Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Manga Review: Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou

 Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou: Houkago ("Shibuya District, Maruyama Neighborhood: After School"), by Okazaki Mari, is one of my personal favorite short manga stories.

It's a simple story, but it's executed very well. Itoi is a girl in high school who wants to think that her life is satisfying as it is. A few of her "friends" take advantage of her trust to engage in some not-terribly-subtle bullying, like throwing Itoi's notebook and mouthpiece in the garbage. Itoi makes friends with loner Ariyoshi, who doesn't give a crap that the other students avoid her.

Ariyoshi and Itoi start visiting Shibuya to buy cloth for the costumes needed at a class event. When Itoi admits that her life isn't as "peaceful" as she wants it to be, she and Ariyoshi stay in Shibuya after the last train leaves and sort out their lives while running away from home, more or less.

Okazaki's depiction of high school life isn't idyllic, like K-ON!, but it isn't wrenchingly melodramatic, like Life, either. She strikes a fine balance between showing what the less pleasant elements of high school can be like and avoiding sensationalizing it by having the characters quickly confront and learn from their problems. (There are also some humorous bits. Darn that vibrating mattress.) She nails the feeling of being in high school and not really knowing where your place is, while trying to figure out where to go- at times, as with Itoi and Ariyoshi, wanting to escape from it all, but ultimately making it out through the other side of the tunnel. This all sounds really abstract. lol

Plus, I loved Shibuya when I visited it a few years ago. (When I brought my dad to see it, I was like "Isn't this great!!!!" and he was like "Get me out of this crowd of teenagers!!!") As a hub of subcultures and niche trends, it is a perfect setting for this manga. Okazaki's side-notes recount how she went around the Maruyama neighborhood of Shibuya, taking photos for reference, which I appreciated more than the usual insipid observances that most mangaka seem to include in the page-margins of their work. ("My slippers are fuzzy!" "It's nice and sunny today." "Sometimes I feel like my rabbit is staring at me." Etc.)

And of course, there is yuri. It's a little brief, but very canon.

It's a two-part story, so it doesn't even take that long to read. (As with Moonlight Flowers and Cotton, this review only covers the yuri-relevant portion of this book. There are some other stories in it.)

Story: B+
Art: B
Overall: B+

Okazaki has done a few volumes of stories set in Shibuya. Even now, she has a Shibuya-themed story running in Cookie. (Although I don't know what it's about. I just saw it listed in a description of the August 2010 issue of Cookie.) I saw another Okazaki manga titled Shibuya-ku Maruyama-chou (with a different cover), that I had originally assumed was a re-printing of this volume. It isn't. -_-; Just a heads up.

BGM: "Uzu Maki" - Kotoko


Rakki said...

<333333 I read this in high school through lililicious and...I felt so connected to the story--I read it every couple months and it still makes me feel such strong emotions. My favorite line (and scene) is p 74-75 where they're in the hotel and she narrates "you know, more than kisses, or shopping,or debauchery, or adventure , or school, we needed to hold each other like this. We were always looking for a place to cry together..."

I really liked the artwork style in that the mangaka wasn't afraid of white space-- it reminded me of Yamaji Ebine's work, but with more emