Manga Monday #8: Sugar Princess by Hisaya Nakajo

Hisaya Nakajo’s shojo manga Hana-Kimi is, at this moment, my favorite manga series of all time. When I first finished it, I binged the Taiwanese drama adaptation (loved it) and eagerly picked up her next series, Sugar Princess, when it was released.

And, though it’s been a while since I read it, I remember two things about Sugar Princess.

1.) It’s about figure skating.

2.) IT WAS TOO SHORT.

Needless to say, #2 enraged me, because I recall being charmed by this series and drawn in by its potential, and was so disappointed to discover that it ended at 2 volumes and was left feeling incomplete. So, let’s see if I still feel that way, shall we?

~Reading break~

20171030_100702899317592.jpgYEP, STILL ENRAGED. I do understand that sometimes, creators no longer feel the allure of a particular story and decide not to force themselves to continue, and perhaps that was the case with this series. However, I really wish this series had a solid ending… even now, so many years later, I want to know what happened to these characters!

Sugar Princess follows determined eighth grader Maya Kuroniki as she embarks on a journey to become a capable figure skater with her reluctant partner/coach, tenth-grader Shun Kano. Will the pair be able to work together to soar to new heights, or fall flat on the ice?

Much like Hana-Kimi, this series has a bright, happy protagonist who is very dedicated to her goal, and cheerful almost to a fault. Maya definitely puts the “sugar” in Sugar Princess, but does so without being too grating or obnoxious. Her counterpart, the gloomy but meticulous Shun, is the typical “brooding” hero without being too morose or cruel. Their chemistry as a pair is evident, despite the series ultimately tapping out at 2 volumes, though there’s very little romance besides a few hints here and there. The supporting cast come across as somewhat underdeveloped – but, considering the length of the series, that’s not much of a surprise, though it is a bummer.

The plot is pretty unique, as it focuses on ice/figure skating and even attempts to teach some terminology about the sport, though it also features some standard staples for a shojo title. Boy/girl don’t get along at first, but discover they must work together to reach a common goal. Lead boy has mysterious past. Sabotage threatens to take down an ice-skating rink. You know… the usual drama. Nakajo does an excellent job of balancing the humor with the drama, making for a well-rounded story… well, other than the fact that is is unfinished. It’s especially a shame because I was really drawn in by Shun and Maya – they are similar to other shojo protagonists in their personalities and mannerisms, but each of them also felt incredibly distinct, and I’m still bummed that readers don’t get to see them grow as a pair both on and off the ice except for a 2-volume glimpse.

I remember that Nakajo’s artwork changed pretty noticeably over the course of Hana-Kimi, but the difference never bothered me. I’m a big fan of her art style and the way she draws characters and their expressions, and that rings true for this series as well. She also does an excellent job showing subtle moments via artwork – a portion of the story shows Shun hesitating outside the door to his sister’s bedroom, with no dialogue bubbles, and the atmosphere of the scene is portrayed clearly through the art. The skating segments are also drawn very well, showing shades of moves I’ve seen from skaters in the Olympics.

Honestly, this series is great for what it is, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless someone is a fan of Nakajo’s other works or has an interest in figure skating. Volume 2 does end on a note that feels as though it could be the end, though I’ve read that this series was, in fact, discontinued. There are a lot of dangling threads never tied up by the end, and several avenues left unexplored. Though Sugar Princess features a promising premise, a compelling lead duo, great artwork, and a balanced blend of humor and plot, it’s probably not worth getting invested in a short, if charming, 2-volume series that does not have a satisfying conclusion.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

 

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A Strange Thing to Fear

Fear is a common conversation topic this time of year, as decorated pumpkins take residence on porches and stoops, season lattes feature on every coffee shop menu, mainstream and hipster alike, and Freeform starts airing Hocus Pocus seventy times in a week.

