And the award goes to…

And the award goes to…

I’ve noticed that many of the manga series I’ve read have won awards in Japan. For some reason, I have a habit of picking up award-winning manga, and in most cases I didn’t find out these series had won awards until after I had already read and enjoyed them. There are a few series I got interested in because I had read positive reviews (particularly for Kimi ni Todoke), but that’s different because I purposely sought to find out if these series had critical acclaim before I tried them out for myself.  Of the awards given to manga in Japan, the two I’m most familiar with are the Kodansha and Shogagukan manga awards. Here’s a list of series I’ve read that have won either of these prizes in the shojo category:

Kodansha Manga Award winners:

  • Sailor Moon (1993)
  • Kodocha (1998)
  • Peach Girl (1999)
  • Fruits Basket (2001)
  • Honey and Clover (2003)
  • Nodame Cantabile (2004)
  • Kimi ni Todoke (2008)

Shogakukan Manga Award winners:

  • Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) (1995)
  • Nana (2002)
  • Love*Com (2003)
  • Sand Chronicles (2004)
  • We Were There (2004)
  • Black Bird(2008)

    The fact that the series has won the Kodansha Manga Award has been mentioned on every cover of Nodame Cantabile released so far.

Many of my favorite series are on these lists, including Kodocha, Boys Over Flowers, Nana, and We Were There. But I don’t think it’s just coincidence that many of the series I’ve read and consider my favorites are award winners. After all, these series were obviously popular and acclaimed enough to be honored in Japan, which means that they’re more likely to be licensed in America in the hopes of replicating that success. However, I don’t usually see manga publishers advertise series’ awards as a selling point – the only manga I can think of where the fact that the series won an award was mentioned on the book itself is Nodame Cantabile. I also think it’s interesting to look at the list of award-winners in comparison to the bestsellers lists in America. Although there is definitely some overlap (Fruits Basket, Sailor Moon and Black Bird have frequently made it onto the Top 10 Bestsellers for manga), many of these award winners haven’t done particulary well sales-wise in the U.S. Meanwhile, many of the most popular series here in America haven’t won any awards in Japan, such as Vampire Knight and Skip Beat! And just winning an award doesn’t automatically mean a series is great; I still wonder how Black Bird managed to steal a win when it’s a pure smut-fest. Still, I can’t help but think that since I’ve just happened to stumble upon award-winning series by accident, I must just have good taste. 😛

Advertisements
Kodocha: Why I love Sana and Akito

Kodocha: Why I love Sana and Akito

(There are some spoilers in this post, so please be cautious when reading). Sana and Akito were probably the first couple from an anime or manga I got really obsessed with. The fact that they are, alongside Tsukushi and Tsukasa in Boys Over Flowers, my favorite couple is probably why Kodocha is one of my all-time favorite series. Almost everyone I know who has seen or read Kodocha loves Sana and Akito, but I feel that many people love them for different reasons. Many people get caught up in the fact that they are children, and thus appeal to people because any romantic interaction between them is sweet and innocent not unlike Sakura and Shaoran in Cardcaptor Sakura. But the fact that Akito and Sana are eleven when they first start falling for each other isn’t why I love them so much, and I actually feel that by sweeping their relationship under the ‘child romance’ category doesn’t do them justice. This is especially because Sana and Akito are unlike so many children presented in anime and manga; they are far more complex than just being shy and innocent. While Sana can be a little naïve about love, she is very aware of other people’s feelings and often says things that are beyond her age. And Akito, due to his troubled family history, is very savvy about the world around him and his sullen nature makes him seem more mature than other boys his age.

