From Far Away volumes 1-14

From Far Away volumes 1-14

There are many spoilers in this review, so please read with caution!

From Far Away - Izark and NorikoOne of my favorite types of shojo series tell stories about girls who get sucked into other worlds. From Fushigi Yugi to Red River, these stories combine action, drama, fantasy, and romance into multilayered epics that are hard to forget. One of the more popular series of this type is decidely less known here in the U.S: Kanata Kara, also known as From Far Away. Noriko Tachiki is a 14-year-old girl who is transported to another world after a terrorist bombing. She immediately is discovered by Izark, a handsome man who possesses extreme physical strength, which he uses to fight monsters that are about to attack Noriko. Inevitably, he becomes the young girl’s protector. Noriko, who can’t speak or understand the language of the world and stands out like a sore thumb because of her clothing, finds herself helpless, slowly becoming more competent over the course of the series. But as Noriko learns the language and makes new friends, she soon learns that her meeting with Izark may have been more than just a mere coincidence.

One thing I really like about From Far Away is that it’s very clear Kyoko Hikawa knew exactly where she wanted to go over the course of the 14-volume series. Very early on in the manga, it becomes known that Noriko is “The Awakening,” a being thought to be an ill-omen because it portends the arrival of the all-powerful sky demon. She learns that many of the highest political figures have gone missing or have been removed from office and replaced with corrupt officials, all who would love to capture Noriko so they can use the power of the sky demon to their benefit. But as it turns out, Izark is the sky demon, and the reason he was where Noriko was upon her arrival in his world is because he knew the Awakening would come on that fateful day. One of my favorite scenes in the series is when Izark recollects their first encounter – he had planned to kill the Awakening, but when he found a tiny, helpless girl he couldn’t help but want to save her.  Rather than in many of these types of series, where it feels as though the girl who gets sucked into a strange land could have been practically anyone, it’s almost as if Noriko had to be the Awakening in order for Izark’s destiny to change shape. While I’ve heard people dismiss Noriko because she is physically weak, I was actually quite impressed with her character. She’s not only kindhearted but extremely logical – realizing that she needs to improve her situation as quickly as possible so she can be less of a burden on Izark, she takes it upon herself to learn the language and culture, and she rarely whines or falls into bouts of self-pity. And she’s extremely adorable.

From Far Away Izark and NorikoInevitably, a romance develops between the two, and rather than being played for melodrama their relationship grows quite tenderly. At one point Izark leaves Noriko with Gaya, a trusted friend of his who is sort of a mother figure, as well as a warrior from a rebel clan known as the Grey Bird tribe. Both realize they miss one another, and Izark finds that he can’t part with Noriko as he’d planned to. Being with Noriko both reminds him and heals him of his wounds as an outsider;living on his own and ostracized by his family because he is the sky demon. Izark is afraid that the more he uses his powers the less he will be able to control them, until he finally turns into the sky demon for good. In volume five, Noriko sees his transformed self for the first time in battle, yet instead of being afraid she tells him she doesn’t care who he is and that she loves him. He’s touched by her acceptance of him, and although he is initially reluctant to admit his love for her he eventually becomes very affectionate, teasing her and hugging her when he once could barely even laugh or smile. It is Noriko’s positive spirit that eventually helps Izark discover that there is something else inside him alongside the sky demon – a source of hope and strength which he can use to defeat the sky demon within him.

The side characters in From Far Away are fun, too, even if they aren’t all that memorable. Gaya has a tough attitude yet is kind, while hot-headed warrior Banadam has an unrequited crush on Noriko. Later in the series the couple encounter a mother and daughter, who along with the other townspeople try to figure out their true identities (the funnest guess is that Noriko is a princess who ran away to be with Izark, her knight). Izark and Noriko gain plenty of enemies as well, from Keimos, a warrior who is obsessed with defeating Izark because he is the first person to ever defeat him in battle, and Rachef, whose desire for anarchy stems from the very human fear of wanting to be accepted. However, I had a bit of a difficult time keeping straight all of the characters, who weave in and out of the story, and I had a hard time getting attached to anyone besides Izark and Noriko. And because the author had clearly planned the ending of the manga from the beginning, the story can be a bit difficult to follow. Characters have cryptic conversations, mentioning chimos (creatures used for teleportation) and moonstones (which are used to keep evil spirits out and amplify one’s power) without describing what these things are – and it isn’t until much later that they are explained. From Far Away is the best ‘girl falls into another world’ story really depends on what the reader is looking for in such a story. From Far Away has many strengths, including great action sequences and a fantastical setting filled with exotic creatures. But for those looking for a grand drama or a sweeping love story, I would suggest Red River over this series because it’s so based on character interaction. Yet From Far Away is not without the human touch. The ideal of the series is encompassed wonderfully in one scene, when enemy Doros decides to help Noriko out simply because she says thank you to him. From Far Away sends such positive messages – such as how powerful kindness is or that even little actions can result in big changes – without ever feeling saccharine. So while From Far Away may not be my favorite series in the genre, I still enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it because it does so many things so right.

