Lucille

One of the proudest days of my academic career was being placed in the “advanced” group after a reading assessment in first grade. As such, I was permitted to read books marked with a daunting “5.” The most challenging books set aside for young, aspiring readers – the first small steps on the way to much larger feats, like The Lord of the Rings and To Kill A Mockingbird.

But before I would be able to tackle hobbits and other, more advanced literature, I had to grapple with a purple horse named Lucille.

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In retrospect, it’s very clear to me that 5-year-old Allie picked Lucille by Arnold Lobel because it was about a horse, and I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. But 5-year-old Allie should not have picked this book – she should have run far, far away, and made a different selection. And why is that?

Because I couldn’t pronounce “Lucille.”

You would think I’d pick a book with a title I could pronounce with my limited child vocabulary, but nooooooo, that would make too much sense. I’m half-sure I didn’t even look at the title when I chose it, I just saw a purple horse and was like, “YES, THIS ONE.” Kids are so impulsive. And stupid.

It was only after I got home, yanked the book out of my backpack, and scanned the front, that I realized I couldn’t read the title. And my stomach sank, because I knew at the end of the week I was going to have to read the book aloud to the teacher, and being able to read the title is a pretty big part of that. I was terrified I’d get demoted out of the advanced reading group, forever scorned by my classmates, mocked for my lack of knowledge. I’d never be able to look at horses the same way again.

I suppose I probably hoped that it was just the title, and the name didn’t pop up too much in the actual book… but that was not to be. And it’s not like I could just bloop over it, like they teach you at that age to do with words you can’t pronounce. It was like, 50% of the book. Should have watched all those reruns of I Love Lucy on TV Land when I was younger, but I was more of a Brady Bunch person.

So, what did I do? Did I ask my mom for help, which would have been the most logical thing to do? No, no. Stubborn Child-Allie had far too much pride, and that careless hubris was her downfall.

Instead of asking for help, I guessed. To be fair, I used the typically tried-and-true method of “sound it out,” and I was 100% certain that I got it right, so I didn’t bother double-checking with anyone who could, you know… actually read.

Therefore, I called the horse “Luckily.” Which, at least, is a real word. The rest of the book, after that minor snafu, was a total breeze. “Luckily” the horse has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s completely wrong, but not way out in left field. More like… on the third base line. Or in foul territory.

So, I went into my next reading assessment super confident that I was going to nail it… until I sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair in front of my first grade teacher, Lucille in hand, and the doubts began to swoop in. My certainty wavered, then snapped like a brittle twig. So when she told me to begin, I just sat there, staring at that damn purple horse, and I said nothing for a long time.

Until I finally admitted, “Um… I don’t know how to say this.”

“It’s Lucille,” my teacher explained, pronouncing it perfectly.

And then I read the book through, cover to cover, and didn’t mess up once. No damage to my reading reputation was done by the gaffe, by admitting my weakness. I wasn’t placed in a lower reading level, I continued to foster an intense love of reading and literature, and in the following years, I moved on to bigger books about worlds in wardrobes, dashing heroes, clever young detectives, and a troupe of creative babysitters.

Sometimes, it’s okay to ask for help, or to mess up a bit on an initial attempt. It’s okay to not know everything, especially if you’re five/six years old and only just learning to read proper books. You don’t need to hit a homerun your first turn at bat or score a goal your first time on the field. I might have struggled a bit with a purple horse named Lucille, but luckily, I learned from the experience – and to this day, I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know how to pronounce a word, or can’t puzzle out a definition.

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GIVEAWAY Time!

Looking for a new read? Like books that involve car chases, fire juggling, infiltrating a masquerade, a dash of the paranormal, and an exploration on the bonds of love and family? I’m hosting an Amazon Giveaway for kindle copies of my YA novel, I’m With You!

20 copies are up for grabs, and the giveaway ends February 9th, 2018. No cost or special requirement to enter!

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win, here is the LINK! (Amazon)

book cover

I’m With You is the story of fifteen year old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who must flee their home and wealthy lifestyle in Kelvar City to escape their mentally unstable father. Along the way, they meet a band of misfits, including a fire juggler and a disowned heir to a car-manufacturing empire, who help Ciarán and Remiel evade the hired hands sent to track them down. But the path ahead is full of danger, and when Remiel’s darkest secret is revealed, will their new friends abandon them, or will the Morrigan siblings find the freedom and peace that they dream of?

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.

 

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 #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 #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.