Chica Umino – Viz – 2010 – 10 volumes
Do you remember what I said about the last volume of Nana, that even if Yazawa never has a chance to return to the series, that the loose threads somehow make it seem more real, the characters more human? Yeah, that’s how this series goes.
I think I was reading it this entire time waiting for the nice shoujo ending. That doesn’t really happen. There are a handful of resolutions, and life takes shape, and the characters move on, and all they, and we, are left with are memories. It’s beautiful. It’s exactly what happens when you finish college. The last scene in the last chapter was absolutely the best place it could have left off. I was in tears. It was absolutely perfect.
What made it even more sad were the author’s notes that followed immediately after, where Umino describes her life after finishing the series as empty, since her head had been full of nothing but the characters for years, and now they were all gone and she had to pick herself up and move on. It was very touching, and an interesting reflection on what a lot of manga artists go through.
In other side notes (in this volume or the last), she flips the sentimentality around and talks about the friends she’s made through the series, and they way they tell personalities with Saint Seiya horoscopes. I’m sad that I’m Gemini. The villain. Twice.
The second half of the book are short stories, both related and unrelated. I had to wait a bit to read them, because I didn’t want to follow up that abrupt and beautiful ending with gag-heavy chapters. The two Honey and Clover stories are very funny though, and the other two unrelated stories are sentimental and beautiful in a completely different way.
I sincerely hope that we get to see Umino’s other work in English. She deserves all the praise she gets. This series was amazing, and an absolute must-read. In terms of… girly josei, I think I still prefer Paradise Kiss, but this is a very close second.
Chica Umino – Viz – 2010 – 10 volumes
I saved this up so that I could read the last two volumes together, but then I was debating over whether I should take a break or not to write up 9 before I read 10. That just… wasn’t an option. I tore straight through both of them tonight. It’s just… so good.
I was beginning to grow curious as this volume went on. It seemed like nobody was getting what they wanted, relationship-wise. Mayama was still only sort-of in the fringes of Harada’s life, Yamada was still completely stuck on him and not gravitating to eager and good-for-her Nomiya at all, and there was still a relationship triangle between Morita, Takemoto, and Hagu. Then everybody began deciding what they wanted to do with their lives, and things got… weird. I mean, what about all this other stuff?
One of the interesting things was that we finally found out what Shinobu and Kaoru were up to. It’s an interesting story, about how people stand in the shadow of the creative ones close to them. Papa Morita was a lot like Shinobu, and he had a friend that simply… went with him every step of the way, thinking himself unremarkable. Kaoru is the say way with Shinobu, and the exploitation all means something in the end. Kaoru is the one that takes the climax the hardest, but Shinobu has something else he takes away from it. Mainly that he hates being seen only for his talent, and it’s something he recognizes in Hagu as well.
So that things don’t wind down too quietly, there is a terrible accident that brings many of the characters back together and begins making them question the direction of their lives (once again) and what they mean to each other. This story made me cry a great deal, but it was also interesting for all the different and very human ways the group reacted to it.
The crying was mostly as a result of the love. All of it in this series seems so fruitless. Not in the overly dramatic way of other shoujo manga, but in a quiet way that seems more real, a way that you know never really gets resolved. While all the sadness and angst can be easy to relate to in something like We Were There, Honey and Clover is more real because it’s more about fleeting crushes (although that’s light and a little insulting) and the love between friends. There’s really nothing like it.
Chica Umino – Viz – 2009 – 10 volumes
Oooh! How aggravating! This volume was entirely focused on Ayu and Mayama. It takes a look at all aspects of both of their unrequieted love affairs, and shows lights at the end of the tunnel for both of them. It also reminds us of how much time has passed in-story. This is especially effective in Ayu’s case, who suddenly realizes she’d been smitten with no return for her feelings for years, and to give it up even knowing she had no chance would make it seem that somehow her feelings were less all that time. I can really, really sympathize with Ayu here. That struck some uncomfortable chords with me. Having easy-to-relate to characters is one of the strengths of the series, of course, and one of the reasons why this is the best, but it’s always a little uncomfortable when they hit too close to home. Uncomfortable, but even more the mark of a good series, I suppose.
The series is winding down, and has two volumes left. As of the end of this volume, there is very little left to resolve between Ayu and Mayama, and both are well on their way. The bigger question, and one left almost entirely unaddressed in this volume, is what happens between Morita, Hagu, and Takemoto. There are some peeks, but in addition to finding out how things will fall between them, we also are led to believe there is a method to the madness of the Morita brothers. I’m looking forward to that.
