Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beauty is the Beast, vol. 2

The story: It's that time of year—for the school festival at Eimi's school. Of course, there's a wrinkle this year when mysterious and somewhat scary Wanibuchi is appointed dorm president prior to the festival. Although it's not his "thing," Wanibuchi quickly adapts and swiftly transforms everyone into "Wanibuchi supporters." After the successful festival, Misao's younger sister is introduced, along with her odd crush on the dorm superintendent and compulsive gambler, Sawaguchi, who also happens to be Wanibuchi's cousin. Eimi gets homesick and it takes some cheering up from Wanibuchi to get her out of bed. Later still, the girls' dorm has to deal with a broken TV and a gross roach problem.

Reaction: There was a lot of "first love" in this volume—from Eimi having a "princely" moment with Wanibuchi during the school festival, to Misao's sister's crush on Sawaguchi, to Suzu's crush on Wanibuchi's roommate, Inui. It was interesting and humorous, especially when Misao's sister was comparing her crush to shojo manga and dating sim games. It also showed the spectrum of young love and the wide variety of ways that people deal with it. I enjoyed seeing more of mysterious Wanibuchi's past and how he came to live with his grandfather in Mexico. All in all, it was a very contemplative volume, with hints of humor throughout.

Deep thoughts: I was really hoping that Sawaguchi's penchant for gambling would really throw off whatever attraction Misao's sister had for him. But, it didn't. While I've mentioned this in reviews of The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, I'm a little concerned about the relationships between adults in charge with students. But, during a conversation with a friend, I realized that perhaps this was more of a cultural difference. In the U.S., romantic teacher-student relationships are frowned upon, but in Japan, they seem to be less taboo. Since no one is getting hurt emotionally or physically, and the relationships usually don't get very serious until the student has graduated, this may be one of those "let bygones be bygones" cultural situations.

Artwork: There was a lot of screentone here, something I don't usually appreciate. But, it did make the action scenes involving the pool table more visually interesting. I hadn't noticed it before, but Tomo Matsumoto draws everyone with the same pointy nose. It's not particularly ugly, but it gets repetitive and lessens the variety between characters. Regardless, chibi Eimi has really grown on me—whether it's that silly, sleepy look or because she's content in some way—it's a fun take on Eimi.

The verdict: Highly recommended. I liked how Eimi's attraction to Wanabuchi started here—it's unexpected and shows the gap between them. Yet, it doesn't faze her as one might imagine. It's a refreshing, youthful romance that shows maturity as opposed to the immaturity seen in so many other shojo manga. Beauty is the Beast is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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