Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wild Ones (manga, vol. 2) by Kiyo Fujiwara

The synopsis is a bit spoilery, so beware.

Synopsis:

Sachie, Rakuto, and the rest of the yakuza gang go to the beach, where Sachie attracts the attention of a hot young cook at a food stand. Rakuto intervenes, and Sachie of course does not understand why. This little love triangle isn't anywhere near over, however, as Rakuto and Sachie later learn that the hot young cook, Azuma, is actually the grandson of the guy at whose inn they're staying. The grandfather, a friend of Sachie's grandfather, asks that they take care of Azuma for him while he's being hospitalized.

Now Rakuto has to deal with a romantic rival living right underfoot. In fact, they have to share a room. Sachie continues to be completely oblivious to the sparks flying between the two of them, but even she starts to wonder if Rakuto might really have feelings for her after he tells her, "Just let me be by your side. No one else but me by your side..."

When the student council at Sachie's school hosts a 3-day camping trip for everyone, regardless of what grade they're in, Sachie finds herself a little jealous of how popular Rakuto is with all the girls, and a little depressed/hurt that he can't spend time with her because he's so busy with his duties as student council president. There's a tradition in which people give their name tag to the person they'd like to dance with on the last night of the camping trip, and Sachie would like to give hers to Rakuto, but he's too busy to accept it...so she gives it to Azuma instead. Rakuto is hurt, and Sachie is miserable, but things work out in the end (for Sachie and Rakuto, anyway).

Next up is a school festival storyline, in which Sachie's class decides to do a netherworld cafe. Meanwhile, Rakuto is trying to fend off the president of the Film Club, who'd like to do another Rakuto-themed movie in order to drum up funding for her club. When Rakuto refuses to let himself be fangirl bait again (last year's film had him wearing glasses, standing in the rain, and starring in a shower scene), the Film Club president gets the bright idea to try to follow him around every second of the day and get whatever footage she can. She gets more than she bargained for when she catches Sachie in tough girl yakuza mode, going up against a guy who was taking surreptitious panty shots with his cell phone. The film becomes hugely popular at the school festival, and Sachie is horrified at the thought that she has inadvertently outed herself and Rakuto. Thankfully, some quick thinking on Rakuto's part saves the day.

Review:

I have to admit, I have a certain fondness for love triangles, depending on how they're done. I like the one Fujiwara introduced in this volume. Sachie probably considers Azuma a friend, but I'm not sure she recognizes that he likes her, and she absolutely doesn't realize that she has sparked a rivalry between him and Rakuto. What I particularly like about Rakuto having someone he feels is a rival for Sachie's love is that it puts cracks in his mask and forces him to show his true emotions more often. He also gets several great moments where he gets to demonstrate that he knows Sachie better than Azuma does - at this point, there's no doubt in my mind that Fujiwara still intends for Sachie to end up with Rakuto. Azuma isn't a true romantic rival so much as a way to stir things up a little.

As with the first volume of this series, however, the obstacles keeping Sachie and Rakuto apart don't feel very strong. Like I said, Azuma doesn't feel like a true romantic rival. I'm sure he's interested in Sachie, but Rakuto is by far the stronger contender. Rakuto is more openly admitting his feelings to Sachie...so the primary obstacle keeping them apart is Sachie. At first, she's oblivious. Then, she's disbelieving, with a little bit of obliviousness still left over. It's frustrating, and I'm wondering if Fujiwara will ever manage to come up with something stronger. I'd even be happy if she just decided to make Sachie and Rakuto a couple and make the rest of the series about the two of them feeling their way through some of the difficulties their relationship goes through. Storylines that would work prior to them becoming a couple could probably still be used, with some modifications, after they become a couple, and at least Sachie would seem a little less dense.

So, my favorite thing about this volume was getting to see Rakuto be jealous (but not Alpha jerk jealous). There were also a few funny moments I really enjoyed. It still makes me giggle, thinking of a yakuza gang member who just happens to have adult diapers on hand, and Rakuto's pleasant expression as he destroyed the Film Club president's video tapes was wonderful.

