Saturday, November 15, 2008

Monkey High! (manga, vol. 2) by Shouko Akira

Haruna and Macharu go to the Dreamland amusement park for their first date. Although Haruna takes a while to warm up to the whole idea, and things don't go entirely as planned, the date is, overall, a success. In the next part of the volume, Macharu and Atsu accidentally break the school principal's expensive and precious vase. Several of the students decide to earn the money to replace the vase by entering a quiz show championship, and Haruna gets dragged along. Haruna does try to contribute, but the experience is a little awkward for her, since she is recognized by one of the reporters as the daughter of jailed Diet member Shinichi Aizawa. Of course, Haruna's friends protect her, but they can't help her with everything. Macharu starts to realize that there's a lot Haruna isn't confiding in him (mainly, her feelings about her father), and it causes problems in their relationship for a bit. They patch things up right as Haruna's father comes back home, and both Haruna and Macharu make it to the final round of the quiz show championship in time to help out (not that they can do any good, tired out from running as they are).

After the main story, there's a somewhat lengthy special story starring Macharu's 13-year-old sister, Misato. Misato has a crush on Macharu's best friend, Atsu. When Misato finds out that her music class will be performing at the joint recital at the town hall, she practices long and hard until she thinks she's good enough not to embarrass herself and then asks Atsu to come along with Macharu to the recital. All throughout this story, Hiura, a tall, serious boy in Misato's class, has criticized her playing, and his words right before the recital stick in her head, causing her to drop her instrument during the performance. Although things seems pretty bad to Misato, everything works out in the end. Atsu is kind about Misato's embarrassing mistake, and Misato turns out to have more feelings for Hiura than she realized.

The premise of this series, a high school romance between the serious and elegant daughter of a disgraced Diet member and a cute, nice, monkey-like boy, was what originally attracted me. Akira is still working with that idea in this volume - Haruna is so good at hiding her feelings that it takes Macharu's baby monkey sweetness to make her open up and get her to smile. Still, I didn't think this volume was as strong as it could've been. The first date was nice, but the quiz show championship felt a little contrived and cliched. I guess I've read too many manga and seen too many anime where quiz shows pop up for some reason or another. I did really like that Macharu and Haruna had to deal with some difficulties in their relationship. I absolutely loved the part where Haruna calmly tells her father that Macharu is her boyfriend - her father's expression is wonderful and made me laugh.

It took me a little bit to figure out that the bonus story was still set in the world of Monkey High. Although it was nice and sweet, it didn't interest me all that much - I would've preferred it if this story had been cut and more had been added to the volume's main story. I hadn't remembered any mention of Macharu having a younger sister, so it was interesting seeing what she was like, and I thought her crush on Atsu was cute. I really felt for the poor girl when she messed up at the recital. However, I don't feel that Akira did a good enough job developing the relationship between Misato and Hiura. It was fairly obvious that they were going to end up with each other - in a story like this, with a boy who keeps criticizing and picking on a girl, that's pretty clear. I probably would've liked this story more if Akira had injected more sweet moments between Misato and Hiura in with all the criticizing.

Besides the bonus short story, there's a 4-page postscript in manga form in which the author talks about this volume a little, a thank you note accompanied by a drawing of the six characters who took part in the quiz show championship, and a page of translator's notes.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Those who'd like another story featuring humor, romance, the occasional bit of serious drama, and a mismatched pairing (like Macharu and Haruna, Shuichi is the loud goofy one and Eiri is the quiet serious one) might like this title. In addition, there's even a part where Shuichi and his band members take part in a quiz show, similar to Monkey High. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga.
  • Sand Chronicles (manga) by Hinako Ashihara - After her parents divorce, Ann Uekusa and her mother are forced to move to the small country town of Shimane and live with Ann's maternal grandmother. Ann has to adjust to living in a new environment while also dealing with a family that seems to be falling apart. Fortunately, she makes friends with Daigo, a country boy, and Fuji and Shika, the children of the town's most prominent citizens. Those who'd like another story featuring similar artwork (I thought, at first, that the two series were drawn by the same person), slowly developing relationships, and sweet (but sometimes complicated and painful) teenage romance might like this series.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Those who'd like another story featuring a sweet high school romance, humor, and drama might like this title.
  • Lovely Complex (manga) by Aya Nakahara - This series is also known as Love*Com. Risa and Otani have always been seen as a comedy act by others at their school - Risa is taller than the average girl, Otani is shorter than the average boy, and the two are always bickering with one another. As their friendship develops, so do Risa's feelings for Otani, but she's not sure she'll ever be able to get him to see her as more than a friend. Those who'd like another story featuring humor and a mismatched high school romance might want to try this series.

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