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Written and Drawn by Tomoko Hayakawa
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

Four hot guys keep earning free rent by trying to turn Goth girl Sunako into a proper lady as WALLFLOWER rolls on through a tenth volume. Fortunately, Tomoko-chan undertakes some proper story movement, as one of the boys begins to re-embrace his own dark side and draw a bit closer to perhaps entering a genuine relationship with Sunako.
Of course, it isn’t quite that easy; there are plenty of comedic and dramatic hurdles to be jumped along the way. First and foremost is their landlady, Sunako’s aunt; insistent on feminizing her niece, her latest scheme involves taking Sunako and one of the boys, Kyohei, and locking them in a hotel room to force them to have some sex. It’s a delicate moment for the series to pull off, and it comes close to stretching the reader out of the book; Kyohei at first gives her some space, but then decides it’s his duty and decides to try and press his advantage. It walks the line, as you wonder if Sunako feels any sort of hormonal response or if he’s going to take the girl by force. The danger is that it’s going to turn into a “bodice ripper” type of story where the girl says “no” but means “yes”, and that could be a very bad thing. In the end, the author wisely chooses the right way out of the moment, but it still leaves you wondering about her motives.

Why? Because more than any other manga I’m currently reading, WALLFLOWER is as much about the creator working out some of her own fantasies on the page as anything else. Hayakawa is a Goth herself, and her author’s notes are always filled with her observations on attractive boys she’s seen and desired, though she never seems to do anything about it. The book then plays like a way for her to partially express some of her repressed feelings, never more obvious than when the most attractive of the boys becomes the one who develops a grudging attraction and respect for Sunako.

The other characters get solid screen time in these volumes as well, and the books are ultimately quite entertaining. Because of the author’s own issues, WALLFLOWER is a more unique read than most. Taken as a personal fantasy given life or as a simple story, this remains a top-of-the-stack read.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Towa Ohshima
Translated by Michiko Nakayama
Published by DrMaster Books

When you see a title like HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS shrink-wrapped on the shelf, your tendency would be to expect a crude, raunchy fanservice manga with little in the way of interesting characters or redeeming story qualities. But much to my surprise, this series is exactly the opposite; GIRLS is full of lively characters who feel very real, and even though it has its somewhat fanservice moments, they tend to be in areas that push the stories forward. And when you discover in the notes at the end of volume one that the author is basically creating a near roman a clef of her own high school years those scenes read as even more organic and natural on the page. These kids sound and act real.
GIRLS begins by introducing the reader to a group of three young women preparing to take the next step in their education; they have completed junior high and are heading to high school. In this case, it’s an all-girls high school, which group ringleader Eriko expects to be a paradise. But her dreams are quickly shattered when, on an early visit to the school she discovers that a school full of girls with no boys to impress can be one of the most disgusting and unclean places in Japan. Further down the line, the group will discover a clique division they never expected as well; many of the students at the high school went to the all-girls junior high as well, and they don’t care much for “outsiders” because they’re usually girls who tested extremely well in order to gain entrance and therefore become the students who screw up the curve.

As much as I enjoyed the characters and the humor that Towa-chan brings to the book, I almost appreciated watching her growth as an artist even more. The difference between her pages in volume one and volume seven is remarkable; you can see her confidence level in every panel. I’m not someone who leans towards being a completist in many cases, but I enjoyed HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS so much that I will be keeping an eye out for volumes 2-6. You should as well.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Kouji Seo
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

Take one part LOVE HINA, add sports, and throw in the traditional young love story hijinx and you get SUZUKA, the second entry in Del Rey’s “mature readers” line of mangas. Yamato is 15 years old and looking for a way to change his life, so when his aunt invites him to leave his mountain area home and come live in her Tokyo boarding house he jumps at the chance. Of course, there are always complications in a situation like this; for one, it’s an all-female boarding house. For another, he immediately falls for the girl in the room next to his, the titular Suzuka. However, the path to love is never a smooth one, so Yamato is first going to have to survive the two drunken college girls who live in the house and delight in fucking up his life, his pervert of a best friend, and Suzuka’s natural gift for catching him the worst possible situations.
There is an unquestionable sense of the familiar about SUZUKA; certainly, the plotline isn’t the newest kid on the block. That means, as it should, that the book rises and falls on its ability to execute and entertain. In this case, SUZUKA succeeds. A big reason why is that Yamato turns out not to be completely hopeless, unlike so many protagonists of his ilk; he shows off actual talents, a sense of nobility, and some genuine emotional vulnerability. He also works to put up a strong front and hide his heart, but he doesn’t hold onto that front to the point of being beyond anguish, either.