Personally, I’ve got a couple of common fears. Spiders/insects. Open ocean. Mascots. The potential for an alien invasion. Clowns, for the most part. Talking on the phone. You know, the usual. One, however, might not be considered so… normal.

I just recently found out it has a name: kosmemophobia, the fear of jewelry. I’m reluctant to officially say I have this phobia, because I’ve never been formally diagnosed, but jewelry really does skeeve me out, to the point where it occasionally infringes on my life. I don’t want to touch jewelry, I don’t want it to touch me, I would prefer to be nowhere near it, and if I do have to touch it for whatever reason, I wash my hands numerous times afterward. Shaking hands with people who are wearing rings makes my skin crawl. Hugging people who have earrings on freaks me out. Just the word “earrings” makes me want to gag. I also don’t like little pieces of metal like paperclips, but that is far more manageable. My sister is getting married next year and I’ve already told her that, although I’m in the wedding party, I will not be wearing any jewelry.

This has been the case since I was a child, which is corroborated by my mother. I briefly had my ears pierced (thanks, peer pressure) and that was a traumatic experience I hope to never re-live. I will go the rest of my life without wearing any jewelry and I will be 100% a-okay with that. I lived a good portion of my life thinking that this fear is “weird” and I should grin and bear it for the sake of appearing “normal,” but now, I don’t really apologize for it. It’s not so extreme that I can’t handle it on a daily basis and I’m not really crippled by it, but I’m also not going to put myself in situations where I am massively uncomfortable just to keep up appearances. Honestly, I could have it a lot worse. I truly feel for the folks who have a strange fear who can’t function in certain situations or environments because of it.

I think people with uncommon phobias can at least take comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and someone somewhere out there likely endures the same type of spine-tingling apprehension they do toward the root of their fear. This time of year might be tough for some who fear the thought of Pennywise in the drains or Freddy Kruger in their dreams, but I have no fear of ghosts, goblins, or ghouls… unless they’ve got a necklace on.

Scary Neighbor Lady

A few years ago, the trick-or-treat night in my neighborhood fell on an evening in which my last college class for the day ended at 6:30 PM. I lived alone at the time, and, as bad as it makes me sound, I had no interest in participating in trick-or-treat. I usually just turn the lights off so the folks walking around with their kids will know not to ring the doorbell. But, since I’d forgotten that I would be pulling into my driveway right smack in the middle of the event, I feared that I would have to suffer through being pestered by eager children hankering for some sugar. Plus, I had no candy in the house, though I did have plenty of carrot sticks, which are not generally a hit with the youth.

Nevertheless, I heated up some microwaveable macaroni and cheese for dinner (I was the pinnacle of health in those days), set up camp in my kitchen, and started to pound out my homework for the night. My computer was located in my kitchen nook, which was, unfortunately, positioned right next to a window. Therefore, from the right angle, the passing groups of ravenous candy-seekers could likely see me sitting there. I was absolutely certain that my doorbell would ring at least a few times and I would either have to ignore it, or tell the poor little ghosts, witches, and Iron Men that I had nothing to give them.

I sat, ate my dinner, and worked on an essay about the movie I’d just seen in film class. Through the window, I could see the kids walking about, going door to door, their laughter and cheer muffled through the pane. Reveling in their Three Musketeers, Hershey Bars, Skittles, and my personal favorite, Bottle Caps. Yet, though I expected it, not a single child rang my doorbell.

My porch light was on (I used to turn it on before I left the house for late classes, and had done so out of habit earlier that day) and I was plainly visible through the kitchen window, eating mac n’cheese and typing away at my desktop, and still, no one rang my doorbell.

In an attempt to pinpoint the reason why the neighborhood folks would be avoiding my house, since I was a relatively reclusive neighbor and spoke only to the people who lived to the right of me and the family across the street (the family across the street were GREAT neighbors and gave me free firewood during Snowtober in ’11,) I remembered an instance where, after seeing some of the neighborhood kids playing in my yard without permission, I yelled at them out the window to, essentially, “Get off my lawn.” There was a sort of “drop-off” in the yard marked with stones that was all-too-easy to tumble off and cause injury, which I did not want to be held accountable for. I mean, I could have been nicer about it or chosen some gentler phrasing, but if you’re gonna get kids who aren’t related to you and who are blatantly ignoring your property line in the first place to listen to you, you gotta be firm. At my behest, they scattered like the soot sprites in My Neighbor Totoro, and I never had to yell at them again. 

I suppose, at that time, I did not realize the toll my reprimand would have on my neighborly reputation. On that chilly October night, as all of the trick-or-treaters avoided my stoop, I came to realize that I had, in the eyes of a humble New England neighborhood, become the Scary Neighbor Lady.

But, instead of lamenting this, I decided to embrace it. So what if I could strike fear into the hearts of children with one bellow of “GET OFF MY LAWN!”? I’d never actually harm a kid, so I figured I might as well embrace my new reputation and use it to my advantage instead of trying to change it.

Although I never had to yell at the neighborhood kids again, they did end up fooling around in my yard one more time that I can recall, only it was the front yard instead of the back. My car was in the garage at the time, so they likely thought I wasn’t home. There’s a stone-lined drop-off onto my driveway that, if a child had fallen off, could cause pretty serious injury, so I definitely didn’t want them playing out there unsupervised. But before I could open the window to say anything to them, I met the gaze of one of the kids through the windowpane, and saw his eyes go wide with terror. I sharpened my glare, and that was enough. He motioned to his comrades to flee, and they sprinted away from my house and down the street, to play in some other neighbors yard, I assume.

I’ve since moved away, and have no such reputation in my current residence, but I like to think I’ve become an urban legend at my old stomping grounds, and that on trick-or-treat nights, the neighborhood kids still refuse to stop at “Scary Neighbor Lady’s” house.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Stress

Stress is my mortal enemy.

…Well, stress and woodpeckers, but the former occurs far more frequently than the latter.

I am always curious to know how others folks handle their stress, because I struggle with it and have yet to find a solution that sticks, especially now that I’ve more or less kicked my caffeine addiction (3 cups a day is my max, now) and can’t rely solely on coffee to soothe my nerves. I know coffee should have the reverse effect – for me, it’s more of a tranquilizer than a stimulant. It even makes me fall asleep.

I envy the “water off a duck’s back” kind of people, who don’t let negativity and pressure get to them – or, if it does, they are able to channel it in a productive manner or not show how badly it irks them. If I go into a day with a smile and good intentions, one stressful situation can throw me totally off-course. My fitbit often starts registering an accelerated heart-rate when my stress levels bubble up, and my natural expression is one of anger – I’m not even mad most of the time, but I assume it’s just my inner stress making itself known.

I guess those fidget spinner things that recently popped up are meant to help with that sort of thing; to assist with stress and anxiety. I tried it out, and let me tell you, it made me even more irritated. And when I see someone using one in public I feel the intense urge to slap it out of their hands. However, I used to carry a stress ball around in my purse and and it worked pretty well if I was on the go, especially while waiting in line at the grocery store or whenever I was forced to be in the presence of obnoxious children. Or adults. Recently, I’ve discovered shimmer pillows – and they are SO SOOTHING. I have no idea why or how it works, but I find them extremely calming.

Stress is a good thing sometimes, because it does, in a way, show dedication and perseverance. It shows that you care about doing a good job, or that you want a certain outcome and are bothered by the aspect of failure. But in large doses, it is a detriment – a productivity-killer. A blood-pressure raiser. Because in the throes of stress, it’s all to easy to plummet down the negativity slope and end up wallowing in a pit of frustration and despair, surrounded by “What ifs?” and worst-case scenarios.

I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to channel my stress and negativity into something productive or useful, and I’ve had some minimal success thus far. Stress often manifests itself into discouragement, for me – which, as a writer, is a total killer. But I’ve found that forcing myself to face my fears and confront the stress instead of hunkering down into a ball of blankets and waiting for it to pass, opening up a blank document and pounding out a free-write or some new chapters instead of throwing my hands up in failure, is the way to go. Stress is natural – I’ve faced the fact that I’ll never get rid of it entirely, because it’s just who I am. But I can learn to adapt and handle it better than I have in the past, and I’ve resolved to do just that.

And thus, I am curious – how do you handle stress?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Manga Monday #7: Tokyo Mew Mew by Mia Ikumi and Reiko Yoshida (vol. 4-7)

*Warning! This post will contain spoilers!*

Looking at the covers of the latter volumes triggered some memories for me, from back when this series was first released in English. Since Tokyo Mew Mew was the first manga I collected to completion and I started my collection as the series was being released, I would eagerly scan the manga shelves of my local Borders (good ol’ Borders! I MISS IT SO!) every few weeks, waiting for the new volume to come out. That’s definitely one of my first and fondest memories from my weeaboo years!

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Following the set-up of volumes 1-3, volumes 4-7 wrap up our story with more much more action, drama, romance, some cake and pastries, and a refreshing dose of comedy that almost vanishes completely in favor of a more serious tone for the last 2 volumes as the plot reaches the climax. All in all, there are many twists and turns as this story draws to a close – secret identities are revealed, double secret identities are revealed, romances are secured, mew aquas are found, and jokes are made, often at Ichigo’s expense.

I do feel that the story needed a bit more time to breathe as it barreled toward a conclusion. The big Masaya/”Deep Blue” reveal takes place within the span of a single volume, so it feels a bit rushed, as it gets resolved in short order and the final fight – while the art is fantastic and the battle is well-depicted – feels short. I actually think this series could have benefited from a couple more volumes, which is not a sentiment I feel very often, especially with shojo manga. There’s not even that much filler in Tokyo Mew Mew, which is nice… just about every chapter has a purpose that is tied into the overall narrative and the major arcs of the characters/story, it still feels as though the resolution comes a little too quick. But ultimately, the conclusion is satisfying and just about all of the loose ends get wrapped up in a way that should please most readers.

Also, my hatred of Kish continues (and builds!) in the latter volumes, but I’ll chalk it up to underwhelming character development. He switches sides and suddenly becomes a “good guy” because he “loves” Ichigo, but it’s tough for me to take his motivations at face value because he barely knows her, the only times he ever interacted with her he was attacking her and her friends, and he is just so whiny I wanted to punt him across numerous panels and off the page. Also Tart is OBNOXIOUS. Pie was the only villain that I could stand, only because he has very limited panel time. However, our friendly heroines are all pleasant to follow, and though Ichigo makes some boneheaded decisions sometimes (she’s twelve, she gets some slack) it’s easy to root for the Mew Mews as they fight to protect and preserve the world. Keiichiro is an understated hero, and Ryou is not my fave, but getting a peek into his tragic backstory makes him easier to understand and empathize with. Could have done without the Alto bit, though. And Masaya’s arc was intriguing, though a deeper glimpse into his history might have been beneficial, considering he’s been the ultimate villain all along.

However, any manga that ends with a mock wedding between two 12-year-olds is a bit much for me on the saccharine-scale. It makes me feel like a huge killjoy to say it, but, while I find the Ichigo/Masaya romance cute and all, it’s sooooooo dramatic and there are so many love declarations and angsting that it starts to feel forced and disingenuous. Plus, they are children. I get that it’s manga and isn’t to be taken so seriously, I just have a tough time taking it seriously. Then again, I’ve aged out of the target demo for this series, and I’m sure I thought differently when I was younger. I will admit, though, that Masaya has the patience of a SAINT. Someday, I hope I can land a man who is totally fine with consistent lateness and flakiness and me randomly disappearing while out on dates.

