Boys Over Flowers 21 by Yoko Kamio: B+

boysoverflowers21From the back cover:
Tsukasa’s mother, Kaede, is back! Can Tsukushi really stay in the home of the woman with whom she is at war?! Kaede takes a new and vicious tack in her obsession to tear Tsukushi away from her upperclass son. If Tsukushi can’t be bribed, then maybe Kaede can destroy the lives of Tsukushi’s friends! Tsukushi is forced to take extreme measures—but which course will she choose?!

Kaede’s return has everyone in turmoil. Tama, the elderly maid who has been instructing Tsukushi in her duties, manages to keep Kaede from kicking Tsukushi out of the mansion, but Kaede simply turns to other means at her disposal and pulls strings to threaten the jobs of the fathers of Tsukushi’s two closest friends. Ultimately, Tsukushi agrees to stop associating with the Doumyouji family in exchange for their jobs being reinstated.

At first, I found this volume to be kind of frustrating, despite some nice moments. The scene in which Tsukushi attempts to hide from Kaede under a table is painfully dumb, for example, and Tsukushi’s decision to give up Tsukasa seemed like just another way to extend the drama for a few more volumes. But then that last page!

That last page made me cry! I shan’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that this volume contains a couple of very important actions and realizations on Tsukushi’s part, and the impact is enough that I immediately forget all the silly business and enjoy reading the last half dozen pages several times over.

Boys Over Flowers 20 by Yoko Kamio: B+

boysoverflowers20From the back cover:
Tsukushi has agreed to be Tsukasa’s girlfriend! But there’s a hitch—she’ll go out with him for only two months to see if she can truly love him. Tsukasa is off to a bad start when he ends up smacking the womanizing new boyfriend of Tsukushi’s friend, Yuki, at the end of a double date, making Tsukushi furious. Then Sojiro of the F4 helps Yuki by exacting a little revenge on her playboy boyfriend and the two wind up on a date together. Tsukushi is worried to death about Sojiro taking advantage of her good friend. The question is… who is using whom?

I had a really hard time grading this one.

The case for a B: There are some frustrating moments in this volume. Tsukushi doesn’t believe Tsukasa had a good reason for hitting Yuki’s sleazy boyfriend and lectures him about resorting to violence, only to do exactly the same when she encounters the guy herself. She does, at least, recognize that she was in the wrong. Also, her preoccupation with Yuki’s plight later on prevents her from noticing Tsukasa’s adorable awkwardness after an important development in their relationship, and in general, several promising moments fail to pay off as satisfactorily as one might wish.

The case for a B+: Enduring all of the frustrating moments makes the sweet ones all the better for being so hard-earned. I love how Tsukasa drops everything to help Tsukushi look for Yuki and how Tsukushi actively reaches out to hug him for the first time when he doubts their chances of succeeding as a couple. Later, when the two of them have been manipulated by Sojiro and Yuki to tail them on a romantic pseudo-date, there’s more good stuff, with Tsukushi earnestly asking Tsukasa to stay with her and saying, “I don’t know what I’ll do if you go.” Of course, Tsukasa is totally won over by her cuteness. Also, Tsukasa demonstrates how much he has changed by saying to Yuki, “And Yuki… find yourself someone better than this.” Tsukasa, actually kind of caring about Tsukushi’s commoner friend? Now, that’s progress!

In the end, the impact of the good scenes outweighs my frustrations, and I come down on the side of the B+. I have this feeling, though, that this sort of balance is going to be the norm until they finally, finally genuinely get together.

Boys Over Flowers 19 by Yoko Kamio: B+

boysoverflowers19From the back cover:
When Tsukushi is left homeless, she has no choice but to become a maid in the mansion of her on-and-off boyfriend, Tsukasa. Not only that, but she becomes his own personal maid! Her duties include the dreaded task of waking him up in the morning, a job normally left to three people. Then Tsukasa orders her to come to his room unseen at midnight, causing Tsukushi to panic. Will this pull them closer together or push them further apart?!

This volume gets off to somewhat of a slow start, with Tsukushi freaking out about being Tsukasa’s personal servant, convinced that he’s going to use the position to take advantage of her. Of course, this doesn’t happen, and they end up having a midnight stargazing date instead that culminates with a pretty straightforward conversation about the state of their feelings. The final outcome is that they begin dating on a trial basis to allow Tsukushi two months to figure out if she loves Tsukasa or not.

It was a little odd seeing Tsukasa being so patient at the beginning of the volume, and I’m not sure where that came from. The experience with breaking things off with Shigeru? Knowing that Tsukushi had defied his mother and believing that it was for his sake? I’m not sure, but when he returns to his canankerous ways later in the volume, it was almost a relief.

