Sand Chronicles 10

April 11, 2011

Hinako Ashihara – Viz – 2011 – 10 volumes

I completely forgot I hadn’t read the last volume of this series. The main story ended in volume 8, so this was just more supplementary material, this time looking at the life of Ann and Daigo. Mostly Daigo.

After I started reading it, I remembered why I was reluctant to pick up more. As much as I liked Sand Chronicles, I began to get frustrated with Ann later on. She just couldn’t be happy. It’s not something I can relate to, so I was frustrated when the combination of life dumping on her and her bad decisions, turning away from happiness, began to culminate into something ugly at the climax of the series. I like drama, but this series was a little depressing and unrelenting, with few happy moments to lighten things up. At least for me.

This story… reminded me a lot of what I didn’t like about this admittedly wonderful series. It was about Daigo’s life as a grade school teacher. He draws a lot of inspiration from one of his former teachers, and he goes so far as to bring her back into his life when their paths happen to cross again. Ann is happy for Daigo, since he finds he’s on uncertain ground with a lot of his current students, and this teacher’s advice really helps him. But later, Ann finds out from a gossipy neighbor that the teacher is lying about her personal life, and the source of much of her life’s inspiration. The fact that she is a teacher, and lying, becomes an ugly truth that casts the worth of all her good advice into doubt.

I was pretty appalled by this. The issue is the type of personal detail that… is really nobody’s business. The type of thing that you would ignore out of politeness if you found out the truth. And it has no bearing whatsoever on the advice the teacher’s given Daigo, in the past and present, but it’s a major crisis of faith for both Daigo and Ann. That the smooth sailing of the story is significantly rocked by something like this is, again, one of the problems I have. The characters just… love to look for reasons why they can’t be happy.

Obviously, this short story does have a happy end, and there’s a lot of awesome moments, too, the type of things that make this series worth reading. The series has a big emphasis on making memories and holding onto happiness, both in the past and present (but again, I take issue with the fact that the reasoning seems to be that you do this because you can’t be happy all the time). The story begins with Daigo opening a time capsule he made in grade school along with Fuji and others from the series, and there’s a lot of discussions and flashbacks about what they found in it. There’s also a lot of flashbacks to Daigo’s grade school days as his students do things that remind him of Fuji and himself. He goes to great lengths to do events like mochi pounding, star gazing, and other activities that the students genuinely enjoy, and the students themselves have a lot of small conflicts and inner turmoil that’s resolved by Daigo and other events. There’s lots of cute little moments that do a good job of reflecting regular, every day fleeting glimpses into life, and it’s a wonderful little story because of that. I just wish the drama wasn’t over something so petty and irrelevant.

This series is a definite classic, it’s just one that didn’t sit right with me. It’s the type of thing I’m still happy to recommend though, because it is very good shoujo, and I liked these side stories in the last two volumes a lot. The whole series is full of little moments that resonate true to life, as opposed to the slightly more comedic dramas I prefer. And at ten volumes, it’s not too much of a time or money investment.

Sand Chronicles 9

August 13, 2010

Hinako Ashihara – Viz – 2010 – 10 volumes

The main story ended last volume, so what we have here are three short stories related to the characters. The first and best, taking up more than half of the volume, looks at the friendship between Daigo and Ann’s mothers when both were growing up in Shimane. There’s lots of commentary on caring too much about what those around you think versus being happy with who and where you are, the latter is something I love to see come up in manga. Ultimately it doesn’t make a judgement call on either, since the story ended how it did it’s left to the reader to decide, but there are good and ugly things about both outlooks in this short story.

Daigo’s mother is a great character, though. It’s set up so that she’s the one telling the story, and she’s very nearly the main character, but it’s Ann’s mother that is the subject. It’s also way less sad than I thought it was going to be, and I loved that it didn’t dwell on the more dramatic points of their lives. Actually, it showed more happy things than sad, and did a really good job of giving us just enough of what might be considered the problems that led to her eventual suicide.

The second story catches up with Ann’s former fiancee, Sakura, the gruff businessman who moved to New York. He’s not happy right now, either, but we see what makes him tick, and see him soften up, courtesy of an accidental encounter with Fuji’s sister Shika and Ann’s little sister Chi. Chi’s a fun little girl, and I’m glad she’s around to lighten the mood, both here and in the main story. She’s one of the best things for Ann, I think.

