Manga Friday: High School All Over Again
A lot of manga take place in high schools – and that’s natural, since the original audience for most of the popular manga series were Japanese teenagers, and it’s hard to find someone more self-obsessed than a teenager. So ignoring high school would almost mean ignoring manga all together, and I wouldn’t want to do that – but I do try to quarantine the very teenager-y books into their own little cliques (they’re used to that, anyway). It’s time for another one of those, so join me for a look at three new series set in the best and worst time of all of our lives:
Papillon, Vol. 1
By Miwa Ueda
Del Rey, October 2008, $10.95
Papillion builds its foundation upon a plotline much beloved in song, story, and Olson twin movies: there are these two identical twin sisters, and they’re completely different! The viewpoint character is Ageha – and, by the way, does that name sound as frumpy and old-ladyish to the Japanese as it does to me? – who grew up in the countryside, and, because of that, is shy, socially inept, unfashionable, and wears glasses. (The equivalent cliché in an America story would have her be a rough, woodsy, outdoorsy kind of girl, great at riding horses and starting fires, but Japanese heroines apparently must always be pretty and decorative, with slim wrists and no obvious skills.)
Ageha’s twin sister Hana – who grew up in the city, because their parents separated them very young (possibly on a whim; this isn’t explained) – is gorgeous and poised and the most popular girl in the school they both attend.
(Oh, and there’s also a nasty fat girl, who seemingly exists in this story only to be Ageha’s only friend – a very, very bad friend at that – and to show that unattractive people are necessarily cruel, vindictive, and rude.)
Ageha is in love with cute boy Ryusei, and a weirdly inappropriate guidance counselor from her school – using The Secret-style affirmations – encourages her to pursue him. But, of course, as soon as she shows public interest, Hana jumps in first, and swoops off with Ryusei.
One of the main plots of manga stories for girls is the Oh-I’m-just-so-shy-and-withdrawn-that-I-can’t-do-anything, probably showing how the Japanese think of themselves (or how they think teenage girls should be). This is another in that long line; Ageha has developed one or two vertebrae by the end of this volume, but she still has a long way to go before she has a complete backbone. (And a mouth that speaks out might take even longer to show up.) Creator Ueda does manage to keep Ageha on this side of self-pity and whininess, which is a feat, but she’s still yet another doormat.
The art is similarly solid but undistinguished; standard shoujo where everyone (except for the one token fat girl I mentioned above) is slim, tall, and gorgeous, with long, flowing hair. Papillion will probably find an audience among all of the girls who have read this story five or six times already, and I expect they’ll like it.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Vol. 1
Art by Gaku Tsugano; Story by Nagaru Tanigawa; Characters by Noizi Ito
Yen Press, October 2008, $10.99
Haruhi Suzumiya (I learn from Wikipedia) started as a series of light novels – an excerpt from the first one is included in this volume, actually – and then was translated, in the Japanese we-must-conquer-all-media style, into both manga and anime forms.
The title character isn’t the viewpoint; we follow “typical high school student” Kyon – and there are several thick books to be written about the fanatic cult of the “typical” in highschool manga – on his first day, when he meets the bizarre and flamboyant Haruhi. She wants desperately for something out of the ordinary to exist in the world, and she expresses that in typical manga fashion by turning into a loud, demanding steamroller.
She drags Kyon along with her, starting a club to investigate “Aliens, Time Travelers, Sliders, or Espers” with a long, complicated name that shortcuts to “the SOS Brigade.” And she quickly forces other students into her club as well. She’s demented and single-minded, unable to face reality in any way. And, so, of course, she’s right.
Oh, she doesn’t see the proof that she’s right – not that Haruhi would stoop to worrying about something as nitpicky as evidence – but Kyon does, which disconcerts him. And it goes on and on, getting bigger and bigger even in this volume.
I have a feeling Melancholy is supposed to be funny, but I only found it mildly amusing. People like Haruhi annoy me intensely in real life, so I’m not all that fond of them in fiction, either.
I also feel the need to say: that word “Melancholy” you keep using. I do not think it means what you think it means. Haruhi is about as far from “melancholy” as a human being can be without actually lifting into the air from the force of manic spasms.
So, with this book, I have to say: I don’t get it. It just didn’t work for me, but it might for you.
Hitohira, Vol. 1
By Idumi Kirihara
Aurora, October 2008, $10.95
This is from the same well as Papillon: Mugi Asai is a ridiculously shy girl just starting highschool – so shy that she physically can’t speak in public much of the time. And, though the usual odd series of circumstances, she’s shanghaied into her school’s second, smaller, unofficial, scrappy drama club. It’s otherwise populated by the usual oddballs.
If I had to pay for words depending on my use of them, the description of the plot of Hitohira would put me into massive debt over the number of times I said “usual.” There’s a make-or-break competition with the snotty, superior members of the other club, there’s a club member with a mysterious, ill-defined disease that she bravely battles, there’s a scene where Mugi has to actually speak lines on stage, and there’s a whole lot of low-key wacky character stuff and getting-to-know-the-new-friends scenes.
Hitohira is harmless and pleasant – if you’re looking for a story about a shy highschool girl, you will have many choices, and this is one of them. There will be better, and there will be worse, but Hitohira won’t let you down: it has exactly what you’d expect from a shy highschool girl story, which can be comforting.
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.