The last few chapters, after they’re officially a couple, really are the best. Tsukushi and Tsukasa double-date with Yuki and her new boyfriend and Tsukasa does an admirable job at keeping his temper in check even though the boyfriend is a real git. It’s great! Also, I like seeing Tsukushi talking to Yuki and Tsukasa talking to his friends about the relationship. I always like it when both members of a couple have some support from their friends.

In short, I think this two month trial dating period is going to be awesome.

Cat Street 2 (Japanese) by Yoko Kamio: B+

From the back cover:
Ever since she entered the school El Liston, Keito’s life has begun to change. Recovering from social withdrawal, she has made friends for the first time in seven years. There’s Rei, a formerly famous soccer player; Kouichi, a genius with an IQ of 200; and Momiji, a Gothic Lolita. As she slowly starts building new relationships with people, she begins to develop a little passion, and then… ?!

I’d praised Cat Street last time because the focus was not on romance, and just as I was thinking, “Well, maybe a little would be good,” Keito realized that she had feelings for her childhood friend, Taiyou. How it played out was quite different from other shoujo I’ve read.

Taiyou is an interesting character. Rather than allow Keito’s friend Rei, who used to be a phenomenal soccer player, to wallow in his past failures, he keeps engaging him on the topic and eventually helps him return to the sport he loves. Keito realizes he did the same with her while she was a shut-in, visiting her house frequently to try to get her to come back to school. So, essentially, she begins to like him because he is a good person, not because he is hot.

Even better, all of Keito’s new friends begin to support her in her efforts to get together with Taiyou. This isn’t limited to Momiji, the girl; the boys who would also be after Keito in most other series are also encouraging and helping her in her efforts. Alas, it turns out Taiyou has recently begun dating one of his classmates. In a completely awesome example of showing not telling, a weeping Keito encounters this girl, Hirano-san, who proves how like Taiyou she is by refusing to leave Keito alone, comforting her, and even crying on her behalf. I love that the romantic rival is not some evil wench, but also a thoroughly nice and good person.

Less successful is a subplot in which Keito’s old theatrical rival engages the help of a student studying cosmetology at El Liston to get a photograph of Keito, which he accomplishes by giving her a makeover and claiming he wants to save images of his work. Pretty smooth. It’s sad, though, that the nudging he gave Keito about returning to the acting world seems only to’ve been so the rival could face her in that realm once more and achieve a proper victory over her.

Cat Street is a very enjoyable series so far; I love that the heroine has a network of supportive friends. I guess it’s inevitable that Keito will return to the world of acting, but I hope the story won’t drift into silly confrontations with overly-devious foes.

Cat Street 1 (Japanese) by Yoko Kamio: B+

Book description:
Keito Aoyama was a child star until the age of nine, when she froze up on stage in front of a live audience. The incident ended her career, and she’s spent the past seven years a recluse, spending most of the time in her room and socializing with no one. An encounter with an eccentric principal leads her to El Liston, a school for kids who haven’t fit in at other high schools. Could this be what Keito needs to begin truly living again?

This series is interesting, but since this volume was mostly set up, probably much of the good stuff is yet to come.

Keito is very socially awkward to start with, and ends up insulting a couple of people and running away from them, just like she’s essentially been running away from life for seven years. She’s a sympathetic character, kind of complex and difficult, but her search for direction is compelling. She encounters a former grade school classmate and the fact that he’s still striving for his childhood dream makes her question what it is that she really wants to do. Though she’s initially reluctant to attend such a “weird facility,” she eventually decides to give El Liston a try.

The El Liston setting is pretty neat. Most of the kids there are doing independent study of some kind, though there are teachers on hand to help when needed. The students are free to pursue their interests, be they computer programming or fashion design. The students that Keito meets are already shaping up to be unique and interesting characters and I look forward to seeing Keito flourish in that environment. Of particular note is Kouichi, a manga character who actually looks Asian!

Too, I like that the focus is on Keito’s search for a purpose in life and not on romance. To be sure, there are a few prospects in that regard, but her thoughts are running more toward self-improvement than smooching. Cat Street definitely has the potential to be something great, and I’ll be continuing with it.

Boys Over Flowers 18 by Yoko Kamio: B+

From the back cover:
When the Makino family’s finances hit rock bottom yet again, they decide to move to the countryside so Tsukushi’s father can earn a living as a fisherman. Poor Tsukushi is left behind in their apartment to try her hand at independent living. A few guests stop by, one most unwelcome—Tsukasa’s mother! Tsukushi stands up to the domineering woman, effectively declaring war. Then a housewarming gift from the F4 wreaks havoc on the apartment, leaving Tsukushi homeless! Will anyone take her in?!

It feels pretty weird to pass the end of the story I know from the anime and still have half of the series left. I suppose that’s not all that unusual—Fruits Basket and Kare Kano are in the same boat—but the Boys Over Flowers anime was twice the length the others were, and still didn’t cover everything. I must say, I much prefer how things ended with the Shigeru situation in the manga; the end of the anime was pretty silly as well as rushed and unsatisfying.

The plot continues to be entertaining, though sometimes stretches the limits of plausibility just a little too much. I’m not sure how I feel about Tsukushi working as a maid in the Doumyouji mansion. On the one hand, I’ve heard that these next ten volumes or so are someone’s very favorite, and on the other, it just screams “shoujo trope” to me. Tsukasa is also being dense about what she’s doing there, and that annoys me, too.

I really liked Rui and Tsubaki in this volume. There’s a great scene where Rui and Tsukushi are heading home after spending the night at Shigeru’s villa. She’s lost in thought, so he has fun poking her face and fixing her hair in silly pigtails and stuff. I guess Tsubaki didn’t really do anything particularly awesome, but she did tell the story of her lost love that was hinted at in a recent volume, which I appreciated.

It’s strange not knowing what’s coming; I hope I like it.

Boys Over Flowers 17 by Yoko Kamio: A-

From the back cover:
Tsukushi and Tsukasa get some quiet time together after they escape the mess of his birthday party, but this quiet can’t last for long. Tsukasa’s feelings for Tsukushi have at long last been made clear, but Tsukushi is more confused than ever about her feelings for him. Meanwhile, Tsukasa’s domineering mother, Kaede, is brewing up plans to keep them apart forever, and she might have found just the thing to do it when she introduces him to his new fiancée!

Lots of interesting things happened in this volume. Essentially, Tsukushi encouraged Tsukasa to go for it with Shigeru—who was offering on a silver platter everything Tsukushi had denied him, saying, “I can fall in love with you if you want”—and he was so peeved at her he actually did it.

I loved seeing Tsukushi’s hurt reactions to witnessing them together, and was significantly weirded out (in a good way) by the scene where he kissed the other girl. In other romantic rival plots I’ve read, the male lead never seems to actually go that far though, to be fair, he only did it once Shigeru bullied him into it.

The best thing about the relationship, though, was that it provided Tsukasa some room for growth. Although he could’ve easily taken advantage of Shigeru, he didn’t. That’s not really anything new for him, true, but it showed him in a good light nonetheless. The truly significant outcome was when he told her she just wasn’t the one, he was actually able to apologize (something he has had issues with in the past) and seemed to have true sympathy for her pain. Progress!

I also really loved the scenes between Tsukushi and Rui in this volume. Although some latent attraction might still exist, they acted more like friends, with Rui coming to her aid and helping her to relax and laugh amid tense situations. She said, “I no longer feel tortured and frustrated anymore, when I’m with him. Even if my feelings for him can no longer be called love… I think I’ll always like Rui Hanazawa.” Aww.

Boys Over Flowers 16 by Yoko Kamio: A

From the back cover:
Tsukasa’s 18th birthday doesn’t go smoothly at all! Tsukushi is introduced to Kaede, Tsukasa’s mother, by way of falling over a table and causing a scene. Kaede tells her to get out, but Tsukasa defends her by declaring that she is precious to him. Thus begins a three-sided war between the three most headstrong people you’ve ever seen! Tsukushi and Tsukasa get away for a while and spend some time on Tsukasa’s boat, but they can’t hide from Kaede forever…

A lot of awesome stuff happens in this volume!

Firstly, Kaede is such a great antagonist. Not only does she create strife for the two leads, she also sets off the sorrow in the lives of the other rich characters around. In the previous volume, Soujirou talked about how he cannot choose his own spouse, and now it seems that Tsubaki might have a lost love of her own. I hope that gets explored in future volumes.

Secondly, so many of the supporting cast get awesome things to do. Tsubaki has now completely redeemed herself for her bizarre actions of the past and is acting as Tsukasa’s champion of sorts, helping him get away from the party and then expressing concern at what their mother has planned for him. Tsukushi’s mom is also (very briefly) cool, showing for an instant a strong resemblance to her daughter.

Lastly, I loved the scenes with Tsukushi and Tsukasa on the boat, especially the part where they’re fishing and discussing their families. She also finally gives him the homemade cookies she made as a birthday gift; the awesome thing is that he’s still proudly showing them off two chapters later.

Kaede’s plot involves accelerating plans for Tsukasa’s arranged marriage with Shigeru, a tomboyish girl who is the first serious rival for Tsukasa’s affections that Tsukushi has faced. She’s likable and also seems to be amenable to the arrangement, not letting Tsukasa off the hook so easily.