There’s also a short story about Fuji as a young boy and his relationship with Santa Claus. It’s very short, and I could take it or leave it, but it’s nice to see.

I was expecting not to like these last two volumes as much, since everything’s already over and done with, but I was surprised by how much that story about the Shimane of 30 years ago lent to the plot of the main series. It also helped you see Shimane as a place a little more too, and… well, it was wonderful to see everyone’s mothers the same age as the characters we just read about, and how what seemed to make them evil in the present was more of a strength in the past, or really just made them who they are. Fumi Yoshinaga plays with similar themes in “All My Darling Daughters,” and it’s something I love to see, alternate takes on people who are portrayed as disagreeable. Real alternate stories, I mean. It’s super-easy and super-lazy to spin something around to make a former foe into a sympathetic character. Bah. This isn’t that. This is something different and very touching.

But now that I know that these last two volumes of short stories aren’t just tacked-on (mostly… I liked the Shimane story well enough, but I’d feel differently if this book only had the Fuji and Sakura stories in it), I’m curious to see how much more insight volume 10 has to offer.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sand Chronicles 8

June 11, 2010

Hinako Ashihara – Viz – 2010 – 10 volumes

I was nosing through old copies of Animerica Extra with Ashihara’s other book, SOS, and knew today was the day I had to finish Sand Chronicles.  Well, the main story, anyway.  Apparently the last two volumes contain side stories, but yes, the main story does conclude at the end of this volume.

Now, the last one ended with other characters suspecting that Ann might commit suicide.  She did just go through a bad breakup with her fiancee, and she’s also burned out from work, but the only thing we know from Ann’s side is that she’s trying to take a trip to the Hourglass Museum as a break, and also to collect herself.

I was afraid that the volume would be very dark because of the hints, but it starts off on a very pleasant note.  Ann runs into an older woman and her granddaughter on the train, and after some weather delays, they offer to put Ann up at their house.  The entire family lives there, and it’s a bustling, happy place full of normalcy, and the next day, Ann goes off with an older son (one who’s old enough to drive, so he’s at least 18), and the two play at the school that Daigo teaches at early in the morning.  All of this seems to be good for Ann, and I was hoping that it would somehow come back around and be a lesson in happiness for her.  The subject of Daigo was broached, but Ann didn’t ask to see him, and seemed content that he had a new girlfriend and was doing well.

Strangely, the story bypasses all this lesson in happiness crap and unexpectedly turns dark again.  Stranger still, the dark events weren’t nearly as significant as they would be in any other series, and Ann and everyone else seems to get over them pretty quickly.  I was a little taken aback by how this was swept under the rug, but on the other hand, we’ve dwelled on unpleasantness enough.

Also peculiar is the fact that, as the last volume went on and Ann began going back to the singles parties with the ladies she worked with, it became increasingly obvious that everyone in the series but Ann was going to find someone.  As strange as it is to find a shoujo manga where the heroine doesn’t pair off with the obvious choice, it’s even stranger still to see one where the heroine finds no happiness in love at all.  Even stranger in this series, though maybe not, because then the ultimate theme would be personal happiness and not happiness in love.

But there are things that happen.  I’ll leave it at that.  I was a little torn about it, but it was still good stuff.

I also liked that Ann made one non-trip to the Hourglass museum, but the real return was when she’d had her life sorted out, linking the beginning and the ends of the story very nicely.  Even better, I LOVE that the cover of the volume features the year-long hourglass and Ann’s little sister.  So appropriate and adorable.

Most of my thoughts on the series are summed up here, but I think I’ll hold off on a final final write-up until I’ve read all the side stories.  Admittedly, I’m not looking forward to two volumes of them, since everything I’ve wanted in Sand Chronicles has been resolved, and while there are still a few loose threads (the Fuji siblings, for instance), I’m just… I don’t know.  Two volumes of side stories.  And I also just realized I’ve got the same problem with Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross.  Sigh.

