English title: Haruka Nogizaka's Secret by Yuusaku Igarashi
Haruka Nogizaka is just about perfect. She's rich. She's smart. She's beautiful. She's popuEnglish title: Haruka Nogizaka's Secret by Yuusaku Igarashi
Haruka Nogizaka is just about perfect. She's rich. She's smart. She's beautiful. She's popular. She's a masterful pianist. She's so perfect, in fact, that Yuuto Ayase doesn't even bother fantasizing about her, she's so out of his league. But then one day in the library he discovers the secret alluded to in the title: you see, Haruka is a secret otaku.
"Otaku" is the Japanese term for "geek" or "nerd," but unlike in America where those words have been co-opted and turned into badges of honor, being an otaku still has serious social stigma attached to it -- not helped by several high profile crimes that were linked to otaku culture a la how Columbine was connected to goths. Anyway, the upshot is, if people find out taht Haruka's an otaku, her popularity will be worth as much as a three dollar bill.
Yuuto discovers the truth when he sees Haruka checking out a rather geeky manga in the school library. She sees him and panics, knocking over several bookshelves in the process and dropping the manga on the floor. When students come to investigate the noise, Yuuto saves the day by grabbing the manga before anyone can see it and dragging Haruka out of the room. She's upset at first but calms down once he explains that he doesn't care one way or another. But then a few weeks later there's a surprise bag inspection at school. When Yuuto sees Haruka freaking out, he surmises that she has manga in her bag and will be publicly humiliated if a teacher finds it. So once his own bag passes inspection, Yuuto asks to use the restroom and, on the way out, manages to swipe the offending material from Haruka's bag.
After that, Haruka realizes she can trust Yuuto with her secret, they start hanging out together and having amusing adventures in a slice-of-life school drama kinda way -- misunderstandings, close calls, awkward situations, tagalong loli sister, and general wackiness follows.
The story is entertaining, though it never attains the heights of Toradora! or Haruhi Suzumiya and is a bit formulaic. But then, light novels of this sort are primarily driven by the characters. Haruka is a little weak and lacking in agency (though she does improve by the end), which is unusual in this sort of story, where female characters almost always overpower the poor menfolk. But Haruka's weakness is Yuuto's gain as he has to be proactive in defense of her secret (sadly, I watched the first episode of the anime, and they emasculated his character, taking away most of his best moments). Being the first book of a series, the secondary characters don't get much development -- Yuuto's sister, Ruka, and his homeroom teacher, Yukari, are mere caricatures, while three of Yuuto's friends don't even rise to that level (the fourth friend, Nobunaga, does have some personality but doesn't get enough screen time to show it off). Only Haruka's sister, Mika, and maid, Hazuki, get any real development.
I should add that, like most light novels, this book has illustrations, but I personally find them underwhelming, particularly Haruka, who's depicted as nothing but a moe blob. The character in my head while reading does not match the illustrations at all....more
Utsumi is your typical dumbass teenage boy. He's in love with Shou, the beautiful captain of the tennis team, but, being a typical dumbass teenage boyUtsumi is your typical dumbass teenage boy. He's in love with Shou, the beautiful captain of the tennis team, but, being a typical dumbass teenage boy he has no clue how to approach her. So he hides out watching practice like a creeper. One day Yuki, a member of the team, catches him. Realizing he's harmless, she decides to help him out by advising him how not to be a typical dumbass teenage boy.
The characters are entertaining if not terribly deep so far, and the story moves along quickly enough....more
Since I've already reviewed the Toradora light novel there's not much point in me rehashing my thoughts on the plot and characters. This manga adaptatSince I've already reviewed the Toradora light novel there's not much point in me rehashing my thoughts on the plot and characters. This manga adaptation is exceedingly faithful to the source material -- more so than the anime, which, though excellent, had to compress all ten novels into about twelve hours -- and captures the essence of the story, though we do sometimes lose Ryuuji's thought process.
Zekkyo's artwork, like the anime, is based upon Yasu's illustrations from the novels, so the characters look more or less the same from one version of the story to another. Still, I find Zekkyo's versions the best. In the novels and anime, Minori was certainly cute but nothing more -- unless Ryuuji has a moe fetish, it's hard to see why he was so hot for her. The manga, however, actually makes her look sexy, although I can't point to any changes Zekkyo made to the design to achieve this. Taiga, likewise, looks just like her novel and anime depictions, but Zekkyo makes her more expressive -- not that she couldn't rip your heart out in the anime, but in the manga she seems to have a lot more depth.