One thing I noticed is that the volumes have been very character-centric lately, whereas the earlier ones were more focused on the group of friends hanging out and helping each other. With the passage of time in this series, and following the characters after they’ve left school and moved on to their careers, I thought it might be an interesting commentary about how you may also grow out of your school friends as you move on in life. They all still seem pretty tight, and Mayama and Takemoto even still live in the same building, but they all have their own individual problems and lives now. They still intersect, but… you know. You never really have friends like you have them in college, I suppose. More points to Honey and Clover for that, too.
Chica Umino – Viz – 2009 – 10 volumes
Aww. It’s all about Takemoto and his trip this volume, and the moment he reaches his destination is so stunning and full of emotion without being overt about it it made me want to hop on a bike and recreate the moment myself. One of my favorite moments in manga, hands down, is the reappearance of Morita a couple volumes ago, which was just so funny and touching and perfect that it assured classic status for this series regardless of anything else that had happened. The “point where the rain ends” almost matches it, but would have been the high point of practically any other series that could have pulled it off so perfectly.
Takemoto does a lot of other things that are notable, including nearly deciding that his calling in life is cooking for a group of nomadic shrine restorers, dealing with serious hemorrhoids, and meeting up with Hagu at the end of his trip. This series is absolutely unmatched when it comes to dealing with life and all its weirdness, and this volume is a good example, both because of Takemoto’s trip to find himself and a situation between Yamada and Rica where Rica asks her to start making pottery pieces for her company. The total awkwardness of this situation is described in great deal, and the pros and cons of it are examined by a number of characters, most of whom are in favor of letting Yamada deal with the emotional fallout for herself.
There’s another short story at the end of the volume. Now I can’t decide which I like better, the one about Mayama’s coworker wearing ugly shirts, or this one, which brings back Lohmeyer, who is still one of my favorite characters even after not appearing for six volumes. He’s just so… manly. Even in a fursuit, the old men loved to be comforted by him. It was so wrong, and yet so right.
I praise We Were There to high heavens, but this series is probably better. It’s hands down one of the best series I’m reading right now, and like I said, the absolute best at just showing its characters living life and tackling all its challenges with their friends and a sense of humor. I don’t love the characters in any other series the way I love this group, and it’s because they are portrayed so realistically, and react to problems the same way a real person would (for the most part… maybe Morita doesn’t).
This was a review copy provided by Viz.
Ahhhh… lots of Takemoto in this volume. He’s still trying to figure out what he wants from life, and after some more jobs and opportunities come and go, he officially starts off on a journey to find himself. This takes the form of an impromptu bike ride that just doesn’t stop, so he winds up leaving without telling anyone. All his friends seem to accept this, despite the fact they all freak out when Ayu and Morita disappear wordlessly at other points in the story.
Of course, when everyone figures out why Takemoto is missing, the chorus of elderly professors materialize to sing the praises of what a healthy and exemplary young man Takemoto is, to be going through the crisis of youth. The sense of humor in this series is bizarre and without peer. There are a lot of examples in this volume alone, and I had originally written them out here, but then I realized there wasn’t much point to me describing them. You just have to see for yourself. The weird things this series finds to make jokes about are excellent.
Of course, the serious moments are also unparalleled. There’s a really nice scene where the usually scatterbrained and comedic Morita gets angry with Ayu for disappearing from an event and making everyone worry. Ayu starts to cry and tell him how much she missed him while he was gone, and he apologizes over and over again until the two walk home hand in hand.
Actually, there’s a lot of great character development going on here. Ayu may be having a change of heart about Mayama, Hagu seems torn about what she really wants to do after graduation (though she says otherwise), and Morita… well, he may also be trying to decide on things in his own way, though I suspect that’s something that will come next volume. Also, a parallel is drawn between Mayama and one of his coworkers, Nomiya, who also happens to be interested in Ayu. Mayama and Nomiya hate each other, but both acknowledge that they are a lot alike, but at different stages of maturity. It’s an interesting twist, to be sure.
There’s also a really funny bonus story in the back about Yamazaki and Miwako, Mayama’s other coworkers. Yamazaki has a one-sided crush on Miwako, who exploits this by buying him ugly shirts that he feels obligated/proud to wear. Some of these shirts are… very special.
There’s just absolutely nothing to dislike in this series. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s about life, friendships… and it takes place at an art school. It’s everything I want in a series. It’s actually kind of unfortunate that I read this together with Narration of Love at 17, since this is the better introspective series about friends and relationships and is probably one of the few that Narration of Love at 17 can’t stand up to in this category.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.
It’s been so long since I read this series that volume 6 has already come out. That’s a real shame, because this probably is one of the best shoujo series I’m reading right now, and I shouldn’t put off reading it.
The second half of this book really got to me. Morita comes back, graduation rolls around again, Takemoto has some inner struggles… all of it was so well-written and so very of the moment that parts brought tears to my eyes. One of them was the annual Christmas party without Morita or Mayama, where Takemoto considers the previous year’s party, and who he thought would be absent from the current party.
A lot of the volume focuses on Takemoto, actually, which is nice considering he’s the main character and is sometimes relegated to the background in favor of Mayama or Yamada. I can sympathize with Yamada and Mayama and their romantic problems, but Takemoto seems to have some of the more troubling issues in the group at the moment, which is why I loved/teared up through a big chunk of the story here.
Morita coming back sort of cancels out a lot of the sadness, though. It’s hard not to laugh at everything having to do with Morita. His re-apparance was absolute GOLD, and I really wish the two-page spread had been reproduced in color. There are a number of really touching, serious moments between him and other characters, and I couldn’t believe some of them had been worked in, but he’s just so goofy it’s hard not to laugh at him. I like all the other characters a lot, but Morita is a big part of what makes this series fun.
Mayama and Yamada do get a little story time, Mayama in the form of his continued vigil and Yamada… well, she gets to put herself in Mayama’s shoes, and doesn’t really like it. Their part of the story is the least interesting at the moment, honestly, only because so little has changed since the beginning of the series. They’ve both realized some things about themselves, but they are also both going around in circles. Things could change soon though, and I admit I am interested in that.
Continuing the parade of girly series I like, here’s the newest volume of Honey and Clover.
While I don’t like the illustration style in general, sometimes certain things about the art will strike me just right. There’s a man-faced dog that the characters have around with them often that cracks me up everytime I see it because it’s face is just so… horrible-looking. Umino also uses it in a sidebar illustration where she says something about not wearing any makeup. The two go together so well. There’s also an excellent panel of three boys eating Yamada’s cooking that made me laugh out loud. Her cooking is, of course, horrible, but the boys don’t want her to know that it’s inedible. They are making the absolute most perfect faces while they force it down.
The humor in general continues to be pretty top-notch. My favorites this volume were Hanamoto-sensei and Mayama, who trade bad jokes back and forth a couple times. The writing and translation is such that these come across as intentionally bad jokes, which impressed me because I imagine it being sort of difficult to keep jokes like that from falling flat.
Much of the focus this volume is on Mayama and his relationship to Yamada. I like Yamada a lot, and it makes me feel bad that she’s got this unrequieted love… but I also like watching her dote on Mayama, too. Mayama takes up some sort of father figure role here, where he tries to protect her from potential suitors. Part of me likes this side of him, and the other part of me wants him to realize that he can’t let her go and have some sort of huge, overblown climax and romantic dénouement. But then again, there’s always a part of me that roots for the latter.
Lots of time is spent learning about Mayama’s job, too, and he and Yamada wind up working together a lot as a result. I like seeing the character’s skills put to use a lot too, since what people do is not often a focus in series like this. Here, it’s one of the main focuses. Poor forgotten Takemoto is still trying to find out what he wants to do himself, and in the meantime he winds up staying the summer in Mayama’s room, which makes for a few pretty funny scenes throughout the volume.
My favorite chapter was one where Yamada and Hagu spend a lot of time getting dressed up in kimonos and meet the boys at a summer festival. The kimono-fitting parts are really good themselves, but at the festival itself is the beginnings of Mayama’s fatherly side. Afterwards, Yamada reflects on the evening and sort of sums up her feelings in two very beautiful ways.
I just don’t know what I like best about this series. It’s got fantastic writing, great characters, a wonderful sense of humor, and… well, it does almost everything right. I never know what to expect next, so reading it is sort of good in that way since I’m not constantly looking and guessing ahead. I enjoy it immensely.
This was a review copy provided by Viz.