SUZUKA’s smuttier moments definitely earn the book’s shrink-wrapping, but they’re also pretty amusing, even against what might be your better judgment. Seo-san’s art is also quite lovely to behold, making this a solid winner all-around.

Marc Mason

Written by Seimaru Amagi and Drawn by Tetsuya Koshiba
Translated by Haruko Furukawa and Adapted by Aaron Sparrow
Published by Tokyopop

REMOTE was one of those books that sucked me in from the very start, taking a premise that could have turned stale quickly and zapping it with a bolt or two of storytelling lightning. Young policewoman Kurumi Ayaki is assigned to the strangest beat in her district: assisting Detective Kozaburo Himuro. Himuro is the smartest, most effective crime solver the police have, but there’s just one problem: an unknown psychological problem has left him unable to leave the one single room of his house that he occupies. So Kurumi would be doing all of his legwork, facing all the danger, and putting her own personal life on hold (including the planning of her wedding to a spineless, horny wimp named Shingo) to be available by cell phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

With volume ten, the series draws to a close, and I find myself both mourning its conclusion and celebrating that it achieved exactly what it needed to and is getting off the stage before overstaying its welcome. Over the course of the series, Kurumi has had a genuine character arc, growing from timid girl thrust into a situation far beyond what she was capable of dealing with to a strong, confident woman who grows into her job and gains the self-confidence she deserves. Himuro is her guide, always in the background, but as time passed, he was less instrumental in solving matters, instead teaching the young woman how to develop her own instincts as a detective. Given ten volumes to work with, the reader really gets a chance to see this maturation occur, and it’s pretty impressively done.

Of course, the one question that always lurked at the core of the book was what exactly had happened to Himuro to leave him in such a state, and this last story offers the answer. When a kidnapping takes place and credit is taken by an adversary thought dead, Himuro must face his past and his failings, and once again, Kurumi must put herself in harms way as the broken detective deals with his psychological impotence at the worst possible time. The resolution to it all is well executed, and delivers moment after moment that the reader who has been with the book all the way was dying to see. And the final scene, involving the resolution to whether or not Kurumi will reach the altar with Shingo, is worth the price of the book, laying out once and forever who the young woman has become and what her life is going to be.

REMOTE had its failings along the way, the creators indulging in a little too much fanservice here and there, but taken as a whole, I think it offered a rare look at a female heroine who went through genuine growth and change. These ten volumes are keepers.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Tomoko Ninimiya
Translated and Adapted by David and Eriko Walsh
Published by Del Rey

Noda Megumi and her friends race towards the end of the university year, with futures in the balance. The love of her life, Shinichi, is graduating and facing an uncertain future; he is phobic about both air and sea travel, meaning he cannot leave Japan to pursue music overseas, leaving him no career path. Nodame is working on a suite of songs meant for young children, as she wants to teach pre-school, but her teachers and mentors find her unsuitable for that job. Then the meanest piano teacher at the university decides he is going to become her mentor and mold her talent, even though she hates him. And amidst these troubles and more, the pair must travel to Shinichi’s family’s home, where he must face pressure to give up music altogether and try and explain that no matter how she feels about him, Nodame is not his girlfriend.

These plots and more dominate these two volumes of NODAME CANTABILE, and against all odds, this series seems to only get better and better. I’ve tried to dissect why I love this book so much, but there’s really no one single thing that makes it stand out; instead, there are a multitude of factors that make it brilliant. The characters actually grow and change, and progress occurs within the relationships between them. The supporting cast is stellar, from their fellow musicians to the families. Tomoko’s figure-work is simple but dynamic; there’s more of a realism to the look of NODAME than you find in most mangas. Whatever you want to point to, it works, and this is one of the best character dramas you’re going to find on the shelves.

In fact, getting ahead of myself, I’ll tell you this right now: NODAME CANTABILE will make my end-of-the-year top ten list of essential books. I would never have guessed that a book about orchestra musicians would become one of the books I await eagerly, but it is so. This is must reading; it’s funny, dramatic, and compelling. In short: the best and most consistent manga being published today.

Marc Mason

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