Manga Friday: High School Hijinks
I warned you that we’d be back to high school before we knew it, but did you listen to me? (OK, maybe you did. I don’t really know, to be honest.) It’s that time again: to cavort with sword-swinging, vampire-snogging, dog-spirit-cavorting high school students! To see lots of stylized tears, food-gobbling binges, and unexpected nudity! To dive completely into fantasy worlds in between soul-crushing exams of our own! (The last may only apply to actual Japanese high school students.)
Inukami!, Vol. 1
Art by Mari Matsuzawa; Story by Mamizu Arisawa
Tor/Seven Seas, November 2008, $9.99
Take one boy, the surly, horny, self-important scion of a family that has been training Inukami dog-spirits, and using them to protect the world from evil spirits, for a long, long time. Add a spunky young Inukami, almost completely innocent about the outside world but utterly unwilling to follow that boy’s orders in anything. Mix together with gratuitous near-nudity and plenty of unresolved sexual tension (but surprisingly few panty shots). Warm to room temperature, and serve on a shelf with dozens of very similar works.
He’s Keita. She’s Yoko. Together they…well, they don’t really fight crime, and they don’t even do much battling of demons. What they mostly do is squabble with each other. Keita demands that she obey him, totally and completely, and Yoko refuses. Actually, she doesn’t so much refuse as utterly ignore his every order, and push him around herself, with judicious uses of her power to teleport other items around. (Such as Keita’s clothes away from him, as happens several times.) She also gets him to wait on her hand and foot, even though he’s sure it’s supposed to be the other way around.
This volume is mostly made of the story of how they came to be able to work together – they’re not quite there yet as it ends, but they’re getting closer. I doubt they’ll ever become completely smooth and friendly – it wouldn’t be a wacky manga if that happened – but I expect they’ll settle down and start battling some more dangerous spirits in the next volume.
Inukami! is based on a light novel series by Arisawa (and his afterword mentions a new anime series as well – the Japanese are never satisfied with a story in one medium, are they?), but makes sense all by itself. The art is mostly easy to follow, and tends towards the shonen end (despite Yoko’s dinner-plate eyes on the front cover). It’s a decent horny-guy-and-magical-girl manga, for those who like such things.
Vampire Kisses: Blood Relations, Vol. 2
By Ellen Schreiber; Art by Rem
Tokyopop/Katherine Tegen Books, October 2008, $9.99
Vampire Kisses: Blood Relations is something else again: a comics-format story (with some manga touches, but a style that mostly aims towards the Western) set in the world of a series of young adult novels by Schreiber. (There are five novels to date; the first book – and series title – is Vampire Kisses.) Blood Relations doesn’t say exactly, but it seems to be an original story in the same world, and not an adaptation of any of the novels.
The set-up knows how generic it is: Raven Madison is apparently the one Goth high school girl in Dullsville – yes, I hear the thudding impact of Schrieber’s heavy hand as well – who’s “greatest wish has come true – she’s dating a real vampire.” Her boyfriend, Alexander Sterling, is described in Tiger Beat terms: “…lives in a mansion…a sensitive artist, this pale prince of darkness has soulful eyes and a heart to match. …kind and gentle.” (Oooooh! He’s so dreamy!) Raven also has a best friend, Becky Miller, who doesn’t do much here – her primary function is to prove that Raven isn’t an utter outcast.
What seems to be the regular supporting cast – Becky’s jock boyfriend and the jock who teases Raven because he’s secretly in love with her – has been shoved into the background to accommodate a gang of half-vampires, led by Alexander’s cousin Claude, who are in town to get some vials of blood (hidden by Alexander’s now-dead grandmother) that can turn them into full vampires. They’re high school jerks rather than dangerous villains, so Alexander and Raven can concoct a plan to lead them to some fake vials and get them to go back to Romania – rather than having to chop their heads off, or do anything like that.
(By the way, this is very thin beer for a vampire series. Alexander doesn’t come out by day, true, and the half-vampires don’t show up in mirrors, but that’s the limit of their vampirism as we see it. Alexander isn’t out drinking blood – his manservant, Jameson – even talks about preparing a goulash for them for dinner – or even nibbling on Raven’s neck. It’s a twelve-year-old-girl’s idea of vampirism: being nocturnal and wearing cool dark clothes.)
The plot meanders on, as Raven gets Claude to believe in her fake treasure map and go for the fake vials – but things fall apart in the end, since there’s going to be a Volume 3, and some plot has to be left for that.
I can’t recommend this series in good conscience to anyone over the age of fifteen, or of a particularly masculine demeanor, but it’s pleasant enough as a very, very light romance – hand-holding and a very occasional kiss on the lips division – for younger girls, particularly those whose older sisters love Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton.
Hayate X Blade, Vol. 1
By Shizuru Hayashita
Tor/Seven Seas, November 2008, $9.99
Consumer alert! The “X” in the title is meant to be read as “Cross,” from the evidence of the cover. Please keep that in mind if you need to ask your local manga purveyor about the availability of this series.
Hayate X Blade is set in yet another unlikely high school: Tenchi Academy, an all-girls boarding school which trains the top sword fighters in the country through random fights among the students for status in the form of star points. Students are required to pair up – in semi-permanent, very close pairs – to fight these battles, and the battles are an integral part of their training.
Kurogane Hayate ends up at Tenchi when her twin sister Nagi – the real go-getter of the family – has an injury right as she’s accepted. Tenchi cannot be put off, so Hayate goes under her sister’s name…though that pretense doesn’t last long. Once she realizes she has to pair up – she also gets additional encouragement when she discovers that the yakuza are harassing the orphanage where she grew up over an eight-million-yen debt, which she agrees to pay – she sets her sights on the enigmatic upperclasswoman Mudou Ayana, who has been alone since a major, traumatic breaking of her previous pair.
To back up slightly, and emphasize: Tenchi Academy is filled with overly dramatic young women who each have very, very strong attachments to one other young woman, and who are deeply hurt when their required pair-bondings break up. Does the fact that Hayate continually asks Ayana to marry her shed any more light?
Hayate X Blade isn’t quite a yuri series at this point, but it’s probably a parody of several things even closer to the border than it is. (And I expect we’ll see that some of these pairs are partnered in more than just swordfighting as the series goes on.) It’s also just barely on the serious side of the silly/serious divide; Hayate tells another character “I need to do a flashback!” at the beginning of the second story, which tells us all not to take any of this too deeply.
I’m not really familiar with the genre tropes that Hayate X Blade is making fun of; I haven’t been reading yuri books. It’s fun in a bouncy, energetic way even when the sources of parody are opaque, though, and – once I can manage to keep all of these very similar-looking characters apart – I imagine I like this series quite a bit. Right now, though, I know who Hayate and Ayana are, but a lot of the others are just part of a random mass of “other students.”
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.