The guys differ a lot more in their design. In the anime, Kitamura came off looking like a Politburo member, making it rather difficult to believe that Taiga and Kihara were both crushing on him. Zekkyo's version is simultaneously geekier and cuter, and the way he acts around girls makes it believable that they want to take him home and corrupt him. The difference in Ryuuji is even more profound. Yasu's illustrations never really captured Takemiya's description, and the anime made him way too nice looking -- if it weren't for the scenes early on where people fall all over themselves not to piss him off, you wouldn't know he's supposed to be intimidating. The manga alone captures Ryuuji's fierce features and makes him look like a guy you'd run from if you saw him on an empty street at night.
The one peculiarity I find with the manga is the structure. This first volume only makes it through about 2/3 of the novel, and the point it stops at serves as little more than a minor cliffhanger. If the story had continued a few more pages, it would've reached a more fitting end point, with Taiga and Ryuuji seemingly defeated in their quests. This stopping point also means that the next volume will finish up the first book and then have to start on the Ami-chan arc, which will make for a disjointed story -- imagine Star Wars ending before the Battle of Yavin, and then a second film that covers the Death Star attack through to Han rescuing Luke on Hoth. Not a very solid structure, is it?...more
Hazumu is just an Ordinary School Boy with a crush on the beautiful but aloof Yasuna. What he doesn't realize is that Yasuna is a lesbian, and though Hazumu is just an Ordinary School Boy with a crush on the beautiful but aloof Yasuna. What he doesn't realize is that Yasuna is a lesbian, and though he's rather femme and Yasuna would totally go out with him if he were a girl, the externiality of his genitalia has doomed him from the get-go. Which makes his friend Tomari happy, since she has a crush on him and she sees his rejection as a a chance to comfort him.
But things don't quite work out that way. After Yasuna turns Hazuma down, he goes to sulk in the woods, where he's promptly killed by a crashing alien spaceship.
Man, don't you hate it when that happens?
Fortunately for Hazuma, the aliens turn out to be the good sort, and they rebuild his body. Unfortunately for Hazuma, the aliens aren't also the competent sort, and while his resurrected body is as good as new, it's as good as a new girl.
So now Hazuma faces life as a heterosexual male trapped in the body of a 16 year old girl. It doesn't help that he's the only teenage boy on the planet who's never heard of lesbians, so he believes that if he has the body of a girl he better get used to liking men. Which is frustrating for Yasuna, who sees the situation as a dream come true -- after all, the only reason she rejected Hazuma was that pesky penis thing. Tomari, on the other hand, faces a very different conundrum -- she still loves Hazuma, but she's not a lesbian.
So, you know, just a standard love-triangle.
The story is a bit slow going, largely because our supposed protagonist has no goal once he gets transformed. He takes the whole gender-flip in stride and doesn't exhibit any interest in reversing the process. Because of his ignorance of lesbians, he stops his romantic pursuits for most of the book, forcing Yasuna and Tomari to chase him -- except it's not much of a chase when the prey just sits there bemused by the situation. He's not so much a protagonist as a plain tagonist, and its up to the people around him to drive the plot, which ends up being fitful and episodic as a result.
The story is also burdened with some forced humor in the form of the aliens, who stick around to observe Hazuma, and Hazuma's dad, who is way too delighted at having a nubile teenage daughter. I know the Japanese view incest as more comedic than tragic, but there's something damn ookie about a grown man who's first reaction to finding out his son has been transformed into a girl is to ask her to take a bath with him. The aliens however are just plain silly. Jan-puu, the spaceship who transforms herself into a girl whose primary mode of speech is the word, "puuu!" is overly cute but not so bad as her pilot, Hitoshi Sora, who is a Cloudcuckoolander whose presence defuses any dramatic tension the plot builds up.
But despite those cavils, the story is entertaining and Katsura's art is well done -- she's not Keiko Takemiya or CLAMP by any stretch, but her characters are distinctive and the action always clear. The book is worth picking up if you enjoy genderbending stories and lesbian schoolgirl romances....more
Here's the second half of the Kashimashi series. The first part, as you might possibly recall, detailed how Hazumu Osaragi, male high school student,Here's the second half of the Kashimashi series. The first part, as you might possibly recall, detailed how Hazumu Osaragi, male high school student, through cosmic mishap, became Hazumu Osaragi, female high school student. Omnibus 1 focused primarily on the romantic implications of this transformation -- Yasuna, the girl Hazumu had a crush on, was a lesbian, so the situation delighted her, whereas Tomari, the girl who had a crush on Hazumu, was deeply confused by the fact that to keep loving him, she'd have to become a lesbian herself. In the second omnibus, the story switches gears when Sora-sensei, the alien responsible for Hazumu's transformation, reveals that despite his best efforts, Hazumu has only one month to live. (Why one month? Well, we get a bunch of technobabble about life grains and fate, but it comes down to author fiat and the dictates of the plot.)
