Like a Butterfly, Vols 1-3

Like a Butterfly, Volumes 1-3 by Suu Morishita

Suu Morishita series are an automatic buy for me, after Shortcake Cake, I went against my self-imposed ban on buying digital first series to get A Sign of Affection (one of my favorites of all time), so I was delighted to have a chance to read an earlier series, Like a Butterfly. It deals with communication issues in a different way than Sign of Affection but is extremely compelling.

Like a Butterfly

Suiren is incredibly beautiful, but her beauty is actually a burden. People have an oversized reaction to her outward appearance, and she chose to go to an all girls middle school because of the unwanted attention. Unfortunately she received just as much attention there, but did have the benefit of some fierce female defenders who would fend off boys at the school gates. Over time, she began to develop a self-defense mechanism of speaking very little and having almost no self expression in order to not provoke any type of unwanted attention. She thus has the nickname “the mysterious flower”. Suiren’s old friend Aya is her main companion, and helpful social navigator. Suiren notices Kawasumi, a quiet boy with glasses who is consumed by karate a couple times at school. He comes to her rescue when an upperclassman takes her bag and announces that he’s going to walk her home. His method is to use some karate moves but expertly pull his punches so his opponent knows full well that Kawasumi could absolutely destroy him. With Kawasumi, Suiren has found someone that she wishes would notice her, but he’s not really able to talk to girls either, even though he notices her back.

An additional complication is introduced in the form of Koharu, a forthright girl who has developed a crush on Kwasumi and starts asking him out. She comments to Suiren that she doesn’t want to be a passive flower but a butterfly who will fly towards whatever she wants. Suiren is struck by the contrast in their personalities and also wants to go after what she wants. Like a Butterfly develops at a glacial pace, but due to the nature of Suiren and Kawasumi’s communication difficulties any interaction between them is charged with meaning. Their friends serve as both cheerleaders and sources of running commentary when they aren’t really able to express their feelings. Suiren gradually makes some overtures, but Kawasumi’s radar for dealing with attention for girls is so broken that he isn’t able to understand what’s happening very well. By the third volume, the not-quite-a-couple has been to a festival and Suiren has actually cheered Kawasumi on at a Karate tournament. The art for this series is great, I was continually amused by the many variations of Suiren’s expressionless face that end up actually telegraphing her feelings. I was predisposed to like this series and the first three volumes did not disappoint.

Sakura, Saku Vols 1 and 2

Sakkura, Saku Volumes 1 and 2 by Io Sakisaka

I feel like Io Sakisaka is a great go-to author for heartfelt shoujo stories that reaffirm one’s faith in humanity and young love. Sakura, Saku might not be terribly surprising, but it delivers all the feels that one would want from a shoujo romance. Saku Fujigaya was rescued on a train when she was feeling faint by a mysterious stranger, and she is so inspired by this kindly act that she decides to devote herself to helping others. She rescues dropped train passes, shares umbrellas, carries extra pencils in case someone needs to borrow one, and takes on extra chores at school. When people comment on her being a “goody-two-shoes” she is delighted that she is succeeding in her new life mission.

Sakura, Saku

One of Saku’s biggest regrets is that she wasn’t able to thank her rescuer. She had a note with his name on it, but when she tried to contact him she wasn’t able to locate him. She’s surprised when she hears a familiar last name – Sakura. Her classmate Haruki Sakura’s older brother is potentially her original rescuer who changed the direction of her life. She asks Haruki to deliver a letter to his brother for her, and he immediately refuses. As they cross paths more often he begins to see that she’s not the typical girl that tries to go through him to confess to his brother, and Saku begins to form more ties with her classmates.

Saku’s tendency to throw herself into helping people, and Haruki’s somewhat diffident but forthright personality make them unusual allies in navigating the emotional currents of high school even while they try to figure out their own feelings for each other. Saku’s habit of contemplating Haruki’s shoulders at inopportune times is a great example of the awkwardness that comes with a first crush. Sakisaka’s art is attractive and expressive, and the while first couple of volumes so far step through some typical plot points and situations, the characters are engaging and it fills a niche for anyone wanting some relatively angst-free contemporary shoujo.

