Manga Before Flowers -- The Short Good-Bye

One of the joys of manga is that most series have definitive end-points.  There is pleasure in being able to say a proper good-bye to favorite characters or good riddance to the ones that made you curse and throw the book across the room.  Go! Comi recently finished releasing two of its best series, After School Nightmare and Her Majesty's Dog.

Today I want to say good-bye to these series by giving a quick overview of the last volumes of each (ASN vol 10 and HMD vol 11).  I'm going to avoid as much spoilers as possible and try to talk more generally about the role these volumes play in wrapping each series up.

In a way, After School Nightmare will never really be over for me -- it still lives very strongly in my mind as an exceptional shojo series that I could puzzle over and think about for years to come.   Volume 10 certainly gives a sort of "closure," but I think the pleasure of ASN is that you can't take anything for granted.  It allows for multiple readings -- perhaps even encourages them -- of "what really happened."  In this story, as in dreams, I don't think there is any "real" event, only half-completed projections of possible events.

I think that is the difficulty and the draw of the last volume -- we feel compelled to read it after embarking on this strange, nightmarish journey with Ichijo as he struggles to resolve the question of who he really is.  But I don't feel a strong sense of closure after reading it --  creator Mizushiro's answer to Ichijo's identity is more than place hir into a box of "boy" or "girl," which may seem like no answer at all.

Final Verdict: The series ends up being much more than the sum of its parts.  This means volume 10 was not a particularly satisfying reading experience in and of itself, but has actually encouraged me to the come to the series as if it were new.  And then come to it again.   And again.  Reading each volume as it was released was a wonderful experience as this world that Mizushiro created is slowly revealed to us and often re-made in subsequent volumes.   Simply put, this story remains unique and unexpected in the world of manga and I can't recommend the title highly enough.

I've always described Her Majesty's Dog as a good shojo series, but the last two volumes (10 & 11) take the story to surprising places and do it so beautifully I've had to reassess my evaluation of the entire work.  The problem with the series is that main character, Amane, is an incredibly passive teenage girl despite the fact she has a supernatural gift of "kotodama" -- meaning the ability to speak words of power, aka spells -- inherited from her family, that places her in a position of great responsibility.  She is the intended "head of the family," but she generally has followed everyone else's plan for her.  Although she is in love with someone she shouldn't be -- her "guardian spirit," Hyoue -- Amane never attempts to break free of the familial reigns that hold her and, therefore, doesn't attempt to figure out how to be true to herself.

All of this ends with the last two volumes of the series -- Amane is tested by a most beloved family member, who forces her out of her passivity by threatening her very existence.  These volumes are breathtaking in many respects as creator Mick Takeuchi weaves external and internal conflict together in deeply effective ways.  Amane is thrown into despair by outside forces  but then must choose how to deal with the loss of everything she holds dear including her very "voice."  In volume 11, we watch her grow into her humanity, something that we always knew was there, but was hiding somewhere deep in herself.

Final Verdict: There is certainly something to be said for well-done shojo, but there is something even more to be said for shojo that can knock your damn socks off.  And that is what HMD does in its last two volumes -- I think Mick Takeuchi grows leaps and bounds as a writer in the conclusion of this series, something that is reflected from the very start of her new series, Bound Beauty (which may be my one of favorite on-going shojo series right now that ASN has ended).

Review copies provided by Go! Comi.

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