There is of course a solution -- if Hazumu can decide which girl he wants, he'll be able to share her fate whazits and extend his own life. The catch is, if they ever stop loving each other, they'll both die. Good thing the person you love at 16 is usually the person you spend your whole life with, right? Well, I guess in this case they have an added incentive to continue loving each other, but it does seem unfair to the girl Hazumu picks -- the emotional pressure to not let her beloved die must be overwhelming, but the enormity of that decision is beyond a 16 year old's mind to comprehend. I mean, this isn't just marriage -- it's marriage where "Till death do you part" is literally true. An adult with any experience in relationships would balk at the idea, but these girls are still at the stage where they believe they can find their One True Love and Live Happily Ever After. None of this is explored as the story takes the view that, indeed, you can find your One True Love, etc.
Sora-sensei doesn't tell Hazumu about this escape hatch, which is good since if he did Hazumu would be actively choosing to enslave one of the girls to save his own life, effectively becoming a vampire. Instead, Sora-sensei tells Hazumu's friends, and Yasuna and Tomari decide on their own to compete for Hazumu's love.
As you can see, the story in the back half is much heavier and carries more emotional weight, making this much more enjoyable than the first, even if I don't agree with the morality of the solution. It helps that Jan-puu, the sentient spaceship-turned-wacky-human, has a much reduced role while Sora-sensei is forced to become serious, leaving the comic relief to Asuta, Hazumu's best friend who's constantly dealing with the dilema of what happens to "bros before hos" when your bro becomes a ho.
Despite my reservations, the ending is satisifying if you can ignore reality enough to accept "Happily Ever After," and the series as a whole is worth reading....more
I've been busy at work of late, so I've been picking up a lot of manga since it's something I can power through in a few hours and still feel that I'vI've been busy at work of late, so I've been picking up a lot of manga since it's something I can power through in a few hours and still feel that I've read a substantive story. The latest is the Kimi ni Todoke series.
Yes, it's a shoujo manga.
And yes, shoujo usually means girly-girl romances aimed at 16 year olds.
Anyone got a problem with that?
Sawako is a sweet girl who wants to be nice to everyone and make friends. Too bad for her she looks just like the freaky demon chick from the Ring films -- her name is even similar to the girl from the Japanese original, Sadako. Over the years rumors have grown up around her -- if you look into her eyes for more than three seconds, you'll become ill, if you sit next to her in class, you'll get bad grades. All her efforts to make friends are rebuffed -- hell, people freak out if she just says, "Hi," in the hallway.
As the story goes on, we see that years of ostracism have destroyed her self-esteem. She's not a Daria who disdains everyone because she thinks they're idiots -- she's actually not antisocial at all but instead believes that her lack of friends his her fault for not being good enough. She's even afraid to tell people that she can't really summon spirits because she doesn't want to disappoint them.
But don't get the idea that this book is 20 pages of miserableness, because it's not. Early on she meets Kazehaya, who's one of those popular guys who tries to be friends with everyone. He looks past the rumors and sees a girl who's trying her hardest to make friends with people who treat her like crap, and he's impressed. With his urging, she's soon able to make more friends. Maybe not the best quality friends -- Chizu has a reputation as a delinquent and Ayane would qualify as an Alpha Bitch if she didn't use it to protect Sawako.
But of course a girl who starts hanging out with the most popular guy at school is going to get a lot of other girls to come after her with their long knives drawn.
The series started as a one-shot meant for the end of another book, and as such the first chapter (labeled appropriately as Chapter 0) is a bit disconnected from the rest of the story, reaching a semi-definitive conclusion that Shiina then had to backpeddle from in the next chapter. A side-effect is that some of the character designs weren't thought out to the degree they would've been if Shiina had known she'd be drawing these people for years to come. Ayane in particular looks like she's had collagen implants and the surgeon used twice as much as necessary. Shiina apologizes in a sidebar and notes that at this point in the story she hadn't even decided which was which.
