Manga Friday: The Travails of Schoolgirls
Life’s tough when you’re a teenage girl – sometimes, it’s even almost as tough as those teenage girls think it is. This week, three “normal girls” with gigantic eyes try to get through their massive problems…most of which, as you might have guessed, have to do with boys.
, Vol. 1
By Haruka Fukushima
Del Rey Manga, April 2009, $10.99
People in manga quite often have very odd living arrangements. Let’s take Rui, the heroine of Orange Planet, as an example: her parents died six years ago, so she moved in with her aunt then. But now – at the age of maybe fourteen – that aunt has gotten married, so Rui lives all by herself in an apartment and has an early-morning paper route…to pay her rent? for spending money? just because? And, after that paper route, she has the habit of climbing into bed (purely for warmth) with the “adorable boy next door,” Taro, who also seems to be her ex-boyfriend. And then, just a few pages into this book, a strange older man – whose name we and Rui don’t learn for a while – moves in with her because his crazy ex-girlfriend (one of many) burned his house down. And then, of course, he turns out to be the new teaching intern, Eisuke.
Luckily, Kaoru, the boy that Rui’s interested in – she’s writes her first love note ever to him on page eleven – doesn’t live next to her. But, of course, the old-friend-who’s-known-her-since-childhood, Taro, has discovered that he’s in love with her, but he can’t tell her, or the story would end suddenly. So we’ve got the usual shojo love triangle (with a girl at the vertex), with the optional advisor living (semi-secretly) with the girl – call it Shojo Plot # 7B.
Fukushima tells that story in a clean, modern shojo style – yes, everyone has gigantic eyes and no noses to speak of, but the backgrounds and page layouts aren’t cluttered and flowery like the height of ‘80s shojo frippery, and her thin, elongated bodies are exaggerated but clearly reminiscent of the real coltishness of fast-growing early teens. Orange Planet is a standard story done professionally and with a real love for the material, which goes pretty far. But I still don’t have any clue what the title means.
Ichiroh!, Vol. 1
Yen Press, May 2009, $10.99
Nanako is a few years older – about eighteen or nineteen – and she’s just failing the entrance examinations to the college of her choice as this book begins. (Any readers who recognize the word Ichiro will have known that already – it’s a Japanese term that refers to the first year of being a ronin, of studying for a college’s entrance exam after failing it for the first time.) There’s a love triangle of a sort here as well – Nanako is studying with her best friend Akane (the obligatory lazy, happy, video-game-playing character), who also failed, and their friend Shino (who got into college, but hangs around because she loves Nanako) is also nearby.
Add several other larger-than-life characters – Nanako’s weirdly possessive older brother, the usual attractive young female teacher who continually talks about inappropriate things, and the crusty old lady who runs the dorm/temple the girls live in, among others – and you’ve got all of the ingredients for a comedy manga. Ichiro! crams all of that into a four-panel format, so the panels are all the same size and shape – and, most of the time, have to fit two or three figures in as well. There’s a nice-sized color section up front, though, and the characters are easier to tell apart than some other 4-panel comics I’ve read. (The hair color-coding wasn’t even particularly necessary.)
Comedies like this are based half on cultural references – such as the expected lives of teenagers cramming for a whole year to retake an exam – and half on references to previous stories and stock characters. So they’re not for new manga readers – you need to get used to the comics-page stories, and learn the general manga language, before you can move on to a book like Ichiroh!
But if you have a decent idea of what’s going on – I’m only about halfway there myself – it’s very funny.
13th Boy, Vol. 1
By SangEun Lee
Yen Press, June 2009, $10.99
Korean comics for girls have some of the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen in any kind of art – they reach Margaret Keane levels, and become mesmerizing pools that suck the unwary reader deep into an almost nightmarish comics page. (The title page of 13th Boy – actually a two-page spread – is a great example of this, with two boys with contrasting hair colors, three-foot necks, pointy little chins, tousled windblown hair, and eyes the size of truck tires staring out at the reader like four Twilight Zones of soulfulness.)
The horror of unlikely body images aside, 13th Boy is a funny and fast-moving story for girls, and it’s, yes, yet another love triangle. Hee-So is fourteen, and declared her love for schoolmate Won-Jun on one of those appalling reality TV shows about a month ago. He’s been dating her since then – we readers can see, as the book goes on, that his heart was never in it – but he breaks up with her at the very beginning of this book, devastating her as only a fourteen-year-old girl can be devastated.
But then there’s Whie-Young, who is Won-Jun’s only friend. He seems to be interested in Hee-So. (And Won-Jun, as the book goes on, looks to be more interested in that leg of the triangle.)
So there’s a lot of drama and emoting – again, as only a fourteen-year-old girl with eyes bigger than her palms can do. But there’s also an odd whiff of magical realism – Hee-So has a talking cactus named Beatrice who’s an important secondary character, and Whie-Young has subtle but very real supernatural powers. That gives 13th Boy a sense of possibility and uncertainty that a lot of similar books don’t have – sure, the odds are that Hee-So will end up with Whie-Young eventually, but a lot of odd things could happen first. (And there’s a chance that something entirely different will happen.) 13th Boy doesn’t break any new ground – except, perhaps, in eye size – but it’s a bit more expansive and interesting than the usual love-triangle story about a fourteen-year old girl, and I definitely appreciated that.
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 cur
rent 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 to submit books for review should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.