a secret admirer?

The trend of basing the chapters around relatively commonplace events continues—there’s one taking place on Valentine’s Day, one on Haruna’s birthday, and one about student council elections. The overall story continues to be pretty episodic, with much silliness from the supporting cast, but the moments between Haruna and Macharu are always serious and always good. I think that’s because Haruna herself is so serious she balances out the wackiness of her classmates.

Like the main couple in High School Debut, I like that it’s easy to see why Haruna and Macharu like each other and why they’re a good match. I get a little annoyed when various characters attest that Haruna really should be going out with Macharu’s friend Atsu because of his looks, but I suppose that does give her the opportunity to unequivocally state that she likes Macharu. There’s a great scene toward the end of the volume where she seeks him out to talk about some thoughts she’s been having, like how she’s not sure what she can do on her own, having always believed the influence of her politician father was in some part responsible for her success at her old school. It’s nice that they can talk to each other so freely. I also love that Haruna many times initiates the smooching, rather than passively waiting for it like some shoujo heroines I could name.

While I’m very happy with the development of the main couple, I could wish for a more memorable supporting cast. Atsu’s easy to remember because he talks so much. Next in recognizability are the guy that eats a lot and the girl from the student council, but that’s seriously all we know about them. There are a couple of other boys and girls who appear and have lines of dialogue and stuff and I have no idea what their names are or anything. I don’t want the story to veer off and focus on one of these classmates or anything, but they’re meaningless as they are.

Monkey High! 2 by Shouko Akira: A-

From the back cover:
Haruna and Macharu head off to the amusement park for their official first date! But how romantic is the date going to turn out with scary roller coasters, guys hitting on Haruna, and even rowdy classmates popping up?

Considering that my two complaints about volume one were its clichéd events and annoying supporting characters, this back cover blurb didn’t do much to entice me. Thankfully, the contents were better than described.

I continue to like the main characters and the contrast between them. Macharu is all spazzy, hyper, and enthusiastic while Haruna is beautiful and “cool.” It’s so nice to have a shoujo heroine who’s smart and reserved! The pain of her broken home life weighs on Haruna, and we see more evidence of that in this volume, so it’s nice to see her laugh in Macharu’s presence. She really needs someone like him, and this is the reason why she ultimately keeps some of her problems from him, to avoid damaging his carefree outlook.

The overall plots of these chapters are pretty silly—an amusement park date, the gang participating in a big quiz show, et cetera—but there are plenty of good character moments sprinkled throughout. There’s also a really cute bonus story about Macharu’s little sister, Misato. Usually the bonus stories included in manga don’t do much for me; this is probably the best one I’ve read in some time.

Monkey High! 1 by Shouko Akira: A-

From the back cover:
Haruna Aizawa thinks that school life is just like a monkey mountain—all the monkeys form cliques, get into fights, and get back together again. The school that she just transferred to is no exception. There’s even a boy called Macharu Yamashita who reminds her of a baby monkey!

It’s hard enough fitting in at a new school while dealing with family problems… Will Haruna remain jaded and distance herself from everyone around her? Or will Macharu win her over with his monkey magic?

Viz really does have some quality shojo of the high school romance genre. Love*Com, High School Debut, We Were There, and now Monkey High!. Each one that I’ve read, I’ve really liked a lot.

Haruna Aizawa’s father is an upstart politician at the center of a corruption scandal. Because of this, she transferred into a new high school, but the group dynamics—which she compares to a gang of monkeys—are much the same. She strives to keep her distance, but one boy manages to befriend her. Macharu is rather scrawny and not generally someone a beautiful girl like Haruna would consider the ideal boyfriend, but he’s kind, considerate, and sincere and before Haruna realizes it, she’s fallen in love with him. They receive instant support from their classmates who think the mismatch has great potential to be interesting.

Haruna and Macharu are both interesting characters, and it’s awfully refreshing to read a title where the heroine is not earning the affections of the dreamiest, most popular boy in school. Also, Haruna has had boyfriends before, so is not going spazzy over having attracted a boy’s notice. There are some genuinely cute moments between them, and I’m happy to see them become a couple so quickly, as I tend to like stories where getting together is only the beginning of the story, rather than its culmination.

There are some things I found a little annoying, though. The three chapters in this volume deal with the school play, school trip, and Christmas, respectively. Is Akira-sensei just getting the clichés out of the way up front? I’m a little worried. Also, I didn’t find it funny when Haruna and Macharu’s classmates just happened to be eavesdropping on the lead pair at a few crucial moments, interrupting with their antics.

Considering how often I grumble about unfunny attempts at comedy in manga, I wouldn’t blame anyone for concluding that I simply have no sense of humor. I assure you that isn’t the case; I just don’t like it when it isn’t part of the story but instead disrupts it.

Monkey High! was originally published in Japan as Saruyama! and is complete with eight volumes total. Viz is releasing it in English and five volumes have been published so far.