But despite these minor flaws, Kimi ni Todoke is a great tearjerker that avoids most of the lame shoujo cliches....more
Yet another alleged comedy about some poor schlub whose imouto turns out to be a total brocon, but without the wit of Oreimo or chutzpah of Oniichan nYet another alleged comedy about some poor schlub whose imouto turns out to be a total brocon, but without the wit of Oreimo or chutzpah of Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne!! (I don't know which is sadder -- that this is an actual genre in Japan, or that I'm familiar enough with it to recognize the cliches.) The humor involving Akito and Akiko is tepid, relying primarily upon Akiko being inappropriate in any situation she's in, and she never really evolves from a sitcom macguffin into a proper character. The only redeeming value to the story is the group of characters introduced at the end, who promise to turn the series into an unwanted harem story in which crazy brocon girl is only one part. It might make the rest of the series interesting, but it's too late for this particular volume....more
Hikaru Sugii is best known for his KamiMemo series, which was ranked 14th in the 2012 This Light Novel Is Awesome survey, beating out notables like SpHikaru Sugii is best known for his KamiMemo series, which was ranked 14th in the 2012 This Light Novel Is Awesome survey, beating out notables like Spice & Wolf and Durarara, however I have to say I prefer this book, Sayonara Piano Sonata (English version available here.
The premise is a lot like K-ON -- group of high school kids form a rock band under the guise of a school club so they can use the music facilities to practice. But in this case the protagonist is a guy, the band members actually do practice instead of eating cake, and they aren't protected from bad things by their innate cuteness.
Okay, so it's nothing like K-on.
Our protagonist is Nao, the son of an influential classical music critic. When he discovers the music department has a disused sound-proof room, he decides to requisition it for his own use so he can listen to his rock CDs without disturbing his dad's work. This works well until Mafuyu Ebisawa transfers into his class. Mafuyu is a piano prodigy -- sort of a Japanese Hilary Hahn -- but she's recently dropped out of the classical music scene and no one knows why. Shortly after enrolling, she takes over the soundproof room for herself and uses it to practice -- guitar. But since she went through official channels, there's not much Nao can do about it.
Meanwhile Nao's pal Chiaki has fallen in with an upperclassman named Kagurazaka who wants to form a rock band. To get official school recognition they need two more members, and Kagurazaka has decided upon Nao and Mafuyu. To do this, she's hatched a plan for getting them into a guitar duel, which Nao goes along with in hope that he can dislodge Mafuyu from the room and then renege on his commitment to Kagurazaka.
Anyone familiar with KamiMemo, either through the novels, manga or anime adaptation, will spot immediate similarities between Nao and Narumi -- antisocial loners who are dragged into a school club by one girl and beset by another who is equally antisocial. But where KamiMemo is a plot-oriented series where Narumi's psychological issues have to take a back seat to the mysteries and Alice's eccentricities, SPS is entirely character driven. Why Nao and Mafuyu became so screwed up is an important part of the story, rather than a mystery to be eked out over the course of the series.
The other way in which this series beats out KamiMemo is Sugii's descriptions of music. Though he's a good mystery writer, that's nothing compared to the clarity with which he describes both rock and classical pieces -- and he clearly knows his stuff. The guitar duel (guitar vs bass, actually) involves Mafuyu and Nao playing Beethoven's Eroica Variations (op.35), with an intricate description of each variation and how it favors either the bass or regular guitar. It helps that the scene takes about as long to read as the piece does to play, so you can follow along as you read (though sadly there's no guitar version out there, so you'll have to maked do with a piano recording and imagine which parts are taken by which instrument). But even without listening along, I think the scene would be as exciting as an actual action sequence....more
I've been worried where this series will go now that the main characters are together. Last volume we spent an entire chapter on Sawako wanting to holI've been worried where this series will go now that the main characters are together. Last volume we spent an entire chapter on Sawako wanting to hold Kazehaya's hand but being scared -- compared to the drama of the earlier volumes, this was pretty bland. But at the same time I don't want to see the series go all A Town Where You Rage with endless developments that exist just to keep the story moving forward.
The first half of this volume didn't assuage my fears. We get one chapter of everyone hanging out at the beach, which is fine -- I've always enjoyed the chapters where everyone's just having fun together -- but then we get three chapters of Sawako meeting the Kazehaya family. Nice and all, but considering we just had Kazehaya meet the Kuronumas in the previous volume, it's a bit of a retread. At least Kazehaya's dad is less annoying than Sawako's was.