I was trying to think about why this series was so far only so-so for me, when other works that don't feel all that much more original that Wild Ones get higher personal grades from me, and I think the answer is the characters. Rakuto intrigues me, but Sachie doesn't seem capable of carrying the weight of a lengthy series (10 volumes isn't long compared to, say, something like Naruto, which I think is now well over 40 volumes, but I consider anything with more than 8 volumes to be long). Since everyone else in the series is so far a minor character, the series depends primarily on its humor (which is nice enough) and Sachie and Rakuto.

Sachie doesn't have the same draw for me that Rakuto does. I'm interested to see what kinds of things are hiding under the surface that Rakuto presents. Sachie, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be much more than surface level. She's a nice girl who doesn't really believe that a gorgeous guy like Rakuto could like her, and she still mourns for her mother, but she's also got a tough, kick-butt side that comes out when she feels an injustice is being done, when someone wastes food, or when someone threatens her friends. That's pretty much it.

I still think it's an ok series, but it could be better.

Extras:

The same as the previous volume: 2 pages of cultural notes (skimpy, but helpful), short little extra Wild Ones comics between some chapters, and author sidebars.

My read-alikes/watch-alikes list is a cut-and-paste from my post for the first volume. I'm lazy. Also, I can't think of anything else I'd like to list.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - If you thought Sachie's horror when faced with some of the less ideal aspects of her new life was hilarious, and if you loved her reaction to Rakuto's over-the-top flirtiness, you might want to try this series. Be warned, though - I haven't read this whole series, but I suspect the romance will ever get any kind of conclusion. This series stars a girl named Sunako, who loves scary and horrific things. Sunako's aunt tells a group of gorgeous guys that they can live at her mansion rent-free...but only if they can turn Sunako into a lady. It's a funny series with a hint of romance.
  • Marrying the Mafia (live action movie) - I loved my grad school library - it had an excellent selection of movies, one of which was this one, a Korean romantic comedy. In this movie, a straight-laced businessman and mousy lab tech wake up in bed together with no recollection of how they ended up there. They part ways, but then the woman's three brothers visit the business exec and inform him that she is the daughter of a powerful mob family. They tell him he must pursue a relationship with her, or else. Those who'd like another romantic comedy featuring organized crime might want to try this. I remember it being surprisingly cute.
  • The Gokusen (anime TV series) - I think this started off as a manga series, but it doesn't look like the manga is available in the US. Those who'd like another comedy featuring yakuza characters might want to try this. The main character is a woman who becomes the homeroom teacher for a class filled with delinquents. She manages to win her class's respect, but what the school doesn't realize is that she is the heir to the Oedo Group, a powerful yakuza clan. If her secret gets out, her career as a teacher is over.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another light romantic comedy starring lots of flirty guys might want to try this. In addition, there is a minor character (in the anime, anyway - I don't know if he shows up in the manga) who is the son of a yakuza boss. In this series, Haruhi, the only scholarship student at an elite high school intended primarily for the children of people who are rich or have a lot of influence, ends up becoming part of the Ouran High School Host Club. Haruhi breaks a vase that belonged to the club and can't afford to pay them back, so becoming a club member is the only other option. The guys all later figure out that Haruhi is actually a girl. If Haruhi's secret gets out, she'll no longer be able to be in the club. I butchered the description of it, but this is actually a really funny series. Those primarily interested in the series' romantic aspects may be a bit disappointed, however, since Haruhi seems mostly uninterested in romance, from what I've seen.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another series with a tightly controlled main male character who has a tendency to mask how he really feels might want to try this. As far as most people know, Yukino is perfect in every way - gracious, good-looking, a good student who is liked by everyone. What no one but her family knows is that her perfection is a mask that she wears in her quest for others' praise. One day, Yukino's rival, Arima, who also seems perfect in every way and who, to her horror, has confessed his love for her, learns her secret.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Like Wild Ones, the main character of this series, Tohru, is on her own after her mother dies. Tohru ends up living with the Sohmas, a strange family suffering from a curse that causes some of their members to turn into an animal from the Chinese zodiac when they become weak or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Tohru's mother used to be a yankee (a delinquent, member of a bike gang) - she and Sachie's mother seem very similar. Those who'd like another shoujo romance series with similar story elements and a similar overall feel might want to try this.

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