Manga Friday: High School!
Ah, high school! The greatest time of our lives, right? The time when we all were either on the student council or locked in a life-or-death struggle with the evil student council, when we harnessed powerful robots to save the world, and when the most attractive member of whatever gender we fancied suddenly fell into our laps.
What? High school wasn’t like that for you? You should have been smart enough to go to a manga high school…
Kujibiki Unbalance, Vol. 1
Story by Kio Shimoku; Art by Koume Keito
Del Rey Manga, July 2008, $10.95
It would be very unfair of me to pick on Kujibiki Unbalance for being silly, since it’s whole purpose is to be silly: it’s the fictional manga series beloved by the main characters of another manga series, Genshiken. As such, it was designed to be full of clichés and way over the top. But being less than serious doesn’t keep Kujibiki from being a lot of fun.
Chihiro is the nebbishy hero – he’s had bad luck his entire life, and is otherwise the epitome of the plucky but downtrodden shonen shlub. That all changed when he was chosen in a lottery to attend the ultra-prestigious and powerful Rikkyoin High School…and then learned that everything at Rikkyoin is determined by lottery.
He’s quickly chosen as student council president, with his long-time platonic best friend (and source of a whole lot of panty shots) Tokino as his VP. The secretary is a cold, bossy, super-genius named Renko, who’s been at Rikkyoin since kindergarten and is always accompanied her her home-made super-robot slave Kaoruko. And the treasurer – well, that’s what the first story is about: finding the treasurer so that the whole new council can go present themselves to the outgoing council.
The outgoing student council is still in charge, and has the power to instantly expel the new council for some indeterminate time. They’re also made up of various odd characters, including a female president who never takes off a military helmet. And they soon start to send the incoming officers on various jobs – the failure to complete which will, of course, lead to immediate expulsion. And did I mention that everything at this school is determined by random lotteries?
It goes on from there, getting bigger, less likely, and more clichéd by the page – and, of course, that’s all completely deliberate. Kujibiki Unbalance never turns into a parody, and it’s honestly no more unbelievable than any other high school manga. It knows what it’s setting out to do, and it does it with flair, panache, and not a hint of self-concern. It can’t be taken entirely seriously, but that’s just fine.
Kasumi, Vol. 1
Story by Surt Lim; Art by Hirofumi Sugimoto
Del Rey Manga, July 2008, $10.95
Kasumi is another ordinary kid transferring to a private school for the rich and powerful – in this case Seiran high school. But she’s also just gotten a strange superpower after an encounter with firefly-like creatures deep in the forest: she turns invisible whenever she holds her breath.
As always, the student council is involved: she has a minor crush on the president, the hunky Ryuuki, and the VP, the bitchy Reina, soon becomes the leader of the girls who hate Kasumi. (Kasumi wants to be a magician, which the other girls take as “self-centered and full of herself,” and of course she’s not socially equal to any of these rich snobs. Also, she’s openly trying to be friends with Ryuuki, which the bitches call muscling in on their territory.) Kasumi’s only friend to begin with is the supernerd Otaku-Ken (real name Yuuta, which is used only often enough for me to confuse it with Ryuuki).
But Ryuuki is not merely the strong silent type he appears to be; he has a secret that is somehow related to Kasumi’s power. The details aren’t clear by the end of this volume, since I expect the hope is that this will run for quite a while, but I do expect we’ll see more people with odd powers popping up as Kasumi goes on.
Kasumi is engaging and has clean, energetic art; it’s an easy book to read and Kasumi is an easy protagonist to like. So far, its conflicts are nothing new, but the superpowers might turn into something more distinctive as it goes along. And it’s definitely going to be fun to read while waiting.
You’re So Cool, Vol. 1
By YoungHee Lee
Yen Press, May 2008, $10.99
You’re So Cool has some superficial similarities to Kasumi – it centers on a teenage girl (here Nan-Wo) who has a huge crush on a popular boy (Seung-Ha). But You’re So Cool has a more distinctive protagonist in Nan-Wo, who’s tougher and more assertive than even the standard “spunky” heroine sub-category, and who also is seen to be a massive klutz in the first few pages of the story. More importantly, she gets Seung-Ha; he asks her out and they’re quickly seen as boyfriend-girlfriend.
And so everything would be hearts and flowers – except for the fact that nice, universally-loved Seung-Ha is actually a vicious, nasty bastard, with possible gang connections and a horrible temper. He doesn’t actually physically abuse Nan-Wo – it’s not that kind of story – but he’s a rough piece of work, and only Nan-Wo knows it.
So the tension of the series, going forward from about the middle of this first volume, is in Nan-Wo’s struggle to get away from this creep, or perhaps to get the rest of her school to recognize that he is a creep. Again, I don’t expect that will happen for a long, long time – premises are there to be exploited, and that is the premise of You’re So Cool.
Nan-Wo is a great lead character, with a lot of life, but her story a bit more bland and generic than the other two books this week – that’s inevitable when you go from super-robots and invisible girls to a normal Korean high school, but it’s still true.
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.