Archives for March 2016

Shuriken and Pleats Vol. 1

Shuriken and Pleats Volume 1 by Matsuri Hino

Matsuri Hino is one of those shoujo authors who I like, but I haven’t been pulled into the time of deep admiration that I feel towards an Arina Tanemura or a Chika Shiomi. One of the main reasons for this is that I never really connected with Hino’s major series Vampire Knight. I have some volumes stockpiled and I intend to give that series another chance one day. I do enjoy Hino’s delicate art. I was curious about a non-vampire series from Hino.

Shuriken and Pleats is a short two-volume series about a ninja girl in the modern age, with all of the angst one might expect from a Matsuri Hino title with the added bonus of some fish out of water humor. The tragedy is introduced in the first chapter, as Mikage Kirio is assigned to protect an idealistic man whose wife and daughter have passed away, possibly as the result of some of his research into a way to end world hunger. Mikage’s master James goes out of the way to exhibit a personal interest in the young ninja, wanting her to have a normal life. When James dies, his will sets Mikage up with an option for an independent life for the first time, and he requests that she take the time to go to school like a regular girl. Mikage moves back to Japan and makes an attempt to fit in as a schoolgirl, while being haunted by her past. She also finds a final person to protect along the way.

“Girl who doesn’t understand her feelings” is almost as much of a shoujo cliche as the inexplicably alluring klutzy heroine, but Mikage is a more interesting than usual example of this particular type of heroine. Being part of a secret ninja clan in the modern world is a legitimate reason to have a closed-off personality, and while she fails sometimes she does have some serious ninja skills. One thing that does make Shuriken and Pleats stand out are some fine points of character development that manage to be both humorous and tragic at the same time, like Mikage’s shrine of cute erasers that her former master gave her. Mikage’s reaction to having papers passed to her at school from behind her back is a dramatic flip and the stern command for her classmate to “State your intention.”

Mikage’s ninja nature is signaled by the flowing black scarf she wears at all times, even when in her school uniform. Hino’s art has her trademark extremely pretty character designs mixed with dynamic ninja action scenes. I found myself intrigued by Mikage’s journey as she gradually loosens up on her ninja training and starts dealing with her emotions for the first time. I was less interested in some of the aspects of the plot, like the conspiracy at work that Mikage has to unravel. There’s a great deal of plot development packed into just one volume, which perhaps speaks to the benefit of planned short manga series as opposed to short series that are the result of an abrupt cancellation. I enjoyed this manga, and I’ll look forward to the concluding volume. Shuriken and Pleats seems like it will be an entertaining diversion if someone is looking for a short series to enjoy.


Skip Beat! Vol. 36

Skip Beat Volume 36 by Yoshiki Nakamura

I feel like most reviews of Skip Beat could just be summed up as, “Skip Beat, long-running shoujo series, continues to be relentlessly excellent,” but as I was reading the latest volume there were several specific things that struck me about it. I absolutely loved the Heel siblings plot, and while the manga has to move on from Ren and Kyoko being forced to be in close proximity to each other as they pretend to be gothic semi-incestual siblings in order to further Ren’s acting career as he acts in a drama while pretending to be an entirely different actor than “Ren” which is itself a totally different persona from his genuine personality, I’m glad that this volume eases out of the story line gently, with Kyoko getting one last big scene as Setsu.

Early in this volume I was reminded at how good Nakamura is at drawing Kyoko in freak-out mode, as she suffers agony in telling Ren that she kissed her long-lost fairy prince Corn (who is also Ren). Ren is pushing Kyoko a bit to get an emotional reaction from her, but he also is genuinely grateful for her help as they part and she heads back to Japan to resume her own acting career. Kyoko has matured so much as an actress and a person, and while she’s handling a crisis on her new show, things get complicated fast when Sho visits her home.

A settled and stable shoujo heroine doesn’t make for much drama, and now in addition to Sho’s reappearance, Kyoko is confronted with the specter of her long-absent horrible mother. Just when she starts to get a bit of emotional equilibrium, something happens to throw things off!

Lettering Skip Beat! must be a fun and challenging job, as there are different fonts used for Kyoko when she’s beset by the angry demon side of her personality, when she’s yelling at Sho, and when she’s calmly giving advice to a fellow actress. All in all, this was a very entertaining volume helping Skip Beat! transition away from one story line into a new direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.


Idol Dreams, Vol. 2

Idol Dreams Volume 2 by Arina Tanemura

I liked the first volume of Idol Dreams, with a few reservations so I was eager to check out the second volume to see how the story would develop. I was pretty convinced after seeing how the story was set up that the body-switching heroine Chikage is going to end up with the supplier of her youth idol pills, Tokita. The second volume starts out with a flashback of high school days told firmly from his point of view, showing how genuinely nice and popular Chikage was when she is a teenager. Her current repressed personality and the somewhat forced teen idol disguise really stand in contrast to Chikage’s natural charm back in the day. After reading the flashback, I’m more convinced than ever that Chikage is going to end up in an adult relationship, despite her newfound habit of hanging out with various teen boy band members.

We see some painful reminders of how socially awkward it is to be a repressed over 30 office lady, but Chikage’s idol adventures as Akari are not without peril as (say it with me!) A RIVAL APPEARS in the form of polished teen idol Yuko, who is nursing a mad crush on Hibiki. Akari learns some interesting facts about Hibiki’s home life that put his hustle, drive, and habit of appropriating boxed lunches into perspective. Truly, not since Tamahome have I seen a shoujo hero this dedicated to frugality. Akari and Yuko have to duke it out for the honor of singing Hibiki’s next single, and Akari needs plenty of extra training because she’s never performed for a studio audience before.


There are quite a few funny moments along the way, but one of the things I liked is how much support Chikage is getting to change her life. Tokita comes along on an extended teen idol outfit shopping trip, and when the outfit accidentally gets ruined, Akari’s fellow teen idols leap at the opportunity to help her out, instantly offering up their own clothing to save the day. Idol Dreams is fun and frothy, but I’m much more invested in the few scenes between Chikage and Tokita than any of the other men in her life. Tanemura is always good at shifting between more introspective moments and comedic effect freakouts from the characters, and that was definitely on display in this volume.