Toru Fujieda – Del Rey – 2011 – 2 volumes
this is an omnibus containing the last half of volume 3 and volumes 4-5
Man, I liked this series a lot, despite the fact I drug my feet about reading it the past couple days. As I said last time, the ouendan theme is very unique, as is Rinna, the main character. She’s not unsure of herself, or a sad sack, or any sort of doormat. She’s cheery, outgoing without being aggressive, and just an all-around great character to take the spotlight in a series like this. She goes through her doubts and periods of sadness, and the usual themes of friendship and whatnot pull her through, but there she is at the end, cheering everyone on, being exactly who she wants to be. Plus, it’s hard to fault a character who is shown hugging their dad rather than their crush on the front of the book.
Granted, her beau is left as a mystery until the end of the book. She falls in love with a mysterious character named Subaru, who sort of leads her on before dumping her coldly, but he may have a reason to do this. She’s also catching the eye of the school’s resident bitter introvert, and the big-hearted captain of the squad is also in love with her. One thing I like about both this series and Fujieda’s other, Oyayubihime Infinity, is that the love interest isn’t decided until the very end of the book. She does a good job keeping the reader guessing. I was hoping for a little more of an upset this time around, but she mixes things up enough that it’s not completely cut-and-dry.
The story this time was a little more soap-opera-ish than the last volume (which one of the characters points, out, too). Rinna has to deal with her father’s past, some drama surrounding her private life getting mixed up with a rival school, Yaotome’s emotional coming out, a whole lot of family issues… and… yeah, she runs away from home for awhile, too. That’s a shame, because her father and grandma are two of the coolest family members you’ll see in a shoujo manga, but she does have her reasons. Also, there’s the real plot of the series, which is Rinna’s attempt to get the ouendan cheering squad back to the forefront of student activities and re-instated as a school club.
This is three volume’s worth of story, so I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling it, but a series about a cheering squad is pretty much guaranteed to be a lot of fun, and the shoujo manga parts of it ensure romance and drama aplenty for those who want it. But because there was so much general crazy going on, the one thing that had me a little disappointed is that it felt like some parts could have gone into more detail, and that would have drawn me in a little more. I always feel like pointing out when something isn’t the best series I’ve ever read… and yeah, this isn’t. But it is a lot of fun, and it has more going for it than most mid-ground shoujo series.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that the spines of the two omnibus volumes form a picture of Rinna. I always get a kick out of spine images, and they’re used so infrequently (Dragonball, hardcover Buddha volumes, Vagabond VizBig volumes, the narrative running down the spine of Detective Conan). It’s worth pointing out and appreciating them when they do appear.
Cheerleading, a great main character, an upbeat mood, and great shoujo manga elements make this a hard one to pass up, and the two-volume omnibus format makes it even harder. It has its flaws, but it’s unusual enough that many shoujo fans will probably want to check it out.
Toru Fujieda – Yen Press – 2010 – 6 volumes
This is an omnibus containing volumes 1-3.
I picked this up because I enjoyed Toru Fujieda’s other series, Oyayubihime Infinity. It was unusual enough that it still sticks in my mind years later because of its strange fate and past lives premise. Also, both Oyayubihime Infinity and Dragon Girl were originally published in Japan in Princess Magazine by Akita Shoten, and I support Akita Shoten releases in the US the best I can.
This one is interesting for a couple reasons. It’s a series about a school’s ouendan cheering squad, a special type of Japanese cheering team (they are usually male, I think, though there seem to be plenty of female ouendan). I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a character in one, let alone a whole series on the topic. The main male character is also one of the only high school students I’ve ever seen sporting a beard and mustache in a shoujo manga. These topics… are so strange and alien, I don’t even know what to make of that.
I also liked the main character a lot. For a manga about cheering, she’s about what you’d expect and more. Rinna makes a promise as a youngster to join the ouendan squad at an all-boys school, and later is able to make good on it when the school goes co-ed her freshman year. Despite the protests of ouendan captain Hasekura (the ouendan is only for male students) Rinna joins and brings several members with her, saving the dying club and really whipping the school spirit into shape. She follows in the footsteps of her father, an ouendan legend at the same school. She’s good at sticking it to the boys at her school, who are set on bringing the ouendan club down and basically selling Rinna short because she’s a girl. She’s also cheery and well-liked, which is important when it comes to the strange student council politics at play here, and it comes in handy when tracking down one’s childhood crush, developing feelings for one’s team captain, or even trying for a relationship with a member of the student council.
As a shoujo manga, it’s not that exciting. The first volume (of the three in this omnibus) was a little messy, which may just be due to the adjustment time needed to deal with Rinna’s fast-paced desires. She goes for what she wants and gets it right away, and the first few chapters were a little confusing for me to follow plot and characters. It does settle down and hit a nice pace eventually, but despite Rinna being a great character, and even with the ouendan cheering squad and bearded romantic interests and a male crossdresser as the head of the rival cheerleading squad… it’s just not very good. I think I was disappointed that all the emphasis was on the plot, and the characters are left largely undeveloped until around volume three. There are plenty of good moments and stories for them, but I wasn’t really fond of anyone but Rinna when I finished. A shame, since she’s got perfectly good friends in the ouendan squad and elsewhere. With the emphasis on the plot… that’s just not very good, either. There’s a lot of fighting to get the ouendan re-established as a proper school club, but it kind of jerks from instance to instance, and the reasoning behind what’s going on is still hidden. Without it, the flow doesn’t make much sense, and this is the kind of light read that isn’t worth the revelation at the end. This volume ends in a bad spot, since it just seems like the ouendan club is dead and resolved, for the most part, with everyone happy. With it featured so heavily in these early volumes, where else is it going? Are the next three volumes just going to be about romance and character development? That’s a little weird.
Unfortunately, I’m also not a big fan of Fujieda’s art. Her character designs are too similar to tell people apart most of the time, including Rinna. The characters have different hair, but when Rinna’s hairstyle changes depending on what she’s doing, it’s difficult to tell her from other female students. And don’t get me started on the blonde boys with glasses. I had to read the last scene in the third volume twice before I understood what was going on.
It’s a shame that with such a fun topic as cheering and great characters like Rinna that this wasn’t something a little more special. The characters in Oyayubihime Infinity were pretty great, so it’s a shame that most of them were so one-dimensional here. Fujieda does apologize for not developing the romance more, so maybe the characters will be more likable, and the story will have something to latch onto, when the romance parts do start back up. I’ll probably read the second half of the series, but I’m not expecting much from it.