Well, since the internet is away reading Harry Potter this weekend, I feel like I can post things that no one’s heard of and probably no one cares about either. Which is a shame, because this was pretty good.
This was printed by Viz in 1997, right after Four Shoujo Stories, which makes it… well, you know, one of the first three shoujo manga in English, I guess, in volume form. A, A Prime was published earlier in the year than this (I think, I don’t have it handy), so I think it’s the third, unless I’m missing something. Sailor Moon came out in volume form in 1998, so things were about to get better for girls, but these first three volumes are a lot different than the era of shoujo that Sailor Moon ushered in.
One difference is… well, dammit, I think this is josei. I think the stories by Nishi in Four Shoujo Stories are also josei. I don’t know what magazine has or still does publish her work, but there’s definitely an older bend to all these stories. They almost all feature adults as the main characters, and the plots aren’t quite your stereotypical “Hana to Yume” or “Margaret” fare (though, aside from Hana Yori Dango, I’m not all that familiar with the latter magazine). Plus, the artwork in no way resembles the stuff in those magazines. It looks more like a cross between Moyoko Anno and Mitsuru Adachi… which doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s the closest comparison I can make. While the art is definitely feminine and quite sensitive, it’s just not… it just doesn’t feel like the same stuff as Arina Tanemura or Wataru Yoshizumi.
There are four stories in this volume. The themes mostly seem to be lonely hearts and slightly antisocial people. The first and last stories are definitely thematically related. The first is about a woman who feels she can never love again after she lost her female lover, and questions her current friendship/relationship of convenience with a man she seems to fall into. She abuses him a lot, and feels that… well, she just doesn’t love him. The last story is about a girl who gets a proposal from the son of the owner at the factory she works at. Everyone views her as stuck up since she doesn’t really speak to that many people and… well, she got a proposal from the son of the owner. She spends the duration of the story wondering why she just doesn’t feel anything. Not just about the relationship with the son, but she seems to lack a general love of life (which I can’t spell in French). The story shows her progress as she tries to figure out how to make herself happy. It has a sci-fi theme thrown in at the end for no reason. It was kind of weird, but easy to ignore.
Both of the above stories feature adult heroines, both of whom are more confused about what they want from life than, you know, seeking out the attention of the hottest guy in school and stressing over whether their boyfriends like them. The first story is actually pretty intense, since the woman does physically and verbally abuse her boyfriend. See why I thought it was josei? I wish I had read the Erica Sakurazawa volumes Tokyopop had released so I could compare. I’ll have to try and get ahold of those.
The second story in the volume is a horror story about a pair of sisters and their past, which involved a third sister and the love all three of them had for their cousin. Foul play is afoot in this one. Unfortunately, my volume has a printing error and a good chunk of this story is missing, and the ending, while twisted, feels like it’s missing something… it implies that one of the characters was transformed, but I feel like there’s no precedent for this in the story, and maybe it was in the part I didn’t read. This story also features adult heroines, for the record.
The third story in the volume was also the longest, and was divided into two parts. This was the only story in the volume that featured high schoolers, but oddly the three main characters are all male, and one of them is an adult “manager” of sorts. The story is not a romance at all, and is about the main geeky boy fitting in amongst the boys at his school that beat him up and are also his friends. The main one among this group of boys, his “best friend” of sorts, also starts hitting on the girl he has a crush on. But as I said, this is not a romance, and this crush is mentioned a grand total of twice, and the girl involved only appears for a couple panels. He finds out he has the amazing power to heal with a touch, so he gets world-famous, he saves the life of the boy who beat him up, a jealous performer tries to ruin his reputation, etc.
The four stories in this volume seem to examine a lot more subtle emotions and slightly less straightforward (and really, they were all sort of twisted) relationships than a lot of the shoujo that’s available right now. Emotion is shown not through comedic over-reacting, but through very subtle facial expressions, and the characters in these stories are very strangely alone and solitary compared to the hustle-and-bustle high school lives of a lot of other shoujo heroines. It’s very good, and I’m extremely glad I read it.
You can still get it too, if you want to read it, which is a beautiful thing. Actually, it appears that the Right Stuf currently has it on backorder, and I suspect the series probably isn’t going into a third printing, so that’s probably it for it. It’s not like you can’t still get it on Amazon or eBay, but I think it’s probably out of print.