Last month required reading a lot of heavy drama, so let's lighten things up by looking at some manga about music and musical performance. Surely I could find something cute and fun to read to kick things off! So why the hell did I pick up this series expecting that?
FULL MOON O SAGASHITE (Furu Mun o Sagashite), by Arina Tanemura. First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2005.
Mitsuki Koyama might be the most tragic girl around. She's an orphan living with her strict grandmother and separated from her only friend by an ocean. On top of that, she's been diagnosed with throat cancer at the tender age of 11. She could remove the cancer with surgery, but doing so would remove her ability to sing. Mitsuki loves singing too much to do so, even if it means her inevitable death. Fate intervenes for her in the form of two shinigami who make her a deal. Mitsuki has only a year to live, but they will give her the ability to age herself up and hide her identity so she audition for a music label. She can pursue her dream of becoming an idol, but at the end of year she will peacefully and willingly die. For Mitsuki, any deal is worth it if she can share her song with the world and find her beloved long-lost friend.
It's been a while since I've tackled an Arina Tanemura work. The last time I looked at one, I lamented how she had a terrible tendency to drown out any good ideas or interesting concepts with a zillion other plot threads and a hectic sense of pacing. From what I see here, it seems that this a not just a problem with Sakura-Hime in particular, but with Full Moon as well.
Mitsuki is just unbelievable - literally! First, there's her actual personality, which is so saintly and perfect that it would make even Tohru Honda puke. Then there's her backstory. I've seen opera heroines with less tragedy in their lives than her! It's not enough for her to be an orphan, but she also has to have an unpleasant foster parent AND pining for a lost love AND suffering from terminal cancer! It's a blatantly naked attempt at building sympathy for Mitsuki to compensate for her lack of personality, and it's almost laughable in execution. It's especially misguided when you consider that Mitsuki does have something that's genuinely tragic: she knows when she's going to die. Even if she succeeds as an idol singer, she knows that it will not last and every day is one more closer to her death. That's genuinely tragic and that's something that should tinge her career with sadness, even regret. It's too bad then that Tanemura pretty much forgets about this from the moment that she wins her audition. There's no time to be sad - Mitsuki is going to be a STAR!
The idol singer parts of her life aren't handled much better. They're either mined for cheap comedy (like Mitsuki's drunken manager) or for cheap drama (such as the rival girl who passive-aggressively bullies Mitsuki). Meanwhile there's also the plotline with Meroko and Takuto, the two shinigami making this all possible. Meroko has a giant obvious crush on Takuto, and Takuto is not only oblivious to all this, but is hinted to have a connection to Mitsuki in his own past. The unrequited love angle doesn't just adds another complication to a plot already full of them, but it also overshadows the more compelling one that's just about Takuto. I just hope that the weirdly romantic tone of it is entirely in my imagination and not intentional because MITSUKI IS FREAKING 12 AND I DON'T CARE IF HE'S A SUPERNATURAL BEING, THAT IS CREEPY.
There truly is a germ of a good idea in Full Moon, where a young girl gets a chance to live out her dream before her imminent death. The problem is that as a writer, Tanemura can't give it the space or the solemnity it needs to truly shine. Instead she would rather keep adding complications and blatantly going for the heartstrings in the hopes of keeping the audience distracted.
My general opinion of Tanemura's art hasn't changed. She still draws the same cutesy characters with their overly simple faces that are dominated by those enormous saucer eyes. She still seems to prefer drawing fancy, frilly dresses over drawing the characters wearing them. It's not only Mitsuki that suffers from this; the shinigami wear silly costumes that are meant to comfort dying children but instead look like the early 90s exploded on them. She also still can't be bothered with backgrounds and instead just pastes every sort of screentone and effect possible over the empty space. The panels are still hopelessly cluttered that it sometimes becomes difficult to follow. The only major difference is that the artwork of Full Moon doesn't feature the fine detail that served as the saving grace for Sakura-Hime's art. It seems that Tanemura's artistic flaws are not a new thing, and it's a style that just always rubs me the wrong way.
Arina Tanemura frustrates me in a way that few mangaka do. She's not a complete hack, but it seems that from the very start she was always drowning out the good qualities of her works with too much STUFF. Full Moon o Sagashite is no exception to this and because of that I can't recommend it.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 7 volumes available. All 7 have been published and are current in print and available in e-book form.