Friday, July 30, 2010

Manga Review: Oniisama E volume 1

If most manga titles are like gazpacho (maybe delicious, maybe not, but not terribly substantive), Oniisama E is a chunky stew, crammed with savory nuggets of meat and a variety of veggies.

The Oniisama E anime is a pretty close adaptation of the original manga. The plot is largely the same for both. Misonoo Nanako starts her first year at Seiran with her best friend Arikura Tomoko, meets clingy rich girl Shinobu Mariko, gets drafted into the Sorority, and finds herself caught among the three most influential students at Seiran: Sorority head Ichinomiya Fukiko ("Miya-sama"; when I showed the first episode of the anime to a friend, when Fukiko appeared, she said, "She's a high school student? She looks like the principal."), cool pill-popping delinquent Asaka Rei ("Hana no Saint Juste"), and basketball star/unofficial school referee Orihara Kaoru ("Kaoru-no-Kimi"; I find Kaoru's nickname ironic because while Genji is a heavily romanticized literary figure, like Kaoru among the student body, he was a pretty terrible person, if you think about it ^^;). The story is framed through the perspective of Nanako writing letters to her "Oniisama", a university student named Henmi Takehiko who, unbeknownst to her, has ties to Kaoru, Fukiko, and Nanako's own parents.

While Oniisama E was originally published in three tankoubon, it has been re-printed in two volumes. This book is dense. Not physically dense; it packs in the same amount of story that was used in approximately 13 animated episodes, but it doesn't feel rushed. Ikeda Riyoko is a master of her medium. Where a lesser writer might have been bogged down by balancing and fleshing out multiple characters and storylines, Ikeda juggles them here with ease.

The two most prominent plotlines in this volume involve Nanako adjusting to life after joining the Sorority (and the obstacles to her remaining in it, even though Fukiko is trying her utmost to keep Nanako in, for her own reasons) and Mariko growing from a petty, hyper-clingy stereotypical rich girl to a three dimensional person who uses her mask of droll frivolity and worldliness to cover up her loneliness and anger triggered by the strife within her own family and her alienation from her classmates. Her character development over time is very rewarding.

The complex relationship between Fukiko and Rei also starts being unraveled in this volume (this is complicated for Nanako by the fact that she is attracted to Rei while being socially beholden to Fukiko, who sees Nanako as an obstacle to her own love interest- hehehe, I love the soap opera quality of it all) and while Kaoru tries to be the voice of reason among her peers, she is quietly dealing with the worst problem out of all of them. Much of her maturity is an outgrowth of how she's able to put the everyday agitations of life in perspective against her illness. (When you might have a few years to live, something like the Sorority doesn't seem terribly important. To many of the students at Seiran, being chosen for the Sorority almost literally is life and death.) And while Takehiko's connection to Nanako's parents is revealed early on, the full story behind it won't unfold until the next volume.

Last but not least, the artwork. The anime already has beautiful, consistent art (especially good for a series from the early 90's), but Ikeda's original art still trumps it. It's not only lovely, classic 1970's shoujo, it has the advantage of being able to include elements that wouldn't work as well animated. Ikeda intersperses the drama with some humorous SD bits (my favorite being Rei's search for Kaoru's painkillers; also, in the scene where Kaoru carries Mariko to the infirmary, watch out for a great comment from one of the students), and sparkles and flowers crop up gloriously. (I imagine Ikeda as an imposing, Miya-sama like figure, crisply telling her assistants, "Sparkles. We need more sparkles!!!" while gesturing theatrically.) Ikeda throws enough sparkly, Takarazuka-like, girly visual goodness in to be entertaining, but she has enough restraint to avoid making her story look like Baby, The Stars Shine Bright threw up on it. (And of course, 70's fashion. During Rei's first musical performance, causing the Seiran girls to swoon over how cool she is, all that I could think was, "Heehee, bell-bottoms...." ^^;)

Art: A-
Overall: A story that invites thinking, without attempting to be deep. A-

This Sunday, I'm leaving on another trip. (To Cape Cod.) I won't write  any more posts or reply to comments from Sunday through Thursday. My next review will cover the second volume of this series.

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