All in all, a very solid volume through and through. Alas, I’m now caught up with my original reading plan (two per month, finishing just as the final volume comes out next June) so here’s where I’ll be pausing until next month. It’s soooo tempting to just keep plowing on, as this series is seriously addictive, but I expect I’ll regret it afterwards during the long wait between volumes.

Boys Over Flowers 15 by Yoko Kamio: B+

From the back cover:
Junpei has promised to protect Tsukushi and always be there for her. His promise comes just in time, since Tsukushi has been given another of the infamous “red slips,” the mark of someone targeted for abuse. Meanwhile, Akira and Soujirou are desperately looking for Tsukasa, who has been gone for days. It turns out that Junpei harbors a terrible grudge against Tsukasa and is using Tsukushi as bait to get him! This has shockingly violent results. Later, Tsukushi gets dressed up and attends Tsukasa’s birthday party. Little does she realize the implications that attendance has!

Um, thanks for ruining any surprise anyone might’ve had regarding Junpei’s intentions, back cover blurb!

Anyways, the most important thing to come out of Junpei and his grudge is that Tsukasa submits to a beating from several guys he could’ve handily defeated because to fight back would’ve put Tsukushi in jeopardy. I love that when he arrives, she tearfully cries, “Why did you come?!” and he advises her to keep her eyes shut so she won’t have to witness the beating.

There follows a chapter that must’ve been a lot of fun to read in its serialized form. Tsukushi has a dream that Tsukasa has died from his injuries, and the next few pages seem to support this notion, with the F4 pretending to grieve, et cetera. She’s furious at the jest, of course, but it leads into another sweet scene between the two leads. Then the other members of the F4 try to convince Tsukushi again to give him a chance as a boyfriend, but she blurts out something derogatory and flees.

The effort to flesh out Akira and Soujirou continues, as well. When Tsukushi is invited to Tsukasa’s birthday party and is freaking out about possibly being introduced to his scary mother as his fiancée, Soujirou points out that sons of rich families are never allowed to marry a girl of their own choosing, so she should just relax because there’s no chance she’d ever be able to marry Tsukasa anyway. I thought that was a neat, kind of subtle way to place a new obstacle in the path of their relationship. And then, of course, Tsukasa’s mom becomes the physical embodiment of said obstacle.

These middle volumes are showing quite a consistent level of quality. Gone are the things like basketball showdowns and I hope they never return. We’re also heading into what was the final arc of the anime, so soon I’ll be into material that I’m completely unspoiled on.

My final thought comes in the form of a favorite quote. Tsukasa has, once again, gotten himself fired up over something at the drop of a hat, and one of the other F4 (possibly Akira) quips, “I wish my water heater worked like him.” Hee. So do I.

Boys Over Flowers 14 by Yoko Kamio: B+

From the back cover:
Tsukasa’s raucous behavior at Tsukushi’s middle school class reunion has her fed up with him once again. Tsukasa is crushed by this but is too stubborn to apologize. Later, Tsukushi is assaulted by two schoolgirls and then rescued by a “young nerdy boy” who turns out to be Junpei, a famous male model who has been dying to meet Tsukushi! Her dumb luck then gets her involved in a photo shoot with him, and she ends up on the cover of a famous magazine. This causes quite a scene at school, but not nearly as big a scene as when Tsukasa finds the two of them together!

Setting aside my dislike of Tsukasa’s overreaction concerning Tsukushi’s middle school admirer, it actually sets up some pretty good stuff in this volume. Junpei (the younger brother of the admirer) is introduced, and though he seems yet another potential love interest for Tsukushi, he also provokes Tsukasa into admitting that he loves Tsukushi so much it makes him insane.

That confession is certainly wonderful, but even better is how Tsukushi can’t get his words and expression out of her mind. She had said she wanted him to leave her alone, but when a red slip appears in her locker, she sees it as a farewell from Tsukasa and it makes her sad.

Also good are Akira and Soujirou’s continued efforts to get Tsukushi and Tsukasa on the right track, this time by coaching Tsukasa on how to apologize for ruining her middle school gathering. My favorite panel in the whole volume features Akira and Soujirou eyeing Tsukasa warningly as Tsukushi approaches, Tsukasa glowering, and Kazuya waving doofily in the background. There are lots of other lovely panels, too; I particularly love how Tsukushi is drawn for her magazine photo shoot.

I’m uncertain how I feel about Junpei. So far, he’s okay, but I have some vague memory from the anime that I didn’t end up liking him very much. Sakurako is suspicious of him, too, which makes me think he’s up to something. Speaking of Sakurako, she seems to becoming more of a friend to Tsukushi, or at least helps her out when, spurred on by the red slip, the other students are chasing her.

It’s a little bit full circle now, with Tsukushi the victim of persecution again, but at least she finally knows how Tsukasa feels about her.