Sand Chronicles 7

June 5, 2010

Hinako Ashihara – Viz – 2009 – 10 volumes

You know, I was kind of sick of Ann’s back and forth between the boys and the way she was just never happy, then someone in the comments pointed out that that was the whole point, and everything clicked.

It helps that this volume leaves that mess behind and advances the storyline to where volume one began things.  Ann resolves to be happy, and sets about her adult life working as hard as she can and hoping Mr. Right will come along.  He does.  It’s not quite the storybook romance you’d expect from a shoujo manga, but he certainly seems like Mr. Right.

Meanwhile, all her friends are getting married, and time is marching on.  She feels it keenly, and seems very lonely, but with her upcoming marriage, her thoughts keep drifting back to Daigo and Fuji.  Fuji tells her that she was never as happy as she was with Daigo, so she resolves to go back and see him again, after all these years, to test that.

Maybe it’s just been too long since I was a teenager (I haven’t been out of my teens for very long at all, so I hope that’s not the case), but I had trouble relating to Ann’s back and forth.  I’ve never really been one for doubts or “grass is greener” situations, though, so Ann’s my complete opposite in every way.  That’s a shame, since I love the small town setting, and can relate to the whole friend-swapping romance thing.  The fact that the series moves on and shines the appropriate light on all that, making it sound crazily desperate and just such a teen thing, is pretty amazing, and erases all my doubts about it.  Ashihara really has captured something here, the perfect view of both teen life and young adult life, and while I’m not very sure where things are going after the end of this volume (a bad place indeed), I think this volume cements Sand Chronicle’s place as a classic.

I often compare it to We Were There.  I liked We Were There better, but I think they’ve just switched places.  We Were There has also advanced the storyline to adulthood, but hasn’t quite gotten around to shining the nostalgic light back on its teens, going for maximum drama instead.  I do like where it’s going, but now that I see Sand Chronicle’s aim, I have a much higher opinion of it.

I enjoy reading it again, basically.  It’s showing me viewpoints that I rarely see in shoujo manga, and is a much more mature flavor that what I’m used to.  It’s got a lot to say, and while Ann isn’t easy for me to identify with, I can still appreciate everything it’s trying to say.  I’m very curious to see where it goes from here.

Sand Chronicles 6

July 27, 2009

Hinako Ashihara – Viz – 2009 – 10 volumes

I had pretty much the same problem with this volume that I had with the last one, which was pretty much that I can no longer sympathize with Ann, who seems to have everything she wants and just isn’t happy with it.  She breaks up with Daigo for some reason, because being with him is complicated and sad.  I can sort of accept that this links back to the fact that she knew Daigo when her mother died six years ago, but I don’t know why it should impact her relationship.  But fine.  She isn’t happy, only sad, so she does something about it.  Then she starts dating Fuji.  Except she’s not happy dating Fuji, because she loves Daigo and would rather be dating him.  And then is jealous that Daigo is also dating someone else, and this makes her so sad that she can’t be nice to Fuji anymore.

I realize that there are probably a lot of people that can connect with Ann, but I think I fail because it’s just not in my nature to be as sad as Ann is.  I’m trying to come up with a less negative ways of phrasing that, but basically I have never had to deal with depression, which I realize is something Ann is probably struggling with, and it’s something that can be quite serious in real life.  But having never experienced it for myself, stories like this fall flat because I don’t understand why Ann just can’t be happy.

I still like this story okay.  It’s well-told, and the bittersweetness of the relationships is quite excellent.  Despite the fact I hate Ann a little bit for treating Fuji so poorly, I like seeing her and Fuji together, and I wish something happy would come of it.  Most of all, I like the main theme of the series, which is that time and life marches on despite anything else that may be happening with your life.  I’m eager to see where the story goes now that the characters are no longer in high school.  I suppose it won’t be terribly different for college life, but maybe the change of pace will brighten Ann up a little.  Her grandma gave her a bit of a pep talk at the end of the volume too, so hopefully that’ll help a little.

