January 8, 2012
Keiko Nishi – JManga – 2011 – 1 volume
For some reason, when I saw this on the recent updates at JManga, Phil Hartman’s voice came to me unbidden: “Hi, I’m Keiko Nishi. You might remember me from such one-shots and short stories as ‘Love Song’ and ‘Promise.'” Her stories have a very human element to them, one that she shares with artists like Mitsuru Adachi. I like her short stories quite a bit, so I was very happy to see her work surface on JManga.com. I’ve been disappointed with the updates there for the last couple months, so this was an unlooked-for bonus.
It’s a volume of shoujo short stories themed around the members of an archery team. The summary makes the book sound vaguely BL-themed, which was probably the point (it ran in Dear+ magazine, which specializes in vaguely BL-themed stories), but most of the content was simply shoujo romance. I liked it a little more for that, since there are very few volumes of good shoujo short stories available in English.
The one ambiguous story was the second chapter, where one of the members of the archery team has a crush on a pair of twins. The female twin, Ayano, is on the archery team, but the male twin, Shu, keeps showing up at inopportune times, such as when the subject of the story is admiring Ayano from afar and finds out it’s Shu. You can imagine how this goes. But the story is balanced between both twins, and by the end, the main character isn’t sure who he has a crush on. It’s a fairly quiet, but very well-written story, with good character development. That can be said for all these, really.
A short, dark-haired, bespectacled character named Tomokazu shows up in almost all the stories. He’s usually a naysayer and comic relief, and others make fun of him for apparently enjoying savory snacks (I think this detail was lost on me). He gets his own chapter too, where he develops a crush on a team girl, but for the most part, he’s just everybody’s friend and one of the elements that linked the stories outside of archery. He was more distinctive than the other characters, and while I liked the others in their own stories, he was easier to pick out of a crowd, so to speak.
Not all the stories are romances, something else I enjoyed about it. The last story in the volume was about a boy who was good at every sport he attempted joining the archery club with a big head. He barges in, expecting to be better than the team captain, only to have his ego crushed and his manners picked apart by the team members. Turns out he’s not good at archery at all, and the smallest member of the team is the one that teaches him how to do it correctly.
There is a nice, light sense of humor worked into most of the stories, too. Not overly joke-y, but more of an observation of human nature than anything. The funniest story was one of the first in the volume, where a boy named Houdai keeps a journal of what he imagines the girl he has a crush on is thinking. While this would shove him far into creepy stalker territory in any other series, here it’s a sweet look at a boy that can only observe his crush from afar. Plus, he comes through for her in the end, since it turns out she’s nearly as shy as he is.
To be fair, there’s not a lot to this book. It’s a fairly light read, which I think makes it perfect for a digital book like this. I think the light stories that are more slice-of-life than anything might not appeal to a lot of people, and even as romances, the stories never get much farther than two people admitting they like each other. But even so, they make you feel a little bit better for having read them. Even in a short number of pages, Nishi manages to convey enough about the characters to make the snippet romances work, and the archery element is also heavily featured and sort of a novelty to read. The book is marred a bit by a translation that reads a little clunky, and a reader that seems to hang up on loading screens a lot, but even so, I’m happy to read this in English at all. Give it a try, for a quick breath of fresh air and an enjoyable volume of shoujo short stories.