In the beginning of the series, Akito and Sana start off as enemies because Akito is causing trouble in their classroom and eventually Sana gets so sick of his ‘monkey reign’ that she stands up to him. But when Sana finds out that Akito’s mom died giving birth to him, his sister blames him for their mother’s death, and his father is never at home because he’s working, she decides to help bring Akito’s family closer together. When she succeeds, Akito falls for Sana, and instead of telling her he gives her a kiss in front of their whole class when they’re on a school trip. Sana gets pissed, but when Akito helps her out later on in the series she begins to see him as her “worst enemy and best friend, all rolled into one,” which I absloutely love. One of the things I love about Sana and Akito is that not only are they a great couple – they’re also great friends who are always there for one another. Even better is that they are the only ones who understand each other. Because of his family life, Akito believes he can only see things negatively, and in the beginning of the series the only way he can tell Sana he loves her is by saying he “doesn’t hate” her. But Sana is the one who gets Akito to open up a bit more and stop being gloomy, and she could see that under his ‘Mr. Cool’ act he was lonely. Akito becomes more motivated because of her and eventually pursues his interest in karate because he wants to do something with his life just like Sana is with her acting. And Akito is the only person who sees the real Sana, which allows her to lower her guard around him. At one point in the series, Naozumi wonders when he sees Sana crying what could have happened to her because she’s the strongest person he knows, and Rei similarly ponders how Sana could be so weak when it comes to matters of the heart when she’s normally so fearless. But Sana feels that she’s not really as strong as everyone thinks she is. Probably the best example of this occurs when Sana was worried about her mother’s book being published, which revealed that she was actually adopted, and she kept her worries hidden from everyone by pretending to be her typical hyperactive and cheerful self. Akito, however, was able to tell that something was wrong, and he becomes the person she can confide in. And in many ways, Sana is at her strongest when she’s with Akito – he brings out both her kind, loving side as well as her determined fiestiness. Thus, they both bring out the best in each other. Read more

Watched the anime, didn’t read the manga

Watched the anime, didn’t read the manga

The Kare Kano manga - which I still haven't read.

When it comes to anime and manga, I generally will only watch the anime or read the manga of a series instead of pursuing both. I do this because I get turned off of buying a manga when I already know what happens in a significant portion of the series because I’ve already watched the anime adaptation. There have been some series (such as Boys Over Flowers and Kodocha) that I loved so much that I broke this rule, but I’d say that this holds true for most of my manga collection. However, there are some series I feel like I’ll always wonder if I should have pursued their manga. This is especially true for shojo series because anime adaptations of shojo manga tend to run shorter than shonen series and thus animate only part of the story, which means if you’ve only watched the anime you’re probably missing a bunch of important stuff.  His and Her Circumstances (a.k.a Kare Kano) is the main series that comes to mind – I really liked the anime, and I’ve always been curious about what happens next in the series. In particular, I wanted to learn more about Arima’s ‘dark side,’ which had only just begun to be touched upon in the anime, and I also wanted to see more of Tsubasa and Kazuma’s developing relationship. As soon as I started to seriously consider picking up the manga where the anime left off, I began to hear that the ending of His and Her Circumstances left almost everyone dissatisfied. Spoilers already turn me off from pursuing series, but finding out that even people who loved the series thought it was horrible by the end made me decide not to read the manga. Yet I still feel as though I’m missing out on something, and that maybe I should give it a chance – because it’s not the destination that counts, but rather, the journey.

Another anime I watched that made me wonder if I should read its manga is Fruits Basket. I’ve already made it clear that I find Fruits Basket to be overrated and that I have problems with Tohru. Even though there are parts of the series I do enjoy, such as some of the more tragic storylines involving Hatori and Momiji, I still wasn’t engrossed enough by the series to continue it.  But it’s precisely because I’m so critical of the series that I feel I should read the rest of it. Many fans of the series defend it by arguing that the manga is much better than the anime adaptation, which, like His and Her Circumstances, only told part of the story. Maybe I’m missing something by not reading the series later developments. Maybe the second half is amazingly original and captivating. Maybe there’s some extraordinary quality in the manga that was lost in the anime. Or maybe I should just read the whole thing to confirm to myself that it’s overrated and I was right.