But We Were There has pulled ahead of this story since I like the story better (the emotions are a bit more complex in that one) and I understand why all the characters do what they do in that series, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it.  Both are quite good though, and very much worth reading.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Sand Chronicles 5

May 18, 2009

Now, I’m going to be hard on this volume, but only because I like this series so much.  The characters are well-written and have all of their own individual problems, hopes, dreams, idiosyncrasies, and… well, absolutely everything else that makes a person a person.  There are very few shoujo series that are driven by the subtleties of character relationships that this one is, and it’s all about the characters clashing on these minute points.  It’s interesting to watch, and it hasn’t really let me down.  I’m going to be a bit cranky here, but I’m cranky because I love it so much, and not because it’s doing anything wrong.

Having grown up in a small town, I watched the (figuratively) incestuous dating practices between people who had known each other their whole lives.  They would routinely sweep in to hook up with their best friend’s partner when the relationship went south.  These relationships rarely lasted more than a few months, and the feelings associated with them were quickly forgotten.   At least until those two people decided to go out again.  Because, really, you just didn’t have a whole lot of options.

I think a lot of why I like this series is because it’s easy for me to identify with the kids in Shimane.  Fuji likes Ann, Ann likes Daigo, Daigo likes Ann, Fuji’s sister Shika likes Daigo, Daigo and Fuji are friends, and Ann and Shika are friends, and they all grew up together (or were together six years, in Ann’s case).  This is a situation that’s easy for me to understand, because it totally happened all the time when I was growing up.  It’s also unusual in manga, where normally people seem to drift apart between elementary/junior high/high school.

Now, there can always be drama, even when you’ve known someone long enough to remember the last time they wet their pants, but NOT THIS MUCH.  It’s really hard for me to identify so well with the early volumes, and then get to this one to find that the characters have all maintained their positions in each other’s lives for six (or five, was it?) years of adolescence.  Ann and Daigo are still going out, and Fuji still hasn’t made a move on Ann.  Kids fight, break up, go out with their friends, break up again, and then go back out, all while staying friends with everybody.  That’s just how that works.  Even the people who wind up getting married do this.  There just aren’t very many kids who are mature enough to maintain a relationship unbroken through junior high and high school, especially long distance.  Certain scenes between Daigo and Ann made me realize the unlikeliness, and I just felt so let down.

The other thing that bothered me was how constantly dark things seem.  The specter of Ann’s mother always seems to hang over everything, which is understandable, but I’m not sure why it has to. I can understand how she would get worried about Shika because of it, but I don’t understand what that had to do with her relationship to Daigo. Is it because Daigo helped her when her mother passed away?  It’s going to be very depressing if she can’t bring herself to be happy because of her mother’s death.  The depressing situation isn’t really helped out by the fact she loves Daigo and can’t bring herself to be happy with the relationship between the two.  She initiated events herself this volume, and yet they both still love each other, and neither seems all that willing to let go of their feelings.  It’s kind of hard to read.

But maybe next volume will be more positive.

Sand Chronicles 4

December 10, 2008

Oh dear.  I was kind of rooting for something all along, and it looks like I got my wish this volume.  I don’t much like it, though, since it seems to be stirring things up quite a bit.  I should just learn to wish for happiness for characters instead of change.

Anyway, both chapters this time are mostly just about Daigo and Ann, as opposed to… well, their families, or Fuji’s family, or anything like that.  Fuji’s still AWOL through winter break, so Ann and Daigo do some major bonding to make up for it.  Ann is still rather affected by the death of her mother four years ago, and… well, Daigo just can’t comfort her.  The first chapter is one that starts off quite well but doesn’t end that way at all.

The second chapter is about Ann struggling by herself back in the city.  This broke my heart far more than I thought it would, mostly because of Daigo.  Daigo and Ann have the type of problems where you just want to yell out the right things to say to them in order to fix things, because the two always seem to come up short in that area.  Other things happen with Ann too, as well as Daigo, and again… I know I wished for it, but now I’m not sure if I want it.

Oh well.  Now that I’ve got my wish, I’ll just have to see where it goes.  I have a hard time being able to tell where things are going in this series too, just because the characters stir up most of the drama themselves over the silliest misunderstandings.  The fact that I like it despite this speaks volumes, since it means that the characters come across as really genuine.  But I wonder if Ann will stick with her country town for the entire series, or if perhaps life will take her elsewhere.  It is a fun prospect to see her whole life ahead of her like this.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.