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First Impressions 4: Honey and Clover, and Swan

Dear Readers,

Here are two more first volumes, these two from popular series that I found I didn’t like as much as their popularity suggested I should.

Honey and Clover by Chica Umino. Viz. Retail $9.99. Rated T+ for older teen. 10 volumes (still ongoing in Japan; 1 released here).

Honey and Clover centers around a group of poor eclectic students at an art college that live in the same tiny, rundown apartment building. There’s a large cast of characters but these are the main ones: Morita is a weirdo genius slob who’s been in college for many years, and who leaves for weeks at a time and comes back exhausted and loaded with money. Mayama is a fairly normal architecture student about to graduate, but with hints of a mysterious past. And the last is a very average guy, the hero, Takemoto, who doesn’t have any real aim in life except he’s studying architecture as well.

One day they meet a tiny relative of a professor who enters the school as a Freshman. She’s Hanamoto Hagumi and both Takemoto and Morita instantly fall in love with her cuteness. They fall for her but she’s never anything but a doll, even in the drawings. It’s a bit disturbing. She’s not much interested in them though; she’s a genius as sculpture and lives for that. And shiny pink mules. And meat. She isn’t your typical heroine. But then, this isn’t exactly a romance.

The story goes on, with little slices of life, some more interesting than others. Takemoto tries to find common ground with Hagumi and ends up trying to design a rococco warddrobe for her caveman-inspired doll clothes. A tenant returns from the country with meat and vegetables, and they feel better for eating until he leaves again.

You know, what this manga reminds me of is Seinfeld. It’s really not about anything. It’s just episodes about their lives, revealing their characters and friendships, but not really taking you any place. It’s kind of interesting. It’s kind of funny. It’s good at revealing who the guys are. I’m assuming the love story goes somewhere, maybe. But all in all, it seems something to relax with when you don’t want to think about anything yourself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. B.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Swan by Ariyoshi Kyoko. CMX. Retail $9.99. Rated E for Everyone. 21 volumes (complete in Japan; 12 released here)

This is one of the toughest reviews I’ve had to write. I’m just not sure what to make of this rather famous shoujo series.

On the one hand, it’s a serious story about ballet, and the rise of a ballerina from being someone who has a lot to learn, to the top of her form. The art used to tell the story is gorgeous, albeit a little dated since it’s from the 70s. The heroine isn’t a genius who rockets to the top, but someone at the bottom of her class who keeps screwing up. Because of that, both she and the reader learn a lot about what it takes to be a successful ballet dancer. This is a story about the sweat and the work and the sacrifices and the pain of being a great dancer.

But on the other hand, it’s so freaking melodramatic, tears and wailing and gushing over everything. I’ve never seen so many exclamation points. This her revelation over ballet after she’s lost a big contest and had her bubble burst, when she sees the winning performance by the people she met. Her thoughts surround her jumping through the clouds, tears overflowing:

“I get it now!

I can feel it exploding in my heart… Like I’m going to burst! Because of them, in just that short time!

Everything they told me… Everything they did…It was all about the discipline of ballet!

Now I want the harsh world of ballet! I want it more than ever!

I want a teacher who will mold me into something beautiful! I want it now, more than ever!

I want to dance!

I want to be with the others, those brilliant, beautiful dancers.

I want to take this passion and pour my heart and soul into training!”

Good thoughts really, but the way they’re expressed… I want to read it, and yet don’t.

I will recommend this with caveats. If you are an aspiring ballet dancer, or even if you just love ballet this might well be a great series for you to buy. And those with youngsters should note that this is the first series I’ve reviewed here with a general rating, acceptable for everyone, so those with children 8-12 who are thinking about ballet could buy it for them. It would be the perfect introduction to the real world of dance, I think. But I recommend buying the first volume or reading it in the library so you or they get a feel for what it’s like.

Many people have loved this series through the years. I do not love this first book, but I don’t want to discourage others from trying it if they’re interested in the subject and think they can get past the melodrama. B-.

Sincerely,

ジェーン

(Jān)

These can be purchased or pre-ordered at most bookstores, or they can be found at a discount at one of my favorites places to buy manga: Honey and Clover; Swan

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

24 Comments

  1. Estara
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 15:28:45

    I think the melodrama and the incredible attempt to translate ballet into non-moving pictures is what people like about it. There’s nothing quite like it available (I bet Glass Mask is similar in the theatre field) – Germans who have watched Mila Superstar (which does the same with volleyball and is an anime), and liked it, would like this.