All I want for Christmas is you

All I want for Christmas is you

In the world of shojo manga, Christmas can only mean one thing: romance! Whether a couple goes on a special Christmas Eve date, or the heroine gets a glimpse of her crush at a Christmas party, high emotions are a given during the holiday season. Let’s see how Christmas is celebrated…

Kimi ni Todoke - ChristmasKimi ni Todoke style!

Our introverted heroine Sawako is invited to a Christmas party with her friends Yano and Chizu, as well as her crush Kazehaya. Yet just as Sawako tries to tell her parents about the party, they become emotional because Sawako was supposed to be born on Christmas, and she decides not to go. On Christmas Eve, Sawako’s dad mistakes a hat she knitted for Kazehaya as his Christmas gift. Yet not all hope is lost: when Kazehaya calls her from the party, Sawako’s parents realize she wants to be with her friends and give her their Christmas present: a cellphone. Sawako makes it to the party just as it’s ending, where she and Kazehaya exchange gifts.

Gifts exchanged: Kazehaya gives Sawako a pretty cellphone strap, a perfect present for her new phone. Sawako ends up giving Kazehaya her dad’s gift – a belly warmer! Even though Sawako is embarassed, Kazehaya is elated. After all, it’s the thought that counts.

  • Lovely Complex style!

Otani, in a mad rush to cram for his college entrance exams, begins seeing his girlfriend Risa less and less. When Risa’s coworker starts developing feelings for her, a jealous Otani breaks things off with Risa, who is left heartbroken. At a Christmas party with her coworkers, Risa realizes she can’t enjoy herself without Otani, and she decides to go to his house. But before she can get there she bumps into Otani, who also ran to see her because he can’t concentrate on his studies. The two make up, and celebrate with a Christmas kiss.

Gifts exchanged: Neither had time to shop for gifts, but Risa receives the best present she could have ever asked for – Otani tells her he loves her more than he could have ever realized. All together now: awwww.

  • Itazura na Kiss style!

Even though the Irie family is going to a fancy Christmas party at a hotel, Kotoko decides to spend Christmas with her two best friends, whose boyfriends are both busy on the day. But at the last minute both her friends cancel, and Kotoko is all alone on Christmas Eve. However, Kotoko’s crush Naoki happens to see Kotoko’s friend and realizes she must be home alone, and he returns to spend the holiday alone with her (with fried chicken and a cake).

Gifts exchanged: Kotoko gives Naoki a watch, but he doesn’t get her anything. That’s alright with her though – she got to spend Christmas with her beloved Naoki!

  • High School Debut style!

In her typical gung-ho attitude, Haruna decides to plan the perfect Christmas date with her new boyfriend Yoh. They go to Santa-land (which is full of kids) then to a Christmas fair (which is full of old people), but they still have fun all the same. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when they go to dinner: the staff, who are pissed about having to work on Christmas Eve, play a game with the customers to show whether they have kissed anyone or not. Haruna’s answer shows she hasn’t but Yoh’s shows that he has, and Haruna runs away, embarassed. But when Yoh catches up to her they kiss, and he promises never to kiss another girl again.

Gifts exchanged: Haruna gives Yoh a wallet she spotted him eyeing, while Yoh gives Haruna a scarf because she’s always running around in the cold with clothes that are too thin. Both gifts are extremely considerate, but I have to say Haruna was probably happier with the kiss, considering the fact that she could barely look at or speak to Yoh without freaking out and blushing afterwards.

Gakuen Alice - Christmas partyGakuen Alice style!

As in many other shojo manga, Alice Academy hosts a Christmas party where the girls where cute Santa costumes. Mikan tries to make Yoichi, a little boy close to class-troublemaker Natsume, happy by having Bear (who can walk and gets quite grumpy) play with him. Luka, Natsume’s best friend, thanks Mikan for making Yoichi happy by kissing her on the cheek. At first Mikan is shocked but that doesn’t last for long: when she and Natsume dance they end up falling and accidentally kissing each other in front of the whole school! Mikan freaks out and leaves the party, only to end up arguing with Natsume that it wasn’t a ‘real kiss’ by saying their lips barely touched. Natsume puts an end to the argument by kissing her for real, and the Christmas party comes to an end.

Gifts exchanged: Three kisses. I’m starting to sense a theme here…

Christmas in Japan may be more about romance than the typically family-oriented holiday is here in the west, but the true spirit of Christmas is still retained. As these shojo Christmas stories show, it’s not what you get for Christmas that matters most – it’s who you spend it with.

