Manga Round-Up 07.09

honeyhunt-header.jpgA quick look at the first volumes of three new manga series: the high school shojo stories Orange Planet and Honey Hunt, and the fetisth-tastic Maid War Chronicle.

 

 

 

 

Orange Planet Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

172 pgs., B&W; 10.99

(W & A: Haruka Fukushima)

 

Honey Hunt Vol. 1 (VIZ Media)

192 pgs., B&W; 8.99

(W & A: Miki Aihara)

 

Maid War Chronicle Vol. 1 (Del Rey)

224 pgs, B&W; 10.99

(W & A: RAN)

 

Click for a larger image.In my more expansive moments I like to think of manga as the Elizabethan stage of today. Pick yourself up off the floor, please, and consider the following similarities:

•·        There’s a constant demand for new material, and an always-renewing body of creative people ready and willing to supply it.

•·        Barriers to entry are low at the bottom rungs of the business and if a series catches on it’s possible to move up quickly, while if it doesn’t the writer/illustrator can just try again because the cost of failure is not that great

•·        It’s an unabashedly commercial enterprise whose purpose is entertainment, not intellectual prestige or affiliation with the upper class

•·        Limited technical resources are available and there are well-established narrative and artistic conventions, so the challenge is to create something new within fairly stringent conventions.

I could go on: pirating is a fact of life, tons of people are actually making their living in the field (as opposed to working a day job in order to pursue your art on evenings and weekends) and most of what’s created is eminently forgettable while occasionally a real talent will emerge from the pack. 

With those thoughts in mind, I’m sorry to say that none of the new shojo series I’m reviewing this week were created by the modern equivalent of Shakespeare or Marlowe; Nicholas Udall, perhaps. And who knows: in 400 years, graduate students may be exhaustively dissecting Sailor Moon and Kaze Hikaru in comparative literature seminars, trying to find embedded clues about contemporary culture and mores embedded. And if not, at least they’re meeting someone’s entertainment needs today.

Orange Planet wastes no time telling you its main premise: It’s Raining Boys! Seventh-grader Rui is an orphan who’s been writing letters to her teddy bear since childhood. Graduating to adolescence she’s on the way to deliver a love letter to a real-life boy when she gets caught in a fire. Fortunately she’s rescued by Eisuke, who then claims that as he saved her from the fire, and lost his home in the process, he has the right to live with her-and she can’t avoid him since he’s also a teaching intern at her school.  Meanwhile she enjoys crawling into bed with Taro, the boy next door, which he finds a bit baffling since there’s really nothing going on. And then there’s Kaoru, the boy she really likes.

Click for a larger image.Haruka Fukushima (Instant Teen: Just Add Nuts, Cherry Juice) is a practiced expert at teenage soap operas, and Orange Planet is no exception. There’s nothing new in either the story or the art, just formulas executed reasonably well. The storytelling is overly chaotic for my taste, but it reflects the tumultuous emotions of young adolescents (a phase of life I am only too happy to have left behind) and is mirrored in the art as well, so I’d have to say it’s a deliberate stylistic choice. On the sociological side, it tells you something about the level of innocence expected from the shojo manga audience (this one is rated T, for ages 13+) that sexual activity is not even considered as a possibility despite the compromising circumstances. I’m also wondering if it is really common in modern Japan for girls in junior high to live alone and support herself, as Rui does? If not, why is this an acceptable storytelling premise? There must be a doctoral dissertation in there somewhere.  Extras include a comic detailing the author’s trip to a book signing, another comic starring Rue’s teddy bear, and four pages of translation notes.

Miki Sahara also looks at the difficulties of an overly emancipated child in Honey Hunt. High schooler Yura is left largely on her own while her parents are busy being famous: her father was the first Japanese composer to win an Academy Award, while her mother is a popular actress. They’re also busy behaving badly– Mom’s having an affair with Yura’s tutor and Dad’s impregnated his mistress-and the resultant filing for divorce is the delight of the Japanese tabloid press. Yura finds herself hounded by paparazzi and says something unfortunate to the television cameras, which of course comes to haunt her. I will grant that I haven’t read every manga ever written, but the distorting effects of the story-hungry mass media is a theme I don’t recall having seen treated before.

Click for a larger image.The story becomes more conventional as Yura decides that the solution to her problem is to become a more famous actress than her mother. There’s just one problem: she lacks any apparent talent, and her first auditions do not go well. But just as in the movies, Yura acquires a protector who not only imparts the secrets to success, but also becomes a romantic interest. It’s onward and upward from there onwards, and Yura begins to have a career to manage at the same time she’s dealing with the first awakenings of adolescent love. The art of Honey Hunt is darker and more angular than your typical shojo manga, matching the tone of the story: even when things are going well, there’s always a sinister undertone as if it could all come to an end at any minute. Honey Hunt is rated OT for ages 16+.

And then for something completely different, there’s RAN’s Maid War Chronicle. It’s a trippy mashup of maid cosplay, randomly assorted medievalisms and Victorianisms, and elements of the fantasy adventure genre. The story is set in the mythical Kingdom of Arbansbool within the Land of Creo (the author even supplies a map), where the main character Cacao is court maid to the monumentally spoiled Prince of Arbansbool. It’s a good thing for him there are no sexual harassment laws in Creo or he’d be doing life at hard labor. One day Cacao returns home from running errands to find the castle under siege, and after some mumbo jumbo she and her fellow maids Vanilla, Bana, Liqueur, Cogna and Mint (really) form the Order of Maids to defend the kingdom. But the shreds of a story are beside the point: Maid War Chronicle is fan service from start to finish, so if girls in ruffly maid costumes are your thing then this is the series for you. All others should seek elsewhere, unless of course you’re writing your PhD dissertation on the Japanese fascination with cosplay. Extras include three pages of translation notes and a preview of volume 2. Maid War Chronicle is rated OT for ages 16+. | Sarah Boslaugh

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