Friday, February 19, 2021

Review: YOU'RE MY PET

 Of course, just because a romance is strange does not mean it is inherently bad or that the manga itself is lacking, as today's example proves.

YOU'RE MY PET (Kimi wa Petto), by Yayoi Ogawa.  First  published in 2000 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

Sumire seemingly has it all: a great college education, a job as a journalist at a high-profile newspaper, and the tall, stately look of a model.  Too bad then that she's just been demoted from the politics section to the lifestyle page, her fiance dumped her for his mistress, and her coworkers are convinced that she's a stuck-up ice queen who deserves what she gets.  

Then she finds a boy in a box.

The boy in question, a teenaged runaway, likes the attention she gives him (along with her cooking) and begs her to let him stay.  She agrees, on one condition: that he serve as her pet.  They won't be dating, but she will provide him with a place to stay, food to eat, and as much attention and affection as he can tolerate.  He won't provide her with his actual name, so she dubs him "Momo" after a former pet.  Their strange arrangement seems to be working for a while until Sumire's old college friend Hasumi comes back into her life looking to rekindle their relationship.  Can she maintain a relationship while keeping Momo a secret?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: PRIMITIVE BOYFRIEND

Normally we here at the Manga Test Drive spend February looking at bad romance manga, but after this last year we need something of a break from badness.  Let's spend this month looking at strange romances instead!  And what could be stranger than a shojo manga about a girl falling for a literal australopithecine?

PRIMITIVE BOYFRIEND (Genshijin Kareshi), by Yoshineko Kitafuku.  First published in 2017 and first published in North America in 2020.



PLOT:

Mito wants a man as strong and sturdy as her garden, but all the boys in her class are self-centered and weak.  She gets her wish when the harvest goddess Spica wants to reward her with her soulmate.  The problem is that her soulmate is a 2.5 million-year-old hominid and being with him means Mito has to survive the dangers of Pleistocene-era Africa!

STORY:

In her author's note, Kitafuku notes how this story grew from a number of small ideas: a pure romance, time travel, a farm girl in the big city, and so on.  I'm not 100% sure how that turned into this particular premise, but truly original premises in shojo are rare so I'll take what I can get.

I do like how this story values how strong and capable Mito already is.  Her friends might encourage her to act more stereotypically weak and feminine to land herself a man, but Mito refuses to compromise herself and that's a very admirable quality.  Of course, no modern human is strong and capable enough on their own to deal with things like Ice Age predators, so it doesn't feel egregious or hypocritical when she finds herself needing her proto-human soulmate (nicknamed Garhi, after his species name) to save her. 

Of course, it's kind of weird to fall in love with a creature that's still more ape than human, but Kitafuku certainly tries to make that as palatable as possible.  She hobbles the competition by making all the modern hot guys self-centered and weak.  They are clearly meant to be parodies of some of the usual otome guy types, from the smug womanizer to the shy otaku.  That said, Garhi's whole strong and silent thing can only go so far, considering he doesn't have things like 'a concept of language.' 

All that said, as someone with an anthropology degree and someone with a long-standing interest in paleontology, Kitafuku's loose and fast approach to history drove me a little nuts.  I wanted to give her a little credit for making her story revolve around a fairly new species of hominid and making its status as an evolutionary dead-end a plot point.  But then she populates this world (which ostensibly Africa, based on the savannahs and jungles seen and where fossils of A. garhi have been found) with creatures that weren't found there.  Yes, there were saber-toothed cats in Africa, but not ones that look like the Smilodons she's drawing! Woolly mammoths wouldn't have been found alongside Deinotherium, and neither of them on that continent!  Was that a freaking Archaeopteryx I saw in one panel?  I realize that asking for scientific rigor in a goofy shojo manga about a girl and a monkey-man is kind of ridiculous, but sometimes it's the little things that can throw you right out of the story.

ART:

Kitafuku's art is a little rougher and less cute than you typically see in shojo art today.  This is most obvious in the faces, with their long squashed rectangle mouths.  It doesn't help that everything is so busy: the backgrounds, the panel layouts, the sound effects and shojo sparkles layered over it all.  Most of the emphasis is on the action, but they're put together in such a scattershot matter that it's hard to follow just what is going on.  It's only when she lets things calm down that any sort of charm can come through, something that's made all the more evidence in the side story.

