Sex and Death, by Andrew Wheeler
This week: three manga series featuring sex and death in high school. (I don’t know about you folks, but if my high school was like some of the ones in manga series, I wouldn’t have bothered to graduate.)
Case in point: Sundome by Kazuto Okada, a story about a young woman who may just be the single biggest tease in the history of the human race. (By the way, the title is pronounced “sun-do-may” and is a Japanese term meaning “stopping just before.” And, yes, the general implication is pretty much what you think it is.) Her name is Kurumi Sahana, and, in time-tested manga fashion, she’s the transfer student who arrives at this high school on page two. Narrator Hideo Aiba falls for her immediately, and thus tries to resign from his “roman club” – a collection of three other exceptionally geeky young men dedicated to vague “romantic” ideals. One of the rules of the club is that members must remain virgins until graduation, and Hideo, being an honest young man, is hoping he can break that vow, and, being very Japanese about it, wants to quit first.
What follows is a very exaggerated but not completely unbelievable sex comedy. Hideo is a whiny little schlub – of course, he’s the hero of a sex comedy manga, so I’m repeating myself – and Kurumi knows exactly what he wants and refuses to give it to him. On the other hand, she’s more than willing to torment him, with a glimpse of this or a touch of that, to get him to do what she wants. One of the things she wants, though, is for Hideo to grow a spine and stop being such a wimpy little stereotype, so she doesn’t come across as a bitch. Manipulative, yes. More than a little cruel, clearly. Not someone to introduce to your mother, absolutely. But she’s honest, and not capricious, and she does follow through on what she says.
(Another girl – somewhat more conventional but also in her way tormenting Hideo and his fellow members of the Roman Club – shows up about halfway through the book.)
I feel I should apologize for liking Sundome, but I did enjoy it. It’s “sexy” in a completely sophomoric way, full of panty shots and nipples straining against fabric, but it’s authentically tawdry and juvenile. It’s probably not a book for women, or for men who have completely outgrown their own childishness (which I clearly haven’t), but if you’ve ever wished Superbad was a book, you are in luck.
Y Square is a more conventional romance comic, down to the inevitable triangle. Ju-Jin Cho is a gorgeous girl who wants to be a model. She hates Yoshitaka Kogirei, who is infatuated with her. Yoshitaka’s new best friend is Yagate Sotogawa, who is helping him get a bit of sophistication in hopes of winning over Ju-Jin…but Yagate not-so-secretly loves Yoshitaka himself. I’ve only read the first volume, which stays out of yaoi territory, but I would not take any bets about how Yoshitaka ends up with. (There’s another girl who becomes important later in this volume, as well.)
This also has a lusher art style than Sundome (whose male characters go extremely stylized in moments of high emotion – and Sundome is full of such moments). The character’s eyes in Y Square are large and limpid, but still look basically human. And everyone is very, very pretty – the boys even more than the girls.
Y Square, if I’m following everything correctly, is by Judith Park, a young woman of Korean extraction who lives in Germany, and was originally published in Korea – but in the Japanese right-to-left standard rather than the Korean left-to-right one. I have no idea if that makes this manga or manwha, so I’ll leave it for all of you to make that determination for yourselves.
Y Square is a lot more conventional, and not as much goofy fun as Sundome is. I also expect that Y Square will be much more popular, especially with young women who either haven’t quite made the big jump to full-on yaoi or young women who prefer their boy-on-boy sexual tension to remain unresolved.
Last this week is Hell Girl, which provides the “death” side of the sex-and-death equation. It’s by Miyuki Eto, though the book also credits “original story by The Jigoku Shoujo Project.” If my Googling is correct, “Jigoku Shoujo” means “Hell Girl,” which doesn’t explain much. From some comments by Eto in the notes, this also seems to be based on an anime series. Just don’t ask me how it all fits together…
The first volume of Hell Girl has five stories, all with the same general plot: a young woman (generally high school age) is manipulated into a bad situation by some nasty person, and sees to way to get out by her own efforts. (I should also add that these are all very girly girls, so they don’t seem very strong on positive action, or even clandestine scheming – they’re not the kind of people who could easily get out of trouble once they’re in it.) The woman then remembers the legend of Hell Correspondence, a website where one can enter the name of one’s enemy and have him/her dragged down to Hell by Hell Girl (who is also a girl named Ai Enma). There’s a catch, of course: the person setting the curse will also be doomed to hell when she dies. But these girls are all so passive that they just break down in tears and accept that fate.
Hell Girl thus gets quite repetitive, and I have to admit that I was losing interest as I went along. The art style is full-blown shoujo, with immense eyes devouring entire faces with their dozens of points of light and welling tears. This is very much not for me, but – since it’s rated for teens 16 and up – it also seems aimed away from its natural audience, the overly dramatic young teen girl. There are still some of them at ages 16, 17, and 18, but they’re much more common at 13 and 14.
Sundome, Vol. 1
Yen Press, 2007, $12.99
Y Square, Vol. 1
Yen Press, 2007, $10.99
Hell Girl, Vol. 1
Del Rey Manga, 2008, $10.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.