Monday, September 7, 2009

Beauty is the Beast, vol. 5

The story: Eimi makes a visit to her parents' home in Kyushu and invites Satoshi along. Unfortunately, a family emergency keeps Satoshi from joining her, so at the last minute, Eimi decides to take Wanibuchi with her. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they quickly become lost and slowly make their way back north. All the while, Wanibuchi recalls his troubled childhood and his role in his younger sister's untimely death. In the end, it's Eimi that pulls him out of his doldrums. Meanwhile, Satoshi is suffering more and more because of his affection for Eimi and eventually confronts Wanibuchi. Given the choice, will Wanibuchi claim Eimi as his own, or leave Eimi to Satoshi?

Reaction: There is a final resolution to the now-tiresome threesome, but I wasn't particularly satisfied by it. It happens slowly, but there's no real confrontation between Eimi and Wanibuchi, which left me wanting more. I wanted to see him make a declaration of some type, but Tomo Matsumoto kept true to Wanibuchi's character by not showing it. Of course, there is a tense moment between Wanibuchi and Satoshi, where a perfect Wanibuchi line is shared regarding Eimi, "The beast is licking his lips." There's another moment where Wanibuchi compares Eimi to the lucky yellow wallet his grandfather owned. It's an interesting comparison, but I think it works for this odd couple.

Deep thoughts: There's an extra story at the end—an early one-shot by Matsumoto, titled "The Release." In it, an "Oriental" slave is kept prisoner before being sold to market. Thankfully, one of her jailers takes pity on her and eventually releases her. While I won't get into my disdain for the use of "oriental" in relation to people, I will point out that while slavery is illegal throughout the world, it is still a thriving underground business. Author Benjamin Skinner wrote about the black market for people in his book, A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery; I heard about his book during this NPR interview. It's amazing, and yet somehow unsurprising, that such an illegal trade still exists.

Artwork: There's a watercolor portrait of Eimi on the back cover—however, she looks wan, hollow-cheeked and contemplative; the opposite of what she usually looks like. There's also appearances from various family members, including the main trio's siblings. They all look alike in some way and yet are made distinctively different in some way. Lastly, the one-shot at the end showed just how far Matsumoto's artwork has come since whenever she drew it. Her style hasn't changed too much; it's simply become more refined and less amateurish.

The verdict: If only... Overall, I liked Beauty and the Beast. It was unlikely, understated and, yet, somehow very touching. While Eimi never has designs on "taming" Wanibuchi, she still seems to have that effect on him. It was interesting to watch unfold, despite the emotional torture taken on Satoshi. I'd recommend Beauty is the Beast to anyone looking for a high school romance that doesn't follow a predictable path and overused tropes. Beauty is the Beast is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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