My reluctance to pursue more than one incarnation of a series has even happened when I start off with the manga first. The main series that comes to mind is Nana – I read the first seven volumes of the series in Shojo Beat then collected up to volume twenty-one of the manga as graphic novels. However, I’ve always heard great things about the Nana anime, particularly its music. While this would not normally be very important to me, the fact that Nana‘s plot heavily revolves around music has always made me curious about checking out the anime to find out if the music and voices sound like I imagined them when I read the manga.  But the fact that the anime only goes up to volume eleven of the manga makes me wonder if watching the anime is worth it, especially since it covers material I’ve already read. So do you guys both watch the anime and read the manga of your favorite series, or do you choose between them? Or does it really come down to the series?

Good girls don’t have to be boring: Sawako & Tohru

Good girls don’t have to be boring: Sawako & Tohru

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of Fruits Basket. Even though the series has its touching moments, Fruits Basket often gets praised for being the best at comedy and romance when I feel that there are other shojo series do these things better. My biggest problem with the series, however, is Tohru. I found Tohru Honda to have absolutely no personality – she never stands up for herself, has no distinct likes or dislikes, and I found her constant positivity to be annoying. Soaringwings did an excellent post discussing the flaws of Tohru’s character and why she is ultimately a passive heroine compared to other female shojo protagonists. Although there are many passive shojo heroines, the main character I’ve often seen Tohru compared to is Sawako Kuronoma from Kimi ni Todoke. When I started reading Kimi ni Todoke, I immediately found myself gravitating toward Sawako, the ‘loner’ protagonist who, despite her extreme kindness, has trouble communicating her feelings to others. I began to wonder: how is it that I had such different reactions to these two characters when they share so many of the same personality traits? After giving the question some thought, I began to realizes that many of their shared attributes only skim the surface of these characters. 

Sawako

Tohru and Sawako’s similarities begin with their willingness to bend over backward for the people around them. For example, in Fruits Basket Tohru spends all of her money to buy chocolates for the Sohma family even though she needed it for school. And in Kimi ni Todoke, Sawako does everything from doing all the classroom chores to tutoring her entire class for a test without expecting anything in return. Tohru and Sawako are extremely optimistic, and they each try to see the good in others. Because of their kindness and hyperconsciousness of others, this also means that they have trouble saying what they want and they often feel as though they’re being selfish or inconveniencing the people around them by stating their opinions or desires. Both girls are also purehearted, which is probably why they are so naïve, especially when it comes to romantic matters. However, I feel that Sawako possesses several characteristics that make her very likeable. First of all, Sawako has never really had friends, and seeing her try so hard just to say ‘good morning’ to her classmates (not to mention how elated she gets when they respond) makes it hard not to root for her. Her shyness, combined with her desire to have friends, makes her extremely relatable and also makes it easier to overlook the fact that it’d be hard to find someone as kind and positive as she is in real life. Sawako also has more to her than just her kindness – part of the reason she has always been a loner her whole life is because people are scared of her: her jet black hair and sometimes creepy smile reminds people of a horror movie character named ‘Sadako.’ Rather than resent her nickname, Sawako feels bad that she doesn’t have any supernatural powers and tries to impress people by telling ghost stories. I found this to be an interesting quirk to Sawako’s character, and I loved seeing her accidentally make creepy faces whenever she tries to be cheerful.

Tohru

But while Sawako is relatable and quirky, Tohru has no real defining characteristics other than her kindness. She’s not especially smart or athletic, and the only thing she seems to be good at is cooking (of course). While a lot of Sawako’s inability to speak up for herself comes from shyness, there’s no real reason to explain why Tohru is as passive as she is. Ultimately, I think the main reason why Tohru is a far more bothersome character to me than Sawako is because there are far more interesting characters than Tohru in Fruits Basket. Tohru’s character serves the sole purpose of healing the Sohma family, and the character development of each Sohma member is more important than Tohru’s own. Yet while Tohru learning to stand up for herself isn’t the main focus of the story, Sawako’s character development is the main attraction of Kimi ni Todoke. By focusing on Sawako over Kazehaya or their romance, she is empowered and feels more like fully dimensional character. It’s fun to see Sawako learn to love herself, and once she falls for Kazehaya she realizes that sometimes it’s okay to ‘be selfish’ and say how you feel. So while both of these characters are supposed to be the ‘average girl next door’ so that any female fan can relate to them, Kimi ni Todoke shows that ‘average’ doesn’t have to mean ‘boring.’

