Sunday, August 23, 2009
Beauty is the Beast, vol. 1
The story: Eimi's parents have decided to relocate for work, but she doesn't want to leave. So, she moves into a dorm at her high school. Her first night there, she must complete a dare and stumbles into the room of two boys, one who is considered the most dangerous boy in school. Unperturbed by Wanibuchi's appearance, she quickly nicknames him "Wanichin" and his roommate, Inui, "Nuinui." Meanwhile, she quickly makes friends with her roommate, Misao, and her neighbor, Suzu.
Reaction: I really liked how simple Eimi is—she wears her heart on her sleeve, is accepting of others and loves to eat. There's no complications or drama, which is refreshing in a high school shojo story. Meanwhile, her friends, all of whom are really attractive, are all quirky in their own way and accept Eimi for who she is. And while it's implied that Wanibuchi will be Eimi's future love interest—he's the "beautiful beast"—there's no forcing the attraction and their relationship builds naturally as a friendship first.
Deep thoughts: I thought it was interesting that Wanibuchi had lived in Mexico for some time. Living along the U.S.-Mexico border, I was surprised to learn earlier this year that there is a sizeable population in Tijuana of people whose ancestors hailed from Japan. Since the U.S. interned Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II, many families moved to Mexico where they could escape the persecution of the times. Of course, there were also those who, prior to the war, went to Mexico to work as farmhands on coffee plantations, mirroring the Japanese immigrants in California who worked on the state's many farms from San Diego to the Central Valley.
Artwork: Tomo Matsumoto's work has a light-handed and wispy, almost sketchy quality to it. All of the characters fit well with their designs—Eimi looks as plain as she is simple, while Wanibuchi has an exotic look and mysterious quality to him that matches his personality all too well. Like most shojo manga, the backgrounds don't have much to them and make use of screentone quite a bit. The most detailed work is in a humorous story featuring Suzu, who seems to have a fetish for women's underwear of all things.
The verdict: Highly recommended. I really enjoyed the uncomplicated story here, even if it follows the typical "boy meets girl" pattern at first. There isn't any overt affection, and in many ways, it seems that Eimi and Wanibuchi are simply curious about the other, in a way that one is curious about an animal at the zoo. There's no falling head over heels in love here, just the blossoming of a peculiar friendship. And I like that. Beauty is the Beast is available in the U.S. from Viz.