Love, hate, OCD, ghosts ... High school never goes smoothly, especially in manga. Tokyopop is launching three promising new series in March, and they have second volumes of a couple more, so it seemed like a good time to do another quick roundup of their new releases. This is actually quite a strong lineup; each of these five books is well done and fits neatly into the well-worn genres, yet each offers something more. Eensy Weensy Monster and Skyblue Shore, both of which are up to volume 2, are my choices for the best reads of the month.
Eensy Weensy Monster, vol. 2: This is a two-volume romantic comedy by Masami Tsuda, the creator of Kare Kano. A lot of hardcore manga fans won't be able to make it through that sentence without clicking over to Amazon to buy it; it's short, witty, and well drawn, so that's a good call. Tsuda puts a sly twist on the basic high school romance: average-girl Nanoha goes nuts whenever she sees her schoolmate Hazuki, a handsome but vain guy known to his fan club as "The Prince." Nanoha sees her rage as an ugly little monster living inside her, but when the monster takes over and she tells Hazuki off, he has an epiphany and decides he wants to be humble and sincere—and only Nanoha can teach him these things. He then follows her around like a puppy, which just enrages her even more. It's an upside-down version of the classic shojo story and Tsuda pulls it off beautifully. The pick of the month!
Clean Freak: Fully Equipped, vol. 1: This rather chaotic high school comedy focuses on Senda, a student with obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you're looking for a sensitive treatment of the topic, or perhaps OCD as a metaphor for the human condition, go elsewhere: Senda's search for cleanliness and isolation is mined strictly for laughs, and this being manga, there's always someone who comes crashing through his plastic—and mental—barriers. It's funny in a high-school sort of way, but the highly stylized execution, with clashing screentones and tightly crammed panels, makes this a challenge for all but the veteran manga reader.
Butterfly, vol. 1: It's the Reluctant Ghostbuster, a fairly standard manga plot, but this time it's dressed up in some new clothes. Ginji sees ghosts, including the ghost of his brother, who hanged himself. Not surprisingly, he hates anything to do with the occult, and he will drop a girlfriend if she so much as mentions her horoscope. An outburst in a haunted house gets him into financial hot water, though, and to bail himself out he gets a gig annihilating imaginary creatures—not ghosts, exactly, but something like them. With a few odd plot twists, some reasonable characters and a runaway Pikachu clone, this is an original take on the ghost genre. Nice, clear art makes it an easy read, too.
Skyblue Shore, vol. 2: This is simply a well done romantic comedy with a nice setting, the beach, and characters who are more than just cardboard cutouts. The main character, Tomo, loves the beach but hasn't been there since she was a child, when she spent a happy day with a young boy who gave her a special keepsake. Now in high school, she is rescued from a fondler on the bus by Riku, a handsome young man who turns out to be her school janitor. Riku and his brother Tento both live at the school, and Tento, the boy whom Tomo met all those years ago, spends his time beachcombing and making things out of what he finds. That's your basic triangle—Tomo likes Riku, Tentu likes Tomo. There's more to this story, though, including an unhappy girl with a mysterious past who causes trouble for everyone. Also, the characters acknowledge that it's sort of creepy for Riku, a man in his 20s, to be the darling of the high school girls. With clear, attractive art and a great soap-opera story, this is an amiable, enjoyable read that won't strain your brain too much.