Fushigi Yugi: lapses of logic

Fushigi Yugi: lapses of logic

There are many great things about Fushigi Yugi. In a long line of stories about girls who get sucked into another world, Fushigi Yugi has great characters, unexpected plot twists and one of my favorite endings in anime. However, I’m well aware that the series’ flaws stand out to others, who tend to complain that the series becomes unnecessarily dramatic, and that they don’t care for Miaka because she’s so dumb. But what I personally had a bigger problem with was the series occassional lapses of logic. Since I will be talking about several major plot points, if you haven’t read or watched Fushigi Yugi you may want to stop reading here.

Near the beginning of the series, Nakago makes a promise to Yui not to kill Miaka. This promise comes back when Yui comes back to the real world after summoning Seiryu, and Nakago threatens Yui that he will break their promise unless she uses Seiryu’s power to grant his wish to become a god. The problem I had with this, however, is that over the course of the series Nakago tried several times to have Miaka and the Suzaku seishi (celestial warriors) killed. For example, when the celestial warriors travelled to find the Genbu shinzaho, Nakago sent Soi to try to kill them by electructing them in the water. And when the celestial warriors were searching for information about the shinzaho they are attacked by Ashitare, who was brutally beaten by Nakago so he wouldn’t fail in killing Miaka. There were also several occassions in which Suboshi attacked Miaka right in front of Yui, and she didn’t try to stop him from almost killing her, thus diminishing the importance of Nakago’s promise.

But there is another inconsistency in terms of Yui’s characterization. From the beginning of the series it’s made clear that Yui is much smarter than Miaka – she was the one who was able to read The Universe of the Four Gods, which was written in an obsolete form of the Chinese language. When Yui returns to the world of the book and becomes the Priestess of Seiryu after believing she was raped, Nakago intentionally keeps the fact that the priestess has to be a virgin a secret from her. However, I felt that there was something off about Yui’s naïveté . If Yui is so ‘smart’ and so familiar with Chinese culture, why then did it never cross her mind that the priestess is supposed to be a virgin and thus she shouldn’t elligible? Even I knew that priestesses are traditionally virgins, and I’m not exactly an expert on Asian culture. I’m not saying that Yui should have been able to figure out that Nakago lied to her about being raped, but she should have least questioned if she would be able to become the priestess. Still, this lapse in characterization could possibly be excused not only due to Yui’s fragile mental state but also because of Nakago’s manipulations.

The last lapse of logic in the series is one I’m not actually sure if it actually happens in the manga, since I’ve only watched the Fushigi Yugi anime. In the middle of the series, Keisuke, who in the real world was reading about Miaka’s adventures in the book, finds a strand of Miaka’s hair which allows him to talk to her. When he warns her that she should leave the book because things might become more dangerous, no one else can hear his voice. But in the series finale when Miaka, Yui, Tamahome, and Nakago have made it to the real world, Keisuke calls into the book so the other celestial warriors can help Miaka, and upon hearing him Chichiri and Tasuki travel to the real world as well. I never understood why they were able to hear him this time, and the only explanations I could think of were that a). maybe Miaka’s return to the real world ‘opened up’ the communication lines between the book and the real world or b). there was some sort of explanation given for this plothole in the manga that was never given in the anime. 

Still, not all of the changes made to the anime were bad, and one change in particular actually fixed a plothole in the manga. One of the major dilemmas throughout the series was Miaka and Tamahome’s struggle to find a way to stay together, since as a character from the book he couldn’t remain in the real world, while Miaka couldn’t stay in the book. When the Priestess of Byakko Suzuno asked Byakko for she and Tatara, the celestial warrior she loved, to stay together, Byakko told her that was the one wish he could not grant, and the two were separated until their deaths. In volume thirteen of the manga, Miaka and Tamahome ask to remain together and their wish is granted when Tamahome returns to the real world reincarnated. However, the anime changes Miaka’s last wish and instead she asks Suzaku to restore the world to the way it was before they battled Nakago. She decides that wishing for her and Tamahome’s happiness is something she shouldn’t ask Suzaku, and she is told that it isn’t the gods who grant wishes – it’s human will. I really liked this change because not only does it assert that Tamahome’s reincarnation was due to his love for Miaka rather than their wish being granted, it also shows how much Miaka had grown as a character. The character development and increasingly tragic story is what makes Fushigi Yugi as great as it is, so for as many flaws as it has, I still can’t help but love the series.

