Dragon Girl 1
January 17, 2011
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.