If you’re looking for a cute magical-girl series that is significantly shorter than Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yugi, then Tokyo Mew Mew is a great outlet to satisfy your need for cute mottos, cute motifs, and cute characters… did I mention it’s cute? Overall, there’s enough sugar in this series to please even the fiercest sweet-tooths.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Rewind #12: Wings of Fate Chapter 8 Part 1

I’ll straight up admit that I’ve been putting this next installment off on purpose, because it includes the storyline I’ve been dreading. The romance subplot. My reasons for hating it will become more prevalent next time, but this is the set up to it…

Now that I’m older, I’ve actually done a total 180 on my stance regarding the main “romance” of this story, so revisiting will be difficult because I basically want to erase the entire thing and pretend it never happened. But I’m going to do my best to dissect all the issues without imploding from the massive cringe-fest that is about to unfold.

Last time on Writing Rewind, we found out what the mysterious mission is all about! It involves a floating land in the sky that was definitely not influenced by Castle in the Sky from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, no way no how. What adventures are in store for us this time as we vault into Wings of Fate Chapter 8: The Hated Day?

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Oh boy. It’s a Matthias-centric chapter. Brace yourselves for the avalanche of “cold” and “icy” character descriptions!

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That entire first paragraph is an abomination and deserves to DIE. I cannot fathom why I felt I needed to describe Matthias in vivid detail EVERY SINGLE TIME HE’S MENTIONED. He’s basically the Tin Man meets Mr. Freeze meets Frosty the Snowman, WE GET IT, GOOD GOD.

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There. Short, sweet, mostly to the point. And not a “cold” descriptor to be seen…

Next, after Robin spills the beans about the mission and gets Heiwa and Daisuke in trouble with their commanding officers, they are out on the deck with Shirotaka when a little accident happens, and our favorite mute magical girl falls overboard…

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She can fly, she can fly, she can flyyyyyyy!!!!!! And this portion’s not too bad, but it’s got too much fluff.

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I’ve noticed that Past Allie certainly leans toward repetition, or saying things in a roundabout way that could be explained in a much shorter fashion. I’m verbose, basically. And it ain’t cute. And I think it is definitely the worst it’s been in this chapter.

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Wow, look at that! The same revelation with much fewer words! It flows a lot better this way, without all the excess.

Next, Heiwa takes Shirotaka up to Dr. Black to tell him about her ability…

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Why, oh why, does Dr. Black feel the need to pontificate so often? Might as well stamp “I’M A SECRET VILLAIN!” on his forehead.

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I think Dr. Black needs to keep it subtle. Not be so… forthcoming. Like, Heiwa asked one question and he goes off on a rant, and it’s not necessary at all. Also, I think he’d be more upset by the lack of positive reception to the mission reveal than he lets on in this version, so him keeping his response short will work better. Gotta keep some element of suspense.

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There we go! Look how much better it is when all the babbling is chopped out!

Next, Matthias’s frigid ways continue…

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Uh, oh! Something’s up with Mattie! What could it be?

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The set up of Matthias’s hissy-fit and Tango’s musing can definitely be handled in a more… fluid way. Keep the mystery without beating the reader over the head with it. Matthias’s behavior is weird, but it can be shown and not told.

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Much better! Enough to show that Mattie is behaving like an asshat and Tango is perplexed by it without being too wordy. The theme of the week seems to be trimming the fluff, and I gotta say, seeing all the superfluous bits getting shaved away is making my hatred of this plot-line wane, just a bit.

After Matthias blows up in spectacularly unprofessional fashion at Pilot, the commanding officers begin to speculate about his pissy mood…

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So, Tango knows – or thinks she knows – why Mattie is behaving like this. That can be said in far fewer words, and the remaining words can be shuffled around and tweaked to make the passage flow better.

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Clearly, the romance being set up is between Tango and Matthias, so this portion is meant to set up the fact that Tango knows him better than the others and views him in a more positive light. And by cutting some parts out and reworking some others, that message will come across a bit clearer.

