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MANGA REVIEW:  Strobe Edge volume 1 by Io Sakisaka

MANGA REVIEW: Strobe Edge volume 1 by Io Sakisaka

strobe-edge

Story & Art: Io Sakisaka
Publisher: Shueisha/Viz
Rated: T for teen
Volumes: 1/10

Dear readers,

In my ongoing quest to reacquaint myself with the shoujo genre, I stumbled across this new title from Viz. The series completed its run in Japan in 2010 but was just officially published in English this month. While straight up romance manga is typically not my thing, I decided to give this a go since I heard good things about it.

Ninako Kinoshita is a sweet girl, who unfortunately is very naïve. She tends to take people at their word, even when she shouldn’t. For example, she buys a sales pitch as absolute truth rather than realizing it was a marketing ploy. Normally, this character type annoys me but Ninako is just so nice. Disliking her is on par with kicking a puppy. I can’t do it.

It helps that her innocence is simultaneously charming and awkward. This is exemplified by her views on love. Ninako has never experienced love and has no idea how to identify it. She has a childhood friend, Daiki, who she spends a lot of time with and who is obviously interested in taking their relationship beyond the platonic. She likes him a great deal, and her circle of friends has been encouraging her to go out with him for a while. As a result, Ninako has half-convinced herself that she must be in love with Daiki.

Then one day she has a close encounter with the most popular boy in school, Ren Ichinose. Ren is basically the school idol. The girls all adore him but from afar. No one has a chance with him. But thanks to a series of events, Ninako crosses that invisible boundary and finds herself interacting with Ren. And the more she gets to know him, the more she realizes what love truly is.

This is the first volume of a ten volume series so as with most manga series, I consider this installment to be more of an introduction to the characters and set-up. That said, I thought it did a great job allowing the story to unfold at its own pace while also avoiding the long, dragged out plot devices used to heighten drama. For example, it’d be easy to set up a love triangle between Daiki and Ren but the manga doesn’t go there. Daiki is eliminated as a potential love interest early on, as Ninako decides to remain true to her love for Ren, even while knowing that he is unavailable.

It’s a decision that I consider to be very in-character for Ninako. As sweet and kind as she is, I can’t see her agreeing to date someone while being in love with someone else, even if that person is unavailable. She just wants to enjoy that love for what it is, for as long as it lasts. It’s a very pure and innocent look on love, and I think that’s part of this manga’s appeal.

Ren is also not the character I was expecting. Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong titles but I’m used to the popular boy being kind of a jerk and bad boy. With a heroine like Ninako, I was afraid we’d end up with an asshole hero who’d bully her. But Ren’s none of these things. He’s quiet and aloof. And through his interactions with Ninako, we also see that he’s kind and thoughtful. I liked this a lot.

Sweet is the best adjective to describe Strobe Edge. It doesn’t rely on melodrama or over the top hijinks to make a compelling story. Instead it follows the story of girl learning what it means to love someone, as well as what happens when your feelings are unrequited. The events that occur within the story are things that can happen in your everyday life. Don’t let the admittedly cliché premise fool you. This is a manga where execution matters and characterization makes a world of difference. Strobe Edge delivers on all fronts. B+

My regards,
Jia

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MANGA REVIEW:  Jiu Jiu volume 2 by Touya Tobina

MANGA REVIEW: Jiu Jiu volume 2 by Touya Tobina

jiujiu2

Story & Art: Touya Tobina
Publisher: Hakusensha/Viz
Rated: T+ for older teen
Volumes: 2/5

Dear readers,

A few weeks ago, I read the first volume of Jiu Jiu, a shoujo manga series about Takamichi, the heir of a demon hunting family, and her two shapeshifting bodyguard-familiars, Night and Snow. Although the pacing was uneven, I liked Takamichi’s internal conflict and continue on to the second volume to see if the writing improved. Turns out: not so much.

Random is the adjective I’d used to describe volume 2. After the events of volume 1, Takamichi has thawed and started to form emotional attachments again. Night and Snow are thrilled at this development because they adore their mistress. Unfortunately, this leads to some complications.

First, Takamichi encounters a vampire prince who must drink the blood of a virgin in order to obtain his full power and heritage. Night and Snow are predictably horrified by this development but because the vampire initially takes the form of a little boy, Takamichi buys his fabricated story and wants to help him find his way home. But when he’s not in human form, the vampire takes the form of a pig. Yes. You read that correctly.

I like crack as much as the next person. I did use to read the Black Dagger Brotherhood once upon a time before I broke that habit, but some things just don’t work for me. Apparently, flying vampire pigs are one of them. Other readers may feel differently. Even as I write this, I’m fully aware other people eat this up in manga.

Secondly, Takamichi, her bodyguards, and her friends take a trip to the beach. But while there, they stay at a supposedly haunted house. Except the supernatural creature in residence is not a ghost. It’s a selkie. A lesbian selkie who forms an immediate attachment to Takamichi.

By this point, I was struggling to figure out what was going on and what kind of manga this was meant to be. Was it meant to be an episodic supernatural slice of life, in which Takamichi encounters various supernatural creatures and helps them? Is this further set-up, in which Takamichi gathers more supernatural beasties around her, before we go on to the bigger plot? I had no clue.

And while I loved the Takamichi of volume 1, I found myself less enamored with her in volume 2. I suppose I found her rapid turnaround in which anything cute and helpless merits her help, no matter that the circumstances may say otherwise. I can’t say I found it believable that someone who hunted monsters would buy a vampire’s story that he was lost and needed to find his way home. Surely she’s dealt with child monsters before? On the other hand, I found her brusque handling of the selkie to be more in-character.

I definitely see the vampire as trouble. He wants Takamichi and messes with Night and Snow to get her. I can’t say I’m keen on this sort of thing. It only reinforces the impression that Night and Snow are mentally children, no matter their physical appearance. I could be misreading the foreshadowing, but there are definite hints that Night and Snow’s feelings for Takamichi go beyond the familial and platonic, or will in the future. If anything, the developments in this volume made me more uncomfortable about any future romantic prospects for Takamichi.

At this point, I have no idea what this manga is aiming to be. There wasn’t enough meaty supernatural conflict to sustain an interesting external plot. The romantic aspects, such as they were, are clumsy at best and uncomfortable at worst. The comedic bits don’t work for me, but humor is tough to pull off since it’s so individual. I’m not sure I want to continue this series but other readers might feel differently. There’s potential buried under all the randomness. C-

My regards,
Jia

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