One hit wonders…in America (take two)

One hit wonders…in America (take two)

When I wrote my last list of great shojo manga authors who have only had one work brought to North America, I knew the list was incomplete. So many of my favorite authors have been largely ignored here that I trimmed my list, and thus I’ve decided to take a look at a few other artists whose catalogues remain mostly in Japan.

Yoko Kamio

Cat Street groupI didn’t think it was possible for me to love any series more than Kodocha or Nana until I read Boys Over Flowers. Kamio knows better than anyone how to create melodrama that’s not annoying to read, and most importantly, how to write a damn good love triangle. Many fans of hers would love to see 2004’s Cat Street licensed, a series about an actress who freezes up on stage and ends up enrolling in a school for “stray cats” – people who haven’t found their place or purpose yet. Like Boys Over Flowers before it, Cat Street was adapted into a live-action drama in 2008, proving that Kamio’s popularity is more than just a fad. As for me, I’m personally interested in Kamio’s later series Tora to Ookami, which is about a girl who ends up in a love triangle with two college boys, all while trying to save her family restaurant from ending up in the hands of a rich corporation!  I doubt I’ll find any other couple in manga who I adore as much as Tsukushi and Tsukasa, but if anyone can do it, Kamio can.

Odds of it being licensed: 30 percent. I’ve seen numerous requests for Cat Street to be licensed, but sadly Viz seems to sitting on licenses of shojo series that aren’t fantasies or straight up romantic comedies.

Chie Shinohara

Shinohara’s 28 volume series Red River is a wonderful epic in which a 15-year-old girl gets transported to ancient Anatolia. But so far, Red River is the only work out of Shinohara’s long manga career to make it to American shores. Shinohara is one of few shojo artists to have won the Shogakukan Manga Award more than once – her first win was in 1987 for Yami no Purple Eye, a series about a girl who begins turning into a leopard. Of all her series, however, I’m most interested in Ao no Fuin, a series about a high school girl who finds out she is the reincarnation of the demon queens Seiryu, and is falling in love with reincarnation of Byakko, the white tiger destined to kill her. I’ve really liked the legend of the Four Gods ever since I first encountered it in Fushigi Yugi, and I’m sure a tale of starcrossed lovers would be nothing but heartracing in Shinohara’s very capable hands.

Odds it’ll be licensed: 20 percent. At 11 volumes, Ao no Fuin‘s not ridiculously long, but it is considerably older than the majority of the manga being licensed today (the series started in 1991). And most importantly, Shinohara’s more mature approach to storytelling seems to be largely ignored by North American licensors, which is really a shame.

Kazune Kawahara

I consider High School Debut much better than it really should be. It’s an average romantic-comedy, yet it feels refreshing thanks to fun lead characters and decidely avoiding common shojo tropes. But what surprised me most about High School Debut was finding out that it’s author had been in the manga industry for quite some time. Along with Sensei!, a 20 volume shojo series featuring a student-teacher romance, I’ve heard good things about Aozora Yell, which features a girl who wants to join the baseball team’s band and play bass in the championships despite the fact that she’s no good at music. Kawahara has a way with comedy, and she’s good at writing determined, cheerful girls, which is enough to make me want to read more of her works.

Odds it’ll be licensed: 50 percent. Kawahara’s works are contemporary enough that I’d say they still have a chance at being licensed, especially since High School Debut is a fairly prominent title within the Shojo Beat lineup.

Wataru Yoshizumi

She’s technically a two-hit wonder since both Marmalade Boy and Ultramanic have been licensed in the States, but I still would love to read some of Yoshizumi’s many works that haven’t been brought here. I’ve always been curious about her older series Handsome na Kanojo, which is about a young girl who is aspiring to be an actress meeting and falling for a boy who wants to be a director. But upon researching her works, even her more recent series such as Chitose, Etc., seem very interesting. Chitose follows a girl from Okinawa who meets a boy from Tokyo. They hit it off and he even kisses her, but when she visits him in Tokyo she finds out he has a girlfriend! Yoshizumi is great at creating quintessential shojo drama and intriguing romance even out of clichéd situations, so I know that if more of her works were brought here I’d be in for a good time.

Odds it’ll be licensed: 35 percent. Yoshizumi’s been out of the limelight in America for awhile now, and while the chances of her older series being licensed are fairly slim, I’d still say her contemporary series like the still-running Chitose, Etc. have a shot of being picked up.

I’m sure there are even more authors whose works being unavailable in English makes me (among many others) groan. If there are any works you’d love to see licensed by authors you’re already familiar with, share your thoughts guys!