How to get your guy, shojo-style

How to get your guy, shojo-style

Many shojo anime and manga feature heartrending love stories, some of which are painfully realistic and others that put any Fabio-clad romance novel to shame. I have compiled a list of great romantic advice from some of the most popular shojo series, which will help you capture the heart of the man of your dreams. With a lot of determination and a little luck, these tips should help you get any man you desire!

  • Blackmail him: Shojo heroines often have to contend with guys who are way too cold and smart for their own good, so if the girl wants to bring him down and make him realize she’s his perfect match, she’s gonna have to fight dirty. Just look at Sana’s experience in Kodocha – when bad boy Akito started causing trouble in their sixth grade classroom, Sana decided to take his ‘monkey reign’ down by threatening him with a picture of him with his pants down. It didn’t take very long for Akito to fall for her (though that whole putting his family back together thing may have helped). Kotoko in Itazura na Kiss also used this tactic in volume two, when her heartless crush Naoki made fun of her stupidity at their class’ graduation party, and she got revenge by showing off baby pictures of him dressed up as a girl. Oh sure, Naoki yelled at her for doing it, but his next reaction was to kiss her, so not only will blackmail get you your desired results – you’ll get them fast!  And for any guys looking to shojo manga for advice to help improve your love life, blackmail works just as well when guys use it on their girls, such as in His and Her Circumstances when Arima got Yukino to do all of his schoolwork when he found out that her ‘perfect student’ image was an act, while in the first volume of Hot Gimmick, Ryoki manipulates Hatsumi into becoming his slave when he sees her buying a pregnancy test for her younger sister.
  • Stalk him:Don’t believe people when they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ – in a battle as complex as love, you have to be at the front line at all times. At the beginning of Peach Girl, Momo mentions that she chose which high school to attend because of her crush – talent and career goals be damned. But the most extreme example has to be Mizuki from Hana-Kimi: she moved all the way to Japan, pretended to be a boy and enrolled in an all-boys school just to be near Sano, the high-jumper she’d admired for so long. Sano falls for her cheerful stubborness, but I have a feeling the fact that Mizuki was around him 24/7 didn’t hurt, either. It’s even better if you manage to move in with him like Miki does in Marmalade Boy (although that was her parents fault). It won’t take him too long to decide he loves you, even if he does see you without your make-up on – because having a live-in girlfriend saves time. 
  • Sponge off of him: If you do manage to get into the same school as the object of your affections, chances are the tuition will be so high Donald Trump would weep. Take advantage of the perks of not being in the Top 1 percent by having your guy spoil you! Your guy will be so fascinated by your strange ways (like making bento lunches and taking out the garbage) that every chance he gets he’ll shower you with lavish gifts and vacations, like Tamaki does for Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club. Of course, you can’t expect or ask him to be your sugar-daddy – when he gives you that necklace that’s worth more than the entire McDonalds franchise, promptly scold him for spending so much money on you. Because then he’ll know you’re not with him for the money, which will make him love you more and he’ll buy you even more stuff. But if you’re as brazen as Ran from Super Gals!, you won’t need to hide your intentions to mooch off your man: Ran has every guy in Shibuya lining up to buy her everything from takoyaki to limited edition watches so they can be her guy, but it’ll take more than that to win her heart. Take notes ladies, take notes.
  • Beat the crap out of him: Guys in shojo manga tend to have girls fawning over them all of the time, so the best way to stand out is to make it clear that you aren’t interested in him at all with a nice slap and he’ll be head-over-heels in no time. The best example of this occurs in Boys Over Flowers, when Tsukushi stands up to rich bully Tsukasa by giving him a hard kick to the face, and it doesn’t take long for him to fall for her. Similarly, in the first volume of B.O.D.Y, when Ryoko finds out Ryunosuke works at a host club and he comes onto her, she gives him a swift punch to the face. This intrigues him so much he decides that he wants to win her heart. Once your guy sees how spunky you are he’ll do anything to make you his – whether you want him or not!
  • Cheating works.

