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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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.

Manga Monday #5: Absolute Boyfriend (vol. 4-6)

*Warning! This post will contain MAJOR spoilers!*

Last week, I re-examined volumes 1-3 of Yuu Watase’s shojo manga Absolute Boyfriend, and this week, I’ll be tackling the end, volumes 4-6!

I went into the tail end of this series expecting to be blown away, and in all honesty, I wasn’t – I kept both feet planted firmly on the ground. But a few key points still stuck out, and I still find this series just as charming and funny on the second go-round as I did on the first. I do, however, now realize why a part of me prefers the Jdrama to the manga, when the opposite is usually true.

20171001_2145091421252900.jpgFirst of all, I am immensely glad that the series retains the humor factor the entire way through. The little bits of comedy, especially regarding Gaku and his “job,” and Night’s tendency to nearly expose his secret to others, make for a nice break from the more dramatic portions of the story, especially as the main narrative barrels toward the end and the emotional scenes become a priority. The art remains fantastic as well; totally pleasing to the eye and continually engrossing.

Of all 6 volumes, I think volume 4 is the weakest. First of all, I TOTALLY FORGOT about the “Mini-Night” story-line. While some meaningful revelations and interactions occur during that particular plot, it still feels like “filler.” Even the side-plot that occurs concerning Miyabe, one of Riiko’s friends, during this time didn’t strike me as vital to the plot. I understand the genre of this manga and what the standards are for this type of story, but I think the latter half of the plot seems to fall victim to the preoccupation with the love triangle, and it’s more of a detriment than a strength. It’s present in the first half of the series, but as the story builds and the love-triangle plot starts to take center stage, it began to bug me. And, as I said in the last post, I am all for a good love kerfuffle, but this one started to grate on my nerves. I mean, at least Riiko straight up admits she doesn’t know who she “really loves,” since she has feelings for both, but the pettiness between Night and Soshi and Riiko’s constant, “I don’t know” mentality gets a little stale after a while.

The pacing suffers a bit in the latter volumes; certain parts, like the finale, feel rushed, while others seem aimless. I didn’t realize volume 6 takes up only half the tankobon, and the other half is two little one-shot stories totally unrelated to Absolute Boyfriend. BUT, they are both pretty cute, and well worth a read!

My biggest beef on this read-through is Soshi’s character. I hated the way Soshi behaved when he found out about Night’s “figure” status, as he amped up the jealous/forceful factor to about a 9 on the “he needs to calm the eff down” scale. It’s understandable for him to be frustrated, of course – the girl he loves is torn between him and a man who is not technically “real,” and if that were me, I’d feel like a grade-A loser – and his reaction is… less than pleasant, to the point where it does teeter a bit over the “too intense” line. And while Riiko can be a bit of a waffle sometimes, and wishy-washy like a lot of heroines tend to be, I think Soshi genuinely needed to chill. He does, eventually – but my opinion on his character really soured in the latter half of this series. Especially when he kisses Riiko while she’s sleeping. Not cute, Soshi. Not. Cute. And the “YOU DON’T DESERVE HER… no wait, I don’t deserve her… BUT YOU DON’T DESERVE HER EITHER” got old real quick.

Though I’m older now, and some of the events and decisions made in this manga no longer resonate with me or stand out as something I can relate to, I do still massively appreciate the way this manga ends. Even when I was a teenager, I didn’t expect Riiko/Night to be endgame. It was just not realistic, and I applaud the mangaka for not taking some absurd, Pinocchio-esque “I’m a real boy!” twist to make it so that Night will be able to remain in Riiko’s life permanently, without consequence. And I will admit, I got a little choked up when Night’s body fails and Riiko desperately tries to wake him, only to realize that he’s gone forever. I remember openly sobbing over it when I read it the first time, so I’m not surprised it still yanked at the ol’ heartstrings. Boy, that pummeled me right in the feels, even so many years later. Their relationship was never going to last, but that doesn’t make the ending any less significant, and by the end, I felt as though I had witnessed real growth in Riiko (and, to some extent, Soshi ) thanks in large part to her relationship with Night, and her experiences with him seemed to make her a better person overall. It’s a bittersweet ending that is handled exceptionally well, which seems difficult to pull off for a series of this nature.

All in all, Absolute Boyfriend doesn’t hold quite the same allure for me as it did when I was a teen, but it still contains messages and stories that are relevant today and it is an entertaining read all the way through, despite some parts that gnawed at my nerves. Through a tedious love triangle and a bit of inconsequential “filler,” Absolute Boyfriend still nails the comedy and packs an emotional wallop where it really matters.

Next Monday, we’ll tackle either Tokyo Mew Mew by Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi, or Tsubasa: Those With Wings by Natsuki Takaya. Until then!

Manga Monday #4: Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase (vol. 1-3)

*Warning, this post contains minor spoilers!*

I’m not going to lie, I was initially leery of this series because of the “scandalous” cover of the first volume, which features a mostly naked man. I didn’t want to buy it in stores because I didn’t want the cashier at Borders to judge me, so I ended up buying the entire series online. Bear in mind, I was an awkward teenage girl at that time.