Neighborhood Story Vol. 1 By Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story Volume 1 by Ai Yazawa

Neighborhood Story is a manga I’ve been aware of for a long time, because the characters drop in on Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, but I never thought it would actually be translated into English! I’m glad that Viz has licensed this shoujo classic. Mikako is an aspiring fashion designer who has a ton of personality packed into her tiny body. Tsutomo is the boy next door. They’ve been constant childhood companions, and many of their surrounding family and friends seem to expect that they’ll end up together.

Neighborhood Story Volume 1

Mikako is a little suspicious about Tsutomo’s inadvertent womanizing ways, as his similarity to a pop idol causes him to be fascinating to random girls. Tsutomo wonders if he and Mikako are so close that they aren’t ever really going to experience life without some time apart. They seem obviously perfect for each other and yet sometimes oblivious to their own emotions in ways that are utterly realistic for teenagers experiencing the first stirrings of something that might be love. Mikako is a force to be reckoned with, and as their extended group of friends start gathering together to pursue their creative dreams, I’m looking forward to experiencing again that combination of love story and artistic ambition that Ai Yazawa writes so well.

While the art isn’t as polished as Yazawa’s later series, her spindly characters and their fashion forward style contribute to the creative community that surrounds and supports Mikako and Tsutomo. Reading Neighborhood Story feels nostalgic in the best way, and I’m glad I finally have a chance to experience it.

The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Vol 1

The Ice Guy and the Cool Girl, Volume 1 by Miyuki Tonogaya

I was curious about this manga, because I’ve heard good things about the anime, which I have not watched yet. The premise of a man descended from snow spirits and his evolving relationship with his work colleague sounded amusing. This series started off being serialized online, and that definitely shows in the episodic nature of the early chapters and the same humorous situation being repeated multiple times. Fortunately, I enjoy scenes of people being overcome with emotions over and over again. I think pacing out reading the first volume over a period of a few days would make for a less repetitive reading experience, and it certainly was pleasant to dip in and out of this manga.

Ice Guy and the Cool Girl

Himuro is the decedent of a snow spirit, and his heritage causes him to have incidents where he inadvertently chills or freezes things in his environment. Fuyutsuki is pretty self-contained, but she does notice Himuro’s challenges and tries to come up with ways to make his life easier. She brings in straw that he can use to insulate the flowers he likes so they won’t freeze over, and brings him cat whiskers as a good luck charm when she realizes that he can’t pet a real cat. Fuyutsuki’s deadpan expression and lack of awareness about her emerging crush provide a contrast to Himuro’s over the top realizations of his feelings for her, which usually involve being overcome with emotion and causing a blizzard in his immediate vicinity. Tonogaya’s art is expressive and the contrast between Himuro’s over the top reactions and Fuyutsuki’s self-contained demeanor is funny. I really liked the bonus story at the end, because it gave a bit more insight into Fuyutsuki’s internal thoughts. Overall, this is a pleasant manga to keep on the reading pile, flipping through a few pages now and then for a bit of cute romantic comedy whenever it is needed.

Honey Lemon Soda, Vol 2

Honey Lemon Soda Volume 2 by Mayu Murata

Shy girl in love with popular boy is a fairly common subgenre of shoujo manga, but with the second volume, I do think that Honey Lemon Soda is pulling it off better than most manga. Uka is still adjusting to her new school, and fighting through her instinctual reactions to situations and other kids that she developed when she was horribly bullied during middle school. Fortunately in her new environment she keeps being pleasantly surprised by her classmates, who are generally very kind. When she shows up in full hiking gear to a trip that everyone else knew was a low key walk in the woods, her classmates are perplexed, but not cruel. Kai, the object of her affections, finds her gaffe sort of adorable because Uka is showing up for events with everything she’s got.

Honey Lemon Soda 2

Uka ends up being a defacto leader of the group when they accidentally go off trail, and her giant hiking backpack has enough snacks to take care of everyone. She slowly starts trusting her classmates more, but she also starts getting a sense of Kai’s popularity. Murata’s art continues to be stylish and a little quirky. I especially liked the way she portrayed Uka and Kai’s smiles and attitudes towards each other as documented in other students’ photos of the hiking trip, it gave a little preview to how their relationship might eventually develop.