    Cheat on him: What better way to get your man’s attention than to show him he’s got competition? Shojo gals tend to have a spare guy or two interested in them, so they may as well put them to good use! Kotoko does this twice in Itazura na Kiss – she goes on several dates with nice-guy Taketo in places where Naoki can see her in order to make him jealous, and later on in the series when Kotoko believes she’s lost Naoki for good, she decides to accept her hopeless suitor Kin-chan’s marriage proposal, prompting Naoki to confess his feelings for her. Another example occurs in High School Debut volume five – when Haruna tries to hook up her friends Mami and Asaoka, her boyfriend Yoh gets annoyed when Haruna constantly compliments Asaoka, and the two end up in a fight. In order to get Yoh to apologize, Asaoka decides to take Haruna out on a date in the hopes that Yoh will follow them and admit his jealousy (Haruna gets kind of swept up into his plan). After going to dinner and a movie, Asaoka decides to up the ante by telling Haruna she should cheat on Yoh with him and tries to kiss her. This finally lures Yoh out and the two make up, and Haruna begins to realize how much Yoh cares about her. This tactic works so well that not only do you and your guy not need to be an official couple – you don’t even have to cheat on purpose! For example, when Fuji forces a kiss on Ann in Sand Chronicles, her boyfriend Daigo blames himself and the two grow closer. So anytime you find yourself doubting your guy’s love, a little tryst on the side should work wonders.

So there you have it! With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to get the man of your dreams in no time! And if you’re lucky, he’ll be a seemingly mean pretty boy who is sweet only around you and happens to heir to a multibillion dollar company – just like every shojo leading man out there!

*Results not guaranteed. Actually, some of these could land you in jail. Please proceed with caution if you choose to attempt any of these. You have been warned.

Cover-to-Cover: Skip Beat!

Cover-to-Cover: Skip Beat!

Cover-to-Cover is a column where I’ll choose my favorite cover from a particular series. This time around it’s Skip Beat! The art in Skip Beat! isn’t exactly something I pay as much attention to as, say, Kyoko’s crazy ‘grudge’ ghouls or her relationship with Sho. However, one thing I appreciate about Skip Beat! is that each cover almost always reflects what’s going on during the storyline of that particular volume. For example, volume twelve’s cover is of Ren and Kyoko portraying Kazuki and Mizuki, who are characters from the drama they’re filming, while volume fifteen’s cover features Reino, Sho’s music rival, who had just been introduced to the story. But right away I knew exactly which cover I wanted to choose: volume seven.

First, I’ve made it clear that I prefer Kyoko and Sho as a couple over her and Ren, so it makes sense that I’d choose one of the few covers with Sho on it. The fact that I love Sho’s costume doesn’t hurt, either. Artistically speaking, I also like the pattern on the borders of the cover (which works well with the feather in Sho’s mouth).  But I think the main reason I like this cover so much is because I love the story arc that starts with this volume. In it, Kyoko acts in the promo for Sho’s album, and thus this is the first time she and Sho directly interact with one another after she enters show business. In the promo, Sho is a devil (hence the costume) who falls in love with an angel, and Kyoko, who is playing the angel’s best friend, must kill Sho. Sho realizes how good of an actress Kyoko has become and begins to see her as more than just his childhood friend, and this is apparent to everyone around him. His manager notices the way he stares at Kyoko while Pochi, who plays the angel who falls in love with him (and has a crush on him in real life) is jealous of their interactions. Because this was the point in the manga Kyoko and Sho’s chemistry first became apparent to me and eventually became my favorite story arc in the series, volume seven’s cover makes me think of all of the things I like about Skip Beat!