However, I do remember loving this manga, because I also binged both the Japanese and Taiwanese drama adaptations (Japanese first – the Taiwanese one wasn’t out yet). I also splurged on another of Yuu Watase’s works, Alice 19th, which I will be revisiting later for this blog series. But will Absolute Boyfriend stand the test of my growing cynicism and jaded view of the world?

~Reading Break~

Absolute Boyfriend follows Riiko Izawa, a 16-year-old girl who yearns for a boyfriend. After a string of rejections and a chance meeting with a mysterious salesman, Riiko ends up in over her head when a boyfriend is delivered right to her door. The problem is… he’s a cybernetic doll, and he’s determined to prove to Riiko that he can be her “ideal boyfriend,” which causes mayhem in Riiko’s life. But can Riiko develop a real relationship with a man who isn’t?  Absolute Boyfriend ran from 2003-2005 and was completed at 6 volumes.

After re-reading the first 3 volumes, the points that appealed to me on my first read-through continued to resonate. Absolute Boyfriend is a series that relies on familiar tropes, but presents those elements in a fresh, and sometimes unexpected, way.

Riiko is an understandable heroine and a believable teenage girl. She’s sixteen, she makes mistakes, she’s awkward, and she struggles with her budding feelings for Night as well as her confusion over her interactions with childhood friend, Soshi. She also has a (somewhat hilarious) violent streak, and she grapples with money problems, jealousy, betrayal, and the stresses of high school. Night, the “absolute boyfriend” of the title, is a combination of chivalrous, hilarious, and frustratingly naive, as his actions and his stalwart dedication to Riiko constantly cause trouble for her and threaten to expose his true identity. He’s an enjoyable and charming lead, although his outbreaks of jealousy and occasional violence are a drawback. However, since he’s programmed to Riiko’s tastes, his possessiveness serves a dual purpose; it shows both Riiko and the reader what can happen when a boyfriend acts that way. Soshi, the last lead, is a typical “boy next door,” but he shows some unique traits that separate him from the stereotype. He’s loyal and sure of his feelings for Riiko, but also shy and uncertain when he compares himself to Night.

Though the “love triangle” bit is a common trope in shojo manga (and the YA genre in general), Absolute Boyfriend goes about it in a way that doesn’t feel overused. I know they’ve been beaten into the ground, but honestly, I love a good love triangle if it’s done well or done in a unique fashion, and this one does strive to separate itself from the pack, especially since one member of the triangle is an AI. All three sides of the triangle – Riiko, Soshi, and Night – also function independently of one another, so their complex romantic entanglements, despite serving as the crux of the story, don’t become the sole focus. There’s plenty of other issues and story-lines going on in this manga, so the love triangle doesn’t feel like a stale addition to a tired plot.

Also, this is the first shojo manga I read that really delves into the topic of sex in a relationship, and it’s handled very well. Riiko must sleep with Night in order to make him “permanently” hers, so he can never be claimed by another, but she says she doesn’t want to take a step like that until she’s truly in love and is ready for it. Despite constant pressure by Gaku – the Kronos Heaven employee who helps her out with Night – she doesn’t relent in her decision to wait until she’s certain she wants to progress the intimate nature of her relationship with Night, and I think it’s a good message to send. The manga isn’t “sex negative” or anything – in fact, it comes across as positive – but stresses the idea of people being ready for such a step at different times, which is nice to see acknowledged. There’s some other progressive ideas inserted into the story as well, which I didn’t remember from my first read-through, but appreciated seeing on a reread.

There’s also a nice blend of humor and drama/romance in the plot over the first 3 volumes. Riiko battles with recognizable issues, often with comedic setbacks and dramatic conclusions, and the story’s pacing is well-balanced. The serious parts don’t overwhelm and drown out the comedy and vice versa. The narrative explores a unique question about artificial intelligence, genuine emotion, self worth, and the potential drawbacks and positives of building romance, and it does so in a way that feels fresh and new, even though the series is over a decade old.

Yuu Watase’s art is also excellent; I love her character designs, as it’s clear that a ton of effort has gone into them. The different textures and inking is also very impressive, and I remember being just as struck by it back when I read it the first time as I was on this reread. The art style also lends itself well to humorous parts of the story; the facial expressions and reactions are on point, and I actually chuckled out loud during a few panels, which is due to the art as well as the content.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my reread of Absolute Boyfriend so far – it’s definitely one that should not be judged by the cover, as I’ve found it more compelling than the brief summary and a glimpse of the cover art would imply. I look forward to re-experiencing volumes 4-6, and see if my reaction to the conclusion will change!

 

 

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. 

 

Manga Mondays #1: Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai

Back in my teenage years, I was a big-time manga collector, and now, in my twenties, I still have shelves full of different volumes and series. While my anime preferences trend more toward the action-based/sci-fi/fantasy/mecha titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Last Exile, and Cowboy Bebop, my manga tastes stray more toward the “girly” fare. And one such series is Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai, which ran from 2003-2008 and was completed at 10 volumes.

I read Beauty Pop quite a few years ago, and all I remember is that it’s about cutting hair and I thought it was hilarious. Also, the lead female was a bit unconventional for a shojo title. But that’s all I’ve got, so it’s time for a reread!

~READING BREAK~

Alright! I initially planned on reading just the first 3 volumes for this post, but ended up powering through all 10 because I got sucked in, just like I did when I read it all those years ago. Beauty Pop follows 1st year high-schooler Kiri Koshiba, a girl with a gift for hair-styling, and her interactions with the S.P., or Scissors Project, a club run by 2nd year Shogo Narumi and his friends Kazuhiko Ochiai and Kei Minami, who are determined to be the top makeover/stylist team in Japan. Naturally, many hair-related hi-jinks ensue.

20170904_084322.jpgOverall, the series has a nice, meandering pace; there are over-arcing stories that run through the course of the series, but also several smaller, more episodic narratives that unfold in conjunction with the major plot-lines, and they are well balanced, so the story never loses the flow. A couple of the side stories kind of fall flat, but overall, the narrative is charming and engaging. The character relationships are also handled exceptionally well; there is as much, if not more, focus on friendship between the main cast (Kiri and her best friend Kanako get a nice subplot, Ochiai and Narumi have a lot going on, and lots of minor characters who encounter the S.P. have interesting and relatable issues to face) than there is on the romance. Typical “real world, growing up” problems are also handled  and touched upon quite a lot, as the characters grapple with decisions that will impact their futures, their relationships with family, their education, and their ties to friends. The more romantic elements are hinted at and briefly explored in the early volumes, but don’t really progress until the last 3, so it isn’t the main draw of the plot. This is not the standard, but the plot of the manga is definitely more focused on the comedy/slice of life/coming of age stories, which is a nice change in tone from more “dramatic” titles in this genre. Plus, the emphasis on hair-styling/makeup is intriguing, as it allows for exploration into personal ideas of beauty and the way society looks at people versus how they should be seen.

For example, in one bit, Kiri gets blamed for something that happens to the S.P. club room after she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of immediately assuming that she did it and getting angry, Narumi asks her about it, she says she didn’t do it, and he believes her. I half expected him to fly off the handle and go on a total rage campaign against her in a fit of manufactured drama, but no – she says she didn’t do it, and he accepts her word. It’s a great way to show how their relationship has grown to that point, and to subvert some familiar tropes of the genre.

Beauty Pop is also more of an ensemble effort than it is focused solely on one character. Some get more page-time than others (Kei, for example, doesn’t get any chapters where he is the main focus, and neither do Iori and Seki) but most of the characters get a fair amount of development and show real growth over the series. This allows for a greater range of stories to be told, as readers glean insight into Narumi’s confrontational relationship with his father, Ochiai’s ambitions clashing with his personal relationships, Kiri’s personal history with hair-styling, Kanako’s struggles to juggle friendship and love, and Billy’s difficulty choosing between duty and family.

Also, the art is great; it isn’t flashy, but the characters all have a unique style, and there isn’t anything too distracting that draws away from the story. All the different hair-styles are also cool to see, as Kiri and Narumi work their magic on a plethora of side-characters.

As I remembered, Kiri is definitely an unconventional shojo heroine, which makes this series stand out from several others. She has a laid-back, generally aloof personality that clashes spectacularly with her high-strung, temperamental counterpart, Narumi. She’s hilarious, a real breath of fresh air, and a good chunk of her story focuses on past trauma and whether she truly wants to be a beautician, and her struggles coming to terms with her dreams and her past. My only quibble with Kiri as the heroine is that, when the inevitable love triangle rears its head, you don’t get much of her perspective, especially in the later volumes. However, on the flip side of that, there is a lot of emphasis put on the two male characters of the triangle, which, at least in my experience with manga, goes a bit against the grain. But, since Kiri’s thoughts on the matter are barely touched upon, the ending doesn’t pack quite enough emotion as I would have hoped for. But in terms of the general “building up” of the romance over the course of the volumes, the progression is subtle for the most part. Narumi’s initial derision for Kiri fades slowly as they learn more about one another and gradually start to work together, but their interactions develop in a way that feels organic and natural. Ochiai’s blossoming crush on Kiri has an impact on his friendship with Narumi, as he mainly struggles with his budding feelings on his own until the triangle reaches a climax, though Kiri and Kanako’s friendship does suffer a minor snag once Ochiai’s motivations become more clear. So, although the triangle is such an overdone trope, it doesn’t feel hastily thrown in; most sides get a fair amount of development, but I wish we could have had more of Kiri’s perspective. I will say, now, as an adult, some of the “romance” comes across as more “stalkery” or “cringey,” but isn’t really presented as such. Then again, maybe I’m just out of touch.

When I first read Beauty Pop as a teenager, I was drawn in by the comedy and the unusual focus on hair-styling and beauty, and now, all these years later, that allure still rings true. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did, but I was still drawn in by the story and the characters. It’s a light-hearted title that presents familiar tropes in an unconventional and unexpected fashion, breathing new life into a genre that can easily get stale.

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.