    Honey & Clover is about the whole group of young students, so shouldn’t it be more like Friends?… although I have to admit I have never watched that, heh.

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  2. Sarah
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 15:46:29

    This isn’t related to this review, rather to your previous manga review for Sand Chronicles. I went out and bought it a few days ago and devoured it in one sitting. I really enjoyed it and I have to thank you for the wonderful review. I am just starting to read manga so I’ve been paying close attention to your reviews.

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  3. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 15:48:12

    I guess there are people out there who like the melodrama, but I can’t stand it in romance and can’t stand it in manga (and can’t stand it in movies either.). People need to be aware of it before they buy into the series.

    I didn’t watch Friends either, but a famous catchphrase about Seinfeld is that it’s a show about nothing, and the story reads like the show, so it seemed appropriate. :)

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  4. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 15:56:49

    Sarah, volume 2 of Sand Chronicles comes out in May. I can’t wait to read it! I’m so glad you enjoyed the first volume.

    You might like Sorcerers and Secretaries by Amy Kim Ganter as well. It’s only 2 volumes, and both are out. It’s a nice romance. I reviewed it here.

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  5. Sarah
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 18:01:36

    Actually, as I just discovered, Sand Chronivles Volume 2 is shipping from Amazon right now. I don’t know where to buy manga besides Amazon and at Borders/B&N so I did order it. Do you know how many volumes Sand Chronicles will turn out to be?

    I also order Sorcerers and Secretaries. Thanks for that recommendation too. It sounds really good from the review and the graphics were really good from the scenes you posted.

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  6. Liviania
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 19:06:29

    Huh, I like ballet but I’m not fond of melodrama. Perhaps I could find a scantilation with less exclamation points?

    As for Honey and Clover, I’m glad to find someone else who doesn’t love it. I always feel like a party-spoiler since people gush about it. (I read it, because I get it in Shojo Beat, but if the mag stopped carrying it I wouldn’t care.)

    @Sarah: Comic book stores often carry manga – and they’re more likely to have clearance volumes. http://freecomicbookday.com has a good locator. You can only find participating stores, but there are likely to be some in your area.

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  7. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 19:35:47

    Sarah, I usually list how many volumes the series has in the header I put above each book section. Unfortunately, I had bad information and said 8. It’s really 10 volumes. That’s just enough I think for a meaty story that doesn’t try to overextend itself with filler.

    I also put links at the bottom of the review to the place I usually order manga from, although I use a few other stores too. If you can’t find something at animecastle, you could try justmanga.com, or rightstuf.com. Discountanimedvd is cheap but sometimes they say things are in stock that aren’t.

    I don’t like Amazon (aside from last week here LOL) because they’re generally slow in stocking and getting things out to people. Manga dealers are fast (and if you can order straight from the publisher it’s fastest :))

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  8. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 19:41:45

    Liviania, Swan has never been scanlated. I don’t think I would read it even if it had. :-/

    Honey and Clover left me wondering why it was so lauded. I’m thinking it may be because of the anime. Perhaps that’s better? I’ve never seen it. But because of that, it joins the ranks with several other high profile series I just don’t “get”.

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  9. Liviania
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 22:04:48

    I think there’s a live-action drama that many people love.

    What other high profile series don’t you “get”?

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  10. (Jān)
    Apr 24, 2008 @ 22:56:45

    What other high profile series don't you “get”?

    One Piece. I mean, it’s cute and imaginative, and I can see little kids liking it. But I really get bored with the dragged on fights and the repetitive nature. And I really don’t understand slashing those guys. But to each his own.

    Slam Dunk. OK, I forced myself up to Vol 11 and the art started getting better. When the guy draws basketball games he’s amazing. But outside that? The humor doesn’t translate for me, and the characters are painful to look at.

    Hana Yori Dango. Worst. Ending. Ever. OK at least no one died. But after 36(!) volumes, I want a resolution to the freaking romance!!! Why do people love it? It isn’t even that good a story.

    20th Century Boys. Supposed to be a masterpiece. I’m a few volumes into it, and unless I’m really mis-reading it, they’ve given away everything there is to be suspenseful about. I have no desire to read further now.