PRESENTATION:

Kitafuku's debut story, "Giselle's Flash," is included here.  It's the story of a hapless teen ballerina who overcomes bullies at the dance studio and every sign pointing to her having no real talent for ballet through the usual hard work and perseverance.  It's OK.

RATING:


I want to go along with what Primitive Boyfriend is trying to offer, but I don't think it was poor research alone that put me off of it.  It feels like it should all be a big joke, but I don't think this series is quite sure what the punchline should be and the mangaka doesn't have the art skills to make it cute or funny or even all that interesting visually.  It's just there, being neither weird enough to recommend nor bad enough to fully shun.

This series is published by Seven Seas.  This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available.  All 3 have been published and are currently in print.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Review: TOKYO BABYLON

 Since we have been mercifully spared the anime adaptation of this series until the spring, now's the time to talk about one of CLAMP's most underrated works.

TOKYO BABYLON, by CLAMP.  First published in 1990, and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

In the bustling city of Tokyo, there are mysteries too strange for any detective and too personal for any doctor.  In those cases, they need the help of young Subaru Sumeragi.  The latest in a long line of onmyoji, he serves as as sort of exorcist to save people from dark, nebulous forces around and within them.  Subaru achieves this not only with his power, but with his inexhaustible kindness and empathy for others.  In turn, Subaru's stylish, vivacious twin sister Hotaru looks out for him, along with family friend/local vet Seishirou.  Yet Subaru can't help but find himself drawn to Seishirou, for reasons he can't quite remember...

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Review: SUKI: A LIKE STORY

 Well, it might have gotten off to a slow start, but it's January, which means it's time for yet another CLAMP Month.  This one is going to be a bit bittersweet, though.  We're running out of CLAMP manga to review, which means this will very likely be the last CLAMP Month here at the Manga Test Drive.

It's also going to be a bit bittersweet because there's no way we can avoid some of the dregs of CLAMP's library of works, such as this one.

SUKI: A LIKE STORY (Suki dakara suki), by CLAMP.  First published in 1999 and first published in North America in 2004.



PLOT:

Hinata Asahi is a sweet-natured, ditzy high school girl who loves everything.  Even though she lives by herself with only a pair of teddy bears and the neighborhood cats for company, she approaches each day with joy in her heart and a song on her lips.  Her world changes when a new teacher moves in next door, and more and more she finds her thoughts consumed by ones about Asou-sensei.  Hina's not sure what any of it means, while her friends aren't sure that Asou-sensei's motives are entirely pure...

Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 In the Rear View Mirror (and Holiday Giveaway Winner)

 First of all, I have to thank everyone who participated in this year's Holiday Review Giveaway.  I've never gotten so many responses in the 8 1/2 years I've been running this blog, and it was interesting seeing all of your responses.  Still, I had to pick a winner and this year the winner of the $25 RightStuf gift certificate  is....Ahavah22!

Witch Hat Atelier has been absolutely fantastic--the art is gorgeous, the characters are interesting, and the fantasy world has been slowly but surely getting more complex. Highly recommended!

Congratulations!  Please send me a DM at the Manga Test Drive Twitter account and we'll get that gift certificate to you as soon as possible.  Also I am in perfect agreement with this comment - Witch Hat Atelier was one of the best manga I read last year, and my love and admiration for it has only grown with each new volume.  It absolutely deserved all the awards it won this year.

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Like most people, I'm more than ready to put this accursed year behind me.  It was a year where a lot of personal plans got put on hold, if not outright cancelled.  It was a lonely year.  It was a distracting year, something a lot of you probably noticed with how frequently I failed to finish theme months.  

Still, there were positives to be found.  The manga market as a whole managed to thrive even in the face of a terrible economy and extended shutdowns, and these days it's hard to keep up with all the titles getting licensed.  I too managed to thrive, at least as much as anyone could under such circumstances.  I did a couple of podcasts, my Disaster Report on Weiss Kreuz got a lot of views and positive feedback, and I got a panel into Otakon Online (and thus made my first video ever).  I even managed to finally hit my first monetary goal on Patreon (at least, for a little while) and gave the site a long-needed make-over.

It's hard to say at this point what 2021 and the 9th year of the Manga Test Drive will look like.  I want to hope that will be a productive one.  I'd certainly like to keep my Patreon income growing.  There is one thing that I do know for certain: so long as you keep reading them, I'll keep writing reviews and more.