Things finally pick up in the last two chapters when we get to the class trip to Okinawa. There's some great stuff with Yano and Yoshida being evil -- best scene in the book is Yano telling Kazehaya about the underwear Sawako bought for the trip -- and we get some new dramatic storylines that don't threaten Sawako's happiness. Instead, the romantic focus is turning to the secondary characters. Kento continues macking on Yano, but his advances are derailed by a guy from another class asking her out, while Chizuru remains determinedly oblivious to Ryu's feelings. The ending promises better things to come in Volume 14....more
This is a comedown from previous installments. While the series took three volumes to cover the first two novels, this one squeezes the bulk of the thThis is a comedown from previous installments. While the series took three volumes to cover the first two novels, this one squeezes the bulk of the third book into a single volume, and in doing so it loses its faithfulness to the source material. A number of great jokes got cut -- Ami telling Taiga she should wear a little girl's swimsuit, Taiga's reaction to the betting pool -- but more importantly parts of the plot were rewritten in ways that don't entirely make sense. For example, in the novel Minori decides Taiga and Ami should settle their argument through a sports competition then makes them draw lots to choose the game. In this manga, however, Taiga proposes a martial arts challenge while Ami suggests swimming, and Minori takes Ami's side even though she knows Taiga can't swim. It's even worse at the end of the book (which covers the beginning of the fourth novel) -- the whole bit with Taiga and Ryuuji having the same nightmare is gone, as is their planning for the trip. We just jump straight into the vacation and see that Taiga's trying to help Ryuuji with Minori; but without the scene where they decide who'll help whom, it's completely out of character for Taiga....more
This is the story of a boy who is addicted to the drool of the girl who sits next to him in class. Addicted as in, if he doesn't drink some of it everThis is the story of a boy who is addicted to the drool of the girl who sits next to him in class. Addicted as in, if he doesn't drink some of it every day he goes into withdrawal like a heroin addict who hasn't had a fix for a week.
Oh, and the girl keeps a pair of scissors in her panties and whips them out at the slightest provocation to defend herself.
Yeah, even by Japanese standards, this is pretty damned weird....more
I was worried about the direction this adaptation's taking after the last volume cut a number of scenes, and this volume looked to go in the same direI was worried about the direction this adaptation's taking after the last volume cut a number of scenes, and this volume looked to go in the same direction at first, dropping the single funniest moment in the whole series. But it really recovered in the second half, nailing the scenes of Ryuuji and Ami fighting and the final moment with Ryuuji and Minori on the beach while Taiga watches. And the volume ends with a super-cute omake in which all the female characters have a girls' day out together....more
Genshiken is sorta the Japanese Revenge of the Nerds. Rather than being set in a fraternity, it concerns a college club, the Society for the Study ofGenshiken is sorta the Japanese Revenge of the Nerds. Rather than being set in a fraternity, it concerns a college club, the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture (Genshiken for short), which basically consists of sitting around the clubroom playing video games, reading manga and discussing the latest anime.
At the start of the series the club gets two new members, Kanji Sasahara and Makoto Kousaka. Kanji went through high school hiding his otaku interests and now that he's at university he wants to come out of the closet. Makoto, by contrast, seems like the anti-otaku, a perfectly ordinary, well-adjusted, good looking guy -- who just happens to love gaming and manga. He's so normal, in fact, that he attracts the beautiful Saki Kasakabe as a girlfriend. But Saki doesn't want to date an otaku and does everything she can to pry him out of the Genshiken -- but in doing so, she gets dragged into the strange world of otaku culture. And wackiness ensues....more
The series really picks up the pace here. While the first omnibus was an enjoyable slice of life story, it didn't feel like much happened until near tThe series really picks up the pace here. While the first omnibus was an enjoyable slice of life story, it didn't feel like much happened until near the end despite time moving forward at a snappy pace (I think more time passed in the first three volumes than all sixteen of Kimi ni Todoke). But here things start to happen -- Sasahara takes over as club president, Saki mellows out, Ohno and Tanaka start dating, two new members join, the club makes their own manga and gets a booth at Comiket, and Madarame deals with his pending graduation.
The real highlight of the series is how Saki's come to accept the club members for what they are. You no longer have the feeling that she's only there because Kousaka's there -- in fact, she seems to be in the club room more than he is. Now she's hanging out with the guys because she likes them -- the chapter where she gets annoyed at Madarame for not coming over to talk to her when she's with friends is especially sweet -- and even takes an interest in their personal lives.
The only drawback to the series is that its quick pace means everything is constantly changing. New members come in and the old leave. By the end of volume six, everyone who was in the club when Sasahara and Kousaka joined has graduated, and it won't be long before they and Saki move on....more