    GTO. One of the first I ever tried. I couldn’t stand it. It must be a guy thing.

    Azumanga Daioh. One of everyone’s favorite comedies, except mine. I really really tried to find this amusing. It just bored the heck out of me.

    Negima! – I positively loathe this one.

    Evangelion (will they tar and feather me for saying this? No, that will be the next) – This wasn’t bad. It was pretty good for a mecha series. But I don’t like most mecha series and so found it only average SF.

    Gundam anything. Since I don’t like mecha (except Escaflowne, though the manga for that sucks), Gundams are pretty much out. And any slash between the prepubescent boys is just not for me.

    I can see Slam Dunk growing on me, but it’s been a really slow start. I’d rather read his Vagabond.

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  11. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 01:12:29

    Mhm, the one thing I think hinders the manga world is the strange almost childish and irrational way that characters seem to express themselves. Their behavior is simply not realistic, but well I have no idea if in the lands they were released people don’t act that way. I guess it all boils down to cultural differnces. I would really like some of these plots would meld with western influence over characters. That would be simply cool.

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  12. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 01:30:43

    I would argue that since by far manga outsells Western comics around the world, that it’s not hindered at all.

    I think that part of what you dislike is based upon cultural differences, if you’re talking about the way they’re drawn. A lot of the overexaggeration is part of the Japanese cultural heritage. I liken it to the masks of Noh theatre. You either learn their tropes and read things like that from their perspective or you don’t.

    But as for characters acting realistically, you simply need to read the right manga. The things I’ve been reviewing the past couple of weeks are romances mostly written for young teenage girls, ages 11-14. Would you argue that Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, written for the same age group, is more realistic? Naruto is written for boys the same age. Is it really less realistic than Harry Potter? Of course not.

    The vast majority of books brought to the US are for that age range, because most Americans just don’t accept that comics don’t have to be kids books. There are books for older audiences, but very few. I challenge you to read Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms and tell me it’s childish and irrational.

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  13. henry
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 05:54:00

    The Honey and Clover anime is the anime to watch. It is the quintessential slice-of-life series and only gets better as the story flows on. Having now read the manga I can understand why some people, especially those who were introduced via shojo beat think it’s not worth it’s hype. The manga is good, but the anime production is fantastic- everything from the animation to it’s brilliant soundtrack. Watch out for the anime when it comes out (by VIZ)- you’d be a fool to miss it.

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  14. Krystle
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 07:31:24

    I like manga by Kayono although I’m not sure whether it’s available in English. They’re really sexy!!

    I really enjoyed Hanazakari no kimitachi e (For You in Full Blossom), although like Hana Yori Dango the ending was pretty weak. (Better than the one in the latter though!)

    One of my absolute favourite shoujo mangas’ was Kaikan Phrase by Shinjo Mayu~
    Have you read it?

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  15. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 07:59:39

    I’ve never seen any of Kayono’s titles. They’re kind of mature for the typical shoujo audience. Then again, if they brought Shinjo Mayu over LOL.

    Shinjo Mayu is a guilty pleasure of mine. I wouldn’t recommend any parents give them to their young daughters, but for those who can take them as the hot uber-alpha male (and sometimes @sshole) sexual fantasies that they are, they’re mighty entertaining. My favorite is Akuma na Eros. That sex scene of theirs in hell is yummy.

    By coincidence Kaikan Phrase is one of those series that I mentioned above, where I prefer the anime. The music is great, if repeated a little too much, and I love the beginning where the show focuses on the band getting together.

    I *loved* Hana Kimi! I didn’t mind the end to that though it could have been better. But it seemed appropriate. That’s another I need to review.

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  16. Liviania
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 12:38:02

    Hmm, of the ones you mentioned the two I would defend are Hana Yori Dango and Gundam.

    Of course, I haven’t read the end of Hana Yori Dango yet because I’ve been to busy and it’s not on top of my list of titles to read, but I always enjoy it. In a way, I’m not that fond of the main relationship, but I still have fun because the sense of humor fits mine perfectly. If there is no resolution, I’m cool with that. Their relationship is never truly getting together. When two people are that tempestuous, I always have trouble believing HEA.

    As for Gundam, Gundam Wing is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m also pretty sure I’m one of the few people alive that likes Endless Waltz.

    I started Kaiken Phrase and loved it, then stopped for some reason . . . I should go read it again. Sometimes I try to balance too many titles at once and one gets lost in the shuffle. And now I also need to find the anime.

    I hope as the audience US companies are currently targeting (11-14) grows older, more adult titles will be brought over. Plus, many of those kids are hooking their parents on anime and manga. (It’s a sound financial decision. This was my dad buys the titles and I watch them. ^_^ I’m still working on my mom. And I completely unintentionally infected my dorm mates. It’s their fault for stealing Pretear from my DVD case.)

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  17. Jill A
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 12:57:26

    I’m not surprised Swan is so melodramatic, but I wonder if a different translation could make it seem less…unnatural.

    I also don’t like a lot of high-profile manga, but different ones :D I quietly despise Shinjou Mayu, and love Slam Dunk ^_^ One Piece…never read, but it doesn’t look like anything special to me *ducks*.

    Hana Yori Dango…I loved it until around…22 or so, but it was dragged on WAY too long. I find a lot of long shoujo series do that – I stopped reading HanaKimi, Parfaittic and Tea Prince after about 12 volumes (well, Parfaittic after 4), when I could see that they were the never-ending back and forth type. I get annoyed with heros/heroines who continue to flip back and forth or be dense to the point of stupidity. I’m afraid that Special A might go that way too, I haven’t read past Volume 8 because of that.

    Now I have an unofficial policy of not reading shoujo series that are over 15 volumes :) It’s saved me lots of money and time. Shounen I find aren’t so bad because it’s fight scenes that are dragged out, which you can get through quickly. But emotional angst…I just don’t appreciate repeated hand-wringing and soul searching. Romance yes, angst no.

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  18. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:02:09

    Whoops, my response to Henry seems to have been lost.

    Thank you for the information on the Honey and Clover anime. You make it sound really enticing. Though I tend to prefer manga, there are a number of series for which I prefer the anime (see my Haruka and Princess Tutu reviews). Sometimes the story works better with action and voice talent, and sometimes the creators put so much love into it that it’s just a fantastic thing to watch. It sounds like H&C is the latter. I’ll pick i up when it’s released here. ^__^

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  19. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:15:37

    Jill A, I see Shinjo Mayu as much like Brenda Joyce and her ilk. You can either laugh and go along for the ride, or you’re probably going to hate it for what it represents. I can see both sides, but fall on the former.

    There aren’t many longer shoujo series I like either. But I would recommend Basara. :) And Fruits Basket, which ended up being 23 volumes with none of the standard shoujo romance filler to be seen. I think what makes those two different is that they contain large numbers of three dimensional supporting characters that help keep the story moving with a real plot so there’s never a need for that awful filler.

    I think One Piece is fun for its exuberance. But while I can accept, for instance, a five chapter fight in Naruto, in One Piece it drags on for ten chapters and isn’t interesting because there never seems to be the character development involved in OP that there is in a Naruto fight.

    Slam Dunk, I’m just going to keep trying. The all-time number one manga in Japan is worth the effort.

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  20. (Jān)
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:17:40

    Liviania, I liked the Kaiken Phrase anime about up to episode 20, which coincidentally is when the heroine appears LOL. For a better band series, go with Beck.

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  21. Estara
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 13:23:12

    Another review on Swan WITH PICTURES for those who want to check the melodrama and the ballet, as well:

    http://shaenon.livejournal.com/28663.html

    … you have to scroll down a bit.

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  22. Liviania
    Apr 25, 2008 @ 23:33:54

    Beck, I know I should be watching it already. Many people have told me. ^_^

    Ooh, I second the rec for Basara. I utterly, utterly adore that series. The random things you find on library shelves . . .

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  23. Harry~DayDream
    Apr 26, 2008 @ 03:02:09

    I think that part of what you dislike is based upon cultural differences, if you're talking about the way they're drawn. A lot of the overexaggeration is part of the Japanese cultural heritage. I liken it to the masks of Noh theatre. You either learn their tropes and read things like that from their perspective or you don't.

    But as for characters acting realistically, you simply need to read the right manga.

    You are definitely right. I personally do enjoy manga and the artwork, but as I said there are cultural differences that don’t quite allow me the full experience. Of course I have read extremely few manga, because the market in my country is not exactly open for such products (we don’t even have comicbooks) so I haven’t found the right one.

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