Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Wallflower (manga, vol. 15) by Tomoko Hayakawa

As usual, this volume of The Wallflower is composed of several chapters that could basically be considered short stories. As long as you've at least read the first volume of this title, you'll probably be fine if you jump in anywhere else in this series, including as late as volume 15.

This volume includes chapters 59 to 62. In the first chapter, Sunako is invited to a mixer by some girls from her school, and she freaks out once she discovers what a mixer is. In the next chapter, Yuki's little brother and sister, who are twins, show up out of the blue - Sunako shows an impressive and motherly ability to deal with children. In the third chapter, Noi decides to help out the nice, wealthy girl Ranmaru is dating by helping her find a guy in a host club who's at least as charming and handsome as Ranmaru is. Ranmaru is the type who believes that women should be enjoyed, but that men like him shouldn't feel tied down by them, and the girl he's dating (whose name I cannot remember) deserves better than that. Takenaga, Noi's boyfriend, tries to go after her and ends up being forced to help out at the host club as a host. In the final chapter, Sunako freaks out again when she finds out she's been invited to a reunion that will be filled with all the people she knew before she became the weird and scary girl she is in this series. Why is she freaking out again? Well, if she goes to the reunion, she'll see the guy she used to have a crush on who turned her down by saying, "I hate ugly girls."

Basically, the first chapter is semi-serious, the second is sweet, the third is funny and a bit romantic, and the fourth is serious. I don't really like that the series still doesn't feel like it's going anywhere after 15 volumes - I wasn't kidding when I said you could read the first volume and then jump into the series at any point you felt like and not feel all that lost. Sunako's less introverted than she used to be, but not by much. The guys also haven't changed much - the only real changes are that Takenaga seems to be settling into the role of boyfriend really nicely and Ranmaru may have actually found a girl he can stick with. As far as Hayakawa's artwork goes, she seems to have gotten a little better at drawing Ranmaru and Kyohei so that it's actually possible to tell them apart most times - in earlier volumes, I often mistook one for the other.

With this volume, as with this series in general, I don't really have favorite stories as much as I have favorite moments. In the first story, I love it when the guys turn Sunako briefly into an ordinary-looking girl - her occasional loveliness is all the more wonderful when contrasted with the usual simple super-deformed way she's drawn. In the second story, I love it when Kyohei imagines Sunako as a mother laughing with her two children - it's moments like this that make it even more painful that Hayakawa is taking her sweet time allowing Kyohei and Sunako's potential romance to progress. In the third story, I love Noi (she is, in general, one of my most favorite characters in this series - she's beautiful and actually thinks Sunako is great) and Ranmaru's girlfriend. Ranmaru's girlfriend is so quiet and gentle that she seems to have almost no personality, but she's got some funny moments, like her "wealthy aura." In the final story, it was just sweet seeing Noi and the guys support Sunako.

Hayakawa is a huge fan of Japanese bands/musicians/singers like Miyavi and Dir En Grey, and it shows in her artwork - her main guy characters look like androgynous pretty boys. It took me some time to get used to that (I may think Miyavi looks gorgeous in some of his pictures, but it translates oddly into Hayakawa's artwork), and, like I said, Hayakawa occasionally has problems with drawing her men so that they look too similar. The main thing that won me over with this series was the humor - unfortunately, this particular volume is lacking in the massively funny nosebleed scenes that I loved so much in the earlier volumes. Another nice part of this series is the sweet, touching moments, of which there are a few in this volume.

Because of how little actually changes from one volume to the next, I don't think this is a series I would still be reading if I couldn't get it for free from the library. That doesn't mean it's not fun - it's just not worth $10.95 for the 15th volume of nothing new.

As far as extras goes, there are the usual author free talk boxes at the beginning of each chapter, plus, Japanese honorifics explanations, and a few pages of Del Rey's usual wonderful translator notes.

Read-alikes:
  • Moon Child (live action movie) - If you like the androgynous pretty boy look of the male characters in The Wallflower, you might like this movie. The main characters are played by Gackt and Hyde, two well-known singers in Japan. Basically, it's the story of the friendship between Kei, a vampire, and Shou, the orphan boy who was raised by him. Everything takes place in the near future. Shou and Kei drift apart after they fall in love with the same woman, but, years later, they team up again.
  • Alichino (manga) by Kouyu Shurei - Basically, this serious fantasy series revolves around Alichino, beautiful creatures that appear human and will grant any wish at a huge price, and a beautiful boy named Tsugiri, who has a terrible past. As far as its plot goes, Alichino doesn't have much in common with The Wallflower. However, if readers are looking for more pretty guys and artwork that is somewhat similar to Hayakawa's (only better - this is my opinion, and you're free to disagree), then they might want to try this series. It's lovely, but, unfortunately, not finished yet, with no date given when the fourth (and final?) volume will finally come out.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori - Haruhi is the only scholarship student in an elite school full of rich and spoiled students. One day, Haruhi discovers the Ouran High School Host Club, breaks a vase, and is forced to work for them as a host in order to pay for the vase. What the president of the host club doesn't realize for a while is that Haruhi is actually a girl - in order to continue being a host club member, Haruhi must hide her gender from everyone in the school. Those who'd like another humorous series with a main female character who doesn't care much about dating and guys, or those who specifically liked the chapter in this book with the host club, might like this series. Haruhi's not phobic about dating, like Sunako is, but she does happen to be completely oblivious. As the series progresses, several guys become interested in her, but she doesn't actually notice anything.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda - Yukino is an incredibly vain high school student who's been hiding behind a mask of perfection for years. She lives for the praise she gets when she acts like a perfect, elegant, humble, and effortlessly intelligent student. One day she meets a boy named Souichiro Arima who appears to be the real deal. He discovers her secret and blackmails her into helping him do his massive amounts of work. As Yukino gets to know him better, she begins to fall in love with him, but Arima has secrets of his own. In a way, both Kare Kano and The Wallflower are about self - Yukino voluntarily makes her public self look perfect, while Sunako is surrounded by guys who've been given the task of remaking her public self so that it's more lady-like and acceptable. In addition, readers who enjoyed the children in this volume of The Wallflower might like the older children that show up throughout this series - Yukino's sisters are pretty rambunctious, and there are several flashbacks to certain characters' childhoods.

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