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Okay, so this part of Chapter 8 wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but next time, the real cringe sets in. Will we find out why Matthias is acting like such a jerk to everyone? Will Tango be able to improve his mood, or will her intervention make things worse? Stay tuned, for the exploration of the most regrettable romantic subplot of my early writing career!

For some less regrettable writing, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Manga Monday #6: Tokyo Mew Mew by Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi (vol. 1-3)

I’ve been looking forward to this one, because Tokyo Mew Mew was the very first manga series I collected and read to completion. I was pretty young when I read it (probably early teens), but I have fond memories of the characters and stories, and I look forward to riding the wave of nostalgia.

~Reading Break~

20171009_085423290452330.jpgTokyo Mew Mew (written by Reiko Yoshida, additional writing and art by Mia Ikumi) follows Ichigo Momomiya, a twelve-year-old girl who, after being infused with the genes of an endangered breed of wild cat, must save the earth from the threat of aliens who seek to conquer it. With four other girls, Ichigo must navigate the difficulties of saving the world with the perils of maintaining her personal life and keeping her superhero identity hidden from those she cares about – especially her crush, Masaya. This series ran from 2000-2003 and was complete at 7 volumes.

I think my early adoration for Sailor Moon sparked an appreciation for Magical Girl stories in general, and that’s probably what drew me to this title in the first place… and so many years later, though I’ve aged out of the targeted demographic, I still enjoy it!

For the first three volumes, the story walks familiar ground – girls magically become superheroes and find themselves thrust into dangerous situations where they must fight to save the city from extraterrestrial forces – but contains the right balance of humor, action, and drama to weave a compelling narrative. It’s more lighthearted than similar titles, but has a decent share of serious moments, and juggles the “save the world!” message with the “OMG DOES HE LIKE ME OR NOT??” teenage drama in a way that doesn’t seem particularly stale or overdone. Now that the story is pretty much all set up, I’m looking forward to some more action in volumes 4-7; my memory of what happens next is spotty.

Ichigo is a likable heroine, and though she’s the main focus, her teammates are well-developed and get their own bits of page-time, and each member of the Mew Mew squad has a distinct personality, so no one really fades into the background. It’s tough to devote enough time to each character in manga with a pretty sizable ensemble cast, but all of the supporting Mew Mews – Mint, Lettuce, Pudding, and Zakuro – have their psyche explored at least a little bit in the first three volumes. Masaya is also a quirky, and somewhat unusual love interest for Ichigo; he’s dense (as all twelve-year-old boys are), but shows signs of a deeper awareness and just seems like an overall decent, honest fellow thus far. My least favorite character way back when I read this the first time was the alien Kish, and that remains true today – I still want to punch him in the face. Some things never change, I guess. Only now I also kind of want to punch Ryou, as well.

The art leans more to the “cute” style, but it’s pleasing to the eye, and the costumes and character designs for the girls are well done and aids their development as characters. The whole “fruit and pastry” theme is interesting and the design of the villains and the aliens are neat. I have never understood why 12-year-olds need to wear revealing costumes in manga like this, but in the case of Tokyo Mew Mew, it’s not as bad as others.

The main thing that stuck out to me is the way the story presents a message about literally “saving the world” – by caring for the environment, and treating the earth and all of its inhabitants with respect – as Ichigo and the girls battle the Chimera Animas and Kish and his goons. There’s even a bit of background to the aliens that alludes to their motives in a more sympathetic light, which is . It’s a unique way to spread the message of environmental preservation and the importance of aiding endangered species, and it does not feel as though it’s shoehorned in – it flows as a natural part of the story, and hopefully, when new young readers discover this series, the idea of caring for our earth will resonate with them.

Tokyo Mew Mew presents a fairly standard Magical Girl story with a unique, environmentally-conscious flair – a sweet pastry with a tart twist – and I look forward to delving into the last 4 volumes to see if the series maintains its charm throughout.