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.

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Manga Monday #3: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 4-7)

WARNING! This post will contain SPOILERS!

The previous post, which discusses volumes 1-3, can be found here!

Now, after starting the series several years ago and failing to finish it, I have finally read all of Full Moon o Sagashite!

It’s a unique feeling to read a manga like this now, in my twenties, as opposed to in my teens. My mentality on certain matters has changed a lot over the last few years, so while I’m sure 15-year-old Allie would be squealing with joy over how adorable this manga is, 25-year-old Allie is less enthusiastic. However, I will say that the manga comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion without any glaring loose ends, which is a major plus.

While I’m glad the story picked up a lot of traction as opposed to the early volumes, I did find some of the story-lines rushed during the latter portion of this series. I personally felt that Takuto’s emerging love for Mitsuki went from “I might have feelings for this girl” to “I AM DEEPLY, PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH HER” in an extremely short amount of time, and Takuto became pretty one-dimensional afterward, except for a moment where he asserted his partnership with Meroko in the final volume. I realize that this is a recurring theme in many shojo manga, but in case of Full Moon, I did find it to be a detriment. Takuto also gets a little forceful with Mitsuki at times, which I did not like. The inclusion of Hikari as a wrench in Mitsuki and Takuto’s blooming relationship also struck an off-note with me, as she felt more like a device than a full-fledged character, especially since that thread of the story was brief.

I mentioned in my last post that I disliked how young Mitsuki was while grappling with such intense emotions, but I do think that improved in volumes 4-7, as the reasoning behind her feelings gets explored more thoroughly. She knew that Eichi was dead, but was unwilling to let go of him, and that stirs up a mess of confusing emotions once Takuto throws himself into the ring and expresses his love for her. Mitsuki’s reluctance to move on felt very real, and like a very plausible reaction for a girl her age to have when experiencing such complex emotions, especially considering the other problems she’s dealing with, such as running away from home, handling her Fullmoon alter ego, etc. Over volumes 4-7, Mitsuki really grew on me; she retains her sugar-sweet personality throughout the series, but she also shows her vulnerabilities and a much more viable anger than she expresses early on. And watching her learn and adapt to difficult emotions, and puzzle out her warring feelings for Takuto and persistent dedication to Eichi, made her a much more likable and relatable heroine.

Also in a complete reversal from last time, I enjoyed Meroko’s story-line a lot more than I did during volumes 1-3. Finally getting the backstory as to why she acts the way she does and why she struggles so much with her insecurities and feelings of  “love” provided a greater insight into her character, and I loved the interaction she had with Fuzuki. As her motivations became clear, her character grew much more likable, and I appreciated the insight into Izumi’s former life as well. Izumi starts off as a “darker” character than Meroko and Takuto, so that peek into his past and his relationship with his mother created a more sympathetic view of his character, especially when he shows vulnerability to Mitsuki. The shinigami are so cute with their outfits and animal alter-egos, it’s easy to forget how they got to that point – they are only shinigami because they committed suicide. So seeing their tragic backstories unfold and having them work together to convince Mitsuki to choose life gains a much more powerful meaning, considering they know better than anyone what it means not to have one.

Also, side-note, not a fan of the Madoka/Nachi plot in general. FIRST OF ALL, where did Nachi come from? Did I miss his introduction somehow? He like, appeared in volume 4 but I had no memory of him prior to that, though that might be an error on my end. But just the idea that plastic surgery is what brought them together really rubs me the wrong way. It’s like “look at me, I changed my face to be good enough for you!” I really disliked the delivery of that message, and felt the plot-line could have been tweaked a bit so it wouldn’t come across as so shallow. I also thought the romance between Ms. Oshige and Dr. Wakaoji started off at a nice pace, then sprinted to a resolution; it more or less jumped from getting together to getting super serious in a pretty short amount of time. I would have liked to see more exploration into their developing feelings for one another, rather than surface-level observations.

Plot-wise, Iloved the Jonathan twist, as I did NOT see it coming. Also, I thought the introduction of Sheldan (the shinigami’s boss) was handled pretty smoothly, as he remained fairly mysterious throughout, but Mystere was kind of forgettable. They didn’t get much page-time, but their character designs were excellent.

And, just a suggestion… if you’re someone who skips the little mini-comics at the end of most volumes, I recommend reading the ones in this series. They are hilarious.

The ending is predictable, but it’s still nice to see all of the character development and the various stories get tied up in a nice, neat bow at the close of volume 7. there’s something oddly refreshing about a happy, if a little bittersweet, ending, and seeing the characters you’ve grown to love come to a solid resolution by the final pages.

Despite my gripes, Full Moon o Sagashite provides a compelling balance of romance, drama, comedy, and a sprinkle of magical girl tropes that may continue to draw new readers, even though the initial run of the series ended long ago. Despite some leaps in logic and a few cliche bits of narrative, and a few portions of the story that struggle to hit the high notes, this charming series is a must read for shojo manga fans, if only just to appreciate Tanemura’s great artwork. Though I’ve become a cynic in my old age, I imagine teenage manga fans might find themselves more engrossed and drawn into the story than I was.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Manga Monday #2: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 1-3)

While scanning my shelves for the next series to revisit, I tried to remember the first time I read Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura, but drew a total blank. After some more thought, I realized that, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least the first couple of volumes, I never finished it. And I’ve never seen the anime. So, although I have a vague idea of what the premise is (I know singing and shinigami are involved)… I have no idea how it ends. So let’s fix that, starting with volumes 1-3!

~Reading Break~

20170909_103548Full Moon o Sagashite follows Mitsuki, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a fatal sarcoma in her throat, but her dreams of a singing career and reuniting with her lost love Eichi prevent her from undergoing the operation that will save her life. When two shinigami appear to intercept her fate, Mitsuki is granted the ability to transform into a healthy, 16-year-old version of herself so she can spend the last year of her life accomplishing her goals. The manga ran from 2002 – 2004 and was completed at 7 volumes.

Now, I’m pretty sure, when I read this several years ago, I only got through volumes 1-3. I bought the first 3 volumes back when Borders was still around (they closed in 2011) and collected the rest from online retailers over the years, but never finished the series. But I do remember really loving the premise and the story, so although I’m not sure why I never finished it, I’m determined to amend that!

After volume one, I wasn’t too invested in the characters or the narrative. Mitsuki is a really, really sweet protagonist; but almost unrealistically so. Maybe I’m just jaded (very likely) but she’s so nice and selfless it comes across as almost… grating. Even her rare moments of anger are tied to how kind and caring she is, as she’s usually angry on someone else’s behalf. She reminds me a bit of a sugar-coated version of Tohru from Fruits Basket (which I will be rereading for this series) but her endless cheer and optimism makes it difficult to connect with her, though she did grow on me a little during the next two volumes as her vulnerabilities (besides her illness) are made clear.

One half of the shinigami team, the bunny-eared Meroko, also irritated me quite a lot, though the small peek into her history during a side story in volume 3 was a nice glimpse into why she acts the way she does, and makes me curious about her past life. However, the other half, Takuto, intrigued me from the start. As his story unfolds, showing how close he was to Mitsuki’s life when he was alive, his history with singing, and the circumstances of his death, I found myself more drawn into his story than anyone else’s. But Izumi, another shinigami with a somewhat darker personality and outlook, is my favorite, so that probably explains the sort of character personalities I’m drawn to in stories like this. The shinigami are responsible for most of the humor (one panel with Jonathan, Izumi’s partner, had me actually laughing out loud) but also provide a unique commentary on life/death and repercussions of drastic decisions, which I look forward to seeing more of in later volumes.

Although the plot has a bit of a stuttering start (lots of shinigami rules and intricate plot details get thrown around during the set-up phase, plus a lot of saccharine fluff from Mitsuki) the plot really starts to pick up in volumes 2 and 3, as the complexities of the shinigami roles and the truth behind Mitsuki’s past unravel. The plot starts off fairly light-hearted as Mitsuki embarks on her signing career as “Fullmoon” with help and hilarious commentary from Meroko and Takuto, but it does get pretty deep starting in the second volume, providing an engaging balance between comedy and drama. A couple of plot twists seem a little forced and out-of-nowhere (Dr. Wakaoji’s identity, for instance) but other revelations (Oshige and her boss, Takuto’s past, and the big reveal at the end of volume 3) unfold in a more organic, natural fashion, which makes me eager to read volume 4 and see what happens next. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, and now, 3 volumes in, I both dread and eagerly anticipate how certain info-bombs will impact the story going forward.

I will say that Mitsuki being twelve does bother me a lot more now that I’m older. Even though she can transform into a 16-year-old when she’s her alter ego, “Fullmoon,” she’s still like… a literal child. So some plot points and interactions with characters comes across as creepy to me, instead of sweet. For instance, when Eichi told her he loved her, he was 14 and she was 10. Why is a 14-year-old boy confessing love to a ten year old? I do not find that cute, sorry. I get that the circumstances are different (they grew up together in an orphanage, she helped him through personal struggles and vice versa, they supported one another when they had no one else) but the gap just makes me find Mitsuki more naive than anything else. But, like I said before, maybe I’ve just grown jaded in my old age.

The art is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of intricate, ultra-cute-style character designs. Mizuki is a memorable character, and her hairstyles are exceptional. The costumes for the shinigami are adorable, but also make them stand out and implies hints into their personalities – Takuto is really finicky and hot-and-cold, like a cat, for example. It’s an art style that might not appeal to everyone, since it lends itself more to the cute/big-eye trend, but it’s pretty standard for a magical-girl series and I found it very appealing, since it’s easy to differentiate between the characters due to how distinct they are.

All in all, Full Moon o Sagashite provides an interesting blend of humor, romance, and compelling questions about death, life, and second chances. Even if it’s difficult to connect with the too-sweet heroine, the mysteries of the side characters make me want to keep reading, and the plot really starts to gain traction as the drama and emotional points overtake the comedy and fluff aspects. Next Monday, we’ll finish off this series with volumes 4-7! Stay tuned!

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK.