Today I catch up with the second volumes of two of Viz's newer Shojo Beat titles, Kimi ni Todoke and Black Bird.
Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, by Karuhi Shiina, volume 2. Former social-pariah Sawako takes two steps back and one step forward in her quest to cement deep and enduring friendships with her peers. This time the story takes a long, hard look at how teenagers can form healthy female friendships, making this volume a charming palette cleanser in the world of shojo manga. Sure, I'm a fan of romance, but Kimi Ni Todoke seems to know that you first have to like yourself before you can maintain relationships of any kinds. Poor Sawako has a long way to go, but she is starting to take important steps, one of which is actually expressing oneself. Out loud. To others. Such a simple thing and so difficult for this sweet introvert.
Sawako's two potential friends, Yano and Yoshida, become the stars of volume 2 (they can be seen kissing her adorably on the cheek on the cover of volume 2 above). Although they have been given ample reasons to distrust Sawako again, they display the patience of a saint as they wait to hear directly from her how she really feels about them. In the high school world -- where backstabbing and vicious rumor-mongering seem to be the order of the day (at least in most shojo manga) -- it is a relief to see common sense and kindness win out in the end.
I think Sawako is about to develop a fully developed *community* of friends (the back cover hints that certain side characters are going to get more face time in the near future), and I look forward to seeing her juggle relationships with both girls and guys. Somehow I suspect this is going to get hilariously awkward in the near future (not that fighting snarky chicks in the girls' bathroom isn't already awkward, but this may only be a taste of what's to come!). Once again, it is absolutely refreshing to see a shojo manga tackle friendship and, therefore, what it ultimately means to a human being in a world of other humans.
Black Bird, by Kanoko Sakurakoji, volume 2. Many manga reviewers did not care for the first volume of this series, but I found it to be the perfect guilty pleasure. Significantly, two things happen in this volume to lessen a good deal of my "guilt": 1) the romantic "hero" Kyo is redeemed to a large degree, 2) the heroine Misao acknowledges her feelings for Kyo, which frees me from having to endure 9+ volumes of her fleeing from her "destined lover" who, of course, must know her own heart and desires better than she possibly ever could.
The first herculean task is accomplished by introducing a baddie who is very similar to Kyo, in looks and character, but revels in depravity and outright abuse of Misao. This is a manipulative trick, of course, but it works because it allows both the reader and Misao to see Kyo from a very different perspective. It is revealed he only becomes head of his clan in order to be in a position to love and protect Misao. In other words, he's motivated by love even if he expressed that love in some fairly disturbing and perv-tastic ways.
The second accomplishment is more significant to me because I don't really care whether or not Kyo is "redeemed" as a "good boyfriend," so much as I don't want to see Misao dither around and pretend she hasn't really fallen in love with a jerk (*cough* the way another shojo protagonist does in another infamous guilty pleasure manga also published by Viz). To put it another way, Misao embraces and trusts her own feelings which is a surprising and welcome turn.
Black Bird is very much a supernatural romance, emphasis on romance. Short hand explanation: Misao's blood is catnip to demons. Hence the emphasis on her bleeding in a sexualized manner on every. single. cover. (I could certainly do without these covers, as they over-emphasize Misao's powerlessness. On other hand...there is some truth in advertising). Unlike my experience of other texts in this genre, the supernatural elements are not intended to distract us from the fact that these characters seem to have no other interest in life than romance. Instead, the supernatural elements are actually are incorporated into the very fabric of the romantic relationship. This suits my taste quite well since I'm more in favor the "romance" side of the equation than the "supernatural" side.
Review copies provided by Viz.