Monkey High 8

Shouko Akira – Viz – 2009 – 8 volumes

Man, this series has some great characters. Good enough that I keep coming back for more, even though the plot is simply a parade of common shoujo plot devices (entrance exam troubles and school festival make a re-appearance here). The main couple is adorable though, and although there’s some family-oriented melodrama here, neither Haruna nor Macharu ever really express doubt in one another. It’s nice.

The volume starts off, shockingly enough, with a very spicy romance scene. This type of series so rarely has a scene like this that I was really taken aback, but I’m glad it’s here. Haruna and Macharu are the type of couple that deserve a scene like that. They were 100% faithful to each other from the beginning (or at least where I came in at volume 4), and it feels like they worked hard to get to that level in their relationship, no rushing in or hot-under-the-collar nonsense.

The bigger issues here are entrance exams (Macharu tries hard, but isn’t getting very far) and the fact that Haruna’s powerful father still disapproves of Macharu and has other plans for her daughter. Melodramatic, and territory that has been claimed by a thousand shoujo manga before, but again, Haruna is such a good stand-in for a down-to-earth, very serious and realistic female student (a kind of self-insertion character, I guess), and Macharu is so much fun, and so good at helping her out of her serious funks and letting her know everything is all right, that it really is very sweet and a treat to read in the end.

The resolution is quite dramatic, too. Lots of final things are said, and Macharu takes things a step farther than these types of series usually do, too. It ends more-or-less at high school, so there’s no “ten years later” story or anything, but I love the way all the loose ends were tied up between Macharu and Haruna. It all worked out, and there was a happy ending. I couldn’t imagine such an upbeat series ending any other way.

There isn’t a lot that would lure in anybody but shoujo manga fans, but it is a cute and very sweet story, with a lot of romance and an adorable and very likable main couple. And a good group of friends to hold them up and ridicule them in all they do too, which is important. It doesn’t have much plot to speak of, but I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a lighthearted romance.


Monkey High 7

Shouko Akira – Viz – 2009 – 8+ volumes

Oh, Monkey High.  I do enjoy this series immensely, but that’s because when it’s good, it’s really good.  But the rest of it’s kind of average.  That’s not so much the case in this volume (I liked all the chapters in this volume), but it does continue to lean heavily on common shoujo plot devices.  Macharu and Haruna win a trip to a thinly-disguised Disneyland, and most of the second half of the volume deals with entrance exams and the two of them considering what will happen when they split up for college.  It gets away with it because Haruna and Macharu really are wonderful characters, and I still like that they have a huge group of friends that hangs out with them regularly (though they don’t play a huge role in this volume).

More specifically, this volume deals with the sexual tension between Macharu and Haruna.  Things almost escalate several times, but there are, of course, doubts and very shoujo manga-ish interruptions.  Haruna makes a distinction between physical and emotional love, which I liked, and the question of sex is pondered at length, and several different sources, including friends, (sort of) teachers, and parents weigh in.  College is also discussed at length, but mostly to show that Macharu is serious and driven and whatnot.  It wasn’t as interesting, but again, Haruna and Macharu make up for a lot of what’s not there, and not only are both fairly interesting and sympathetic characters, they have a truly nice relationship that I enjoy reading about.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Monkey High 6

Aww, I just can’t help but fall in love with Macharu every time I read one of these books.  He’s just such a sweet kid, and he wants what’s best for everyone.  And he takes the merciless teasing from his friends so well.

Atsu makes a rather serious pass at Haruna at the beginning of the volume, but Haruna deftly shoots him down.  One of the most interesting things about the dynamic between Haruna and Atsu is that Haruna’s thoughts on these conversations are never shown.  It’s pretty easy to figure out that she is constantly trying to find ways to let Atsu down firmly and easily, and usually her subtle hints involve calling attention to the similarities in their relationships to Macharu.  I just like it because normally these conversations involve more explanation as the characters talk through their feelings, but in some cases, less said is better.

There’s another really cute/sad chapter where Haruna resolves to speak to her father and let Macharu have lunch with the two of them.  Apparently her father is some sort of politician, and this story actually has a very un-shoujo end to it.  Again, it’s an interesting twist, and I like that this diverges from the well-worn paths ever so slightly.

Another story towards the end of the volume is about the beginning of senior year for all the characters and their friends.  Macharu and Haruna are in different classrooms in completely different buildings, and Macharu’s enthusiasm about getting to see Haruna leads to lots of embarrassment for her and a moment where they collide and Macharu accidentally touches her breast.  The rest of the chapter is about the awkward separation the two experience, mostly because of school, and towards the end, Haruna’s feelings have changed after she hasn’t seen Macharu in days.  Their embarrassment over the situation is quite adorable, as is the way the two are hazed about it by their friends.

The one thing that always makes me feel a little bad is the character Kobuhei.  Kobuhei is a background friend, and unusually for a shoujo manga, he’s overweight.  Normally, I would applaud this since every character in manga is usually slim and attractive, and Kobuhei actually seems relatively comfortable with his appearance and is a pretty good-natured guy with a lot of friends.  Unfortunately, he’s mostly just around so that the other characters can make jokes about how fat he is, how his lovely singing doesn’t match his appearance, how he can be easily won over by food… yeah.  If it were just one or two jokes, it would be one thing, but this happens several times in every chapter.  I had to mention it here since they say something along the lines of Kobuhei having more of a chest than Haruna.  Too much!  Lay off the poor guy.  He doesn’t seem to mind, and they make fun of Macharu pretty hard too, but I still feel bad.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Monkey High 5

I was pretty bummed when this volume started out with a Romeo & Juliet story.  Romeo & Juliet… performed at a school festival.  I almost couldn’t bring myself to continue, even after liking the last volume so much.  Oddly enough, the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dates later in the book didn’t really bother me, and I didn’t even realize they were there until I started reflecting on shoujo manga stereotypes.  But I don’t know… guess I just have a special pet peeve about Romeo & Juliet.

Other than the fact the book is exploiting shoujo manga plot devices like nobody’s business, I actually still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I quite liked Macharu’s meetings with Haruna’s dad.  I’m not exactly clear on who Haruna’s dad is (some sort of politician?), but it made me happy when Macharu had no problem speaking to him when everyone else seemed to avoid him/respect him.  Better yet, Macharu’s boldness didn’t melt dad’s heart, and dad actually spoke quite badly of Macharu right to his face, but it didn’t seem to deter Macharu’s desire to get along with him.

Really, Macharu is just awesome.  He really is super-positive, and he makes every situation a pleasure.  The fact that his best friend seems to want to steal his girlfriend would be pretty overly-dramatic in any other series, but in this one, the two still get along with each other even though they occasionally butt heads over Haruna.  Atsu’s a bit too easy to dislike… he does seem to have Haruna’s best interests in mind, but his teasing and treatment of Macharu can be a bit much, and he’s the type of quiet character that broods and makes you assume the worst about him.  He’s not really such a bad guy, though.

Better still, Haruna genuinely appreciates Macharu’s positive attitude.  Also, the two really seem to take care of each other, and one of the best scenes in the book happens when Haruna comes to pick up a snoozing Macharu on Christmas Eve.  It was really very sweet.

But yeah, other than the Romeo & Juliet, I actually enjoyed this volume quite a bit.  I’ve got one more volume to read with me here, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to go back and pick up the first three next time I see them.  Macharu’s just too much fun.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


Monkey High 4

I’ve got three volumes of this in reserve, so I decided to start with the earliest volume I had.  I went into it with no prior knowledge and just assumed it was a shoujo romance/comedy.

I was very surprised, actually.  I figured it would be mostly comedy-oriented, something like Hana Kimi, but it was comedy mixed with some pretty serious moments.  I liked it in the same way I liked High School Debut.  The difference seems to be that Monkey High seems like it’s got a pretty serious structure with some lighthearted jokes slapped on top to cover it up.  It’s like… I don’t know, Hana Kimi mixed with Sand Chronicles?  Something like that?

The main couple is kind of unlikely, only because Macharu is completely different from any shoujo love interest.  The other characters call him a “hyper monkey,” I’m not exactly sure why, but it seems to be mostly because he has a positive, energetic outlook on life.  He’s much different than the sullen, handsome boy you’d find in most series.  He apparently gets mistaken for a little kid pretty often (because he’s also very short and tiny), and doesn’t seem to take himself very seriously.  He’s kind of awesome.  It’s weird seeing him paired up with Haruna, who is the quiet, no-smile type character, except she appears to take genuine delight in Macharu, and they seem to be a pretty solid couple.  Bonus: they also have a circle of friends, which always seems to help out these types of series a great deal.

One of the friends is Atsu, who is apparently Macharu’s best friend.  Atsu seems to really enjoy tormenting Macharu, and Macharu just takes it good-naturedly.  The drama starts when Atsu begins to slowly make moves on Haruna.  Haruna doesn’t really take him seriously, but Macharu does, and Macharu gets pretty serious about Haruna throughout the volume.  Often fairly light moments, like a trip to the beach or a fireworks festival, will be interrupted with some strange and what seems to be uncharacteristic serious conversations coming from Macharu about their future as a couple.  Squirmy drama comes in when Haruna isn’t sure how to deal with this and blushes and avoids Macharu.

I like it.  I like it a bit better than High School Debut, actually, because while that seems to throw its excellent serious moments in at the end of something fairly comedic, this only has a comedy veneer and is a pretty serious story otherwise.  I’m looking forward to seeing if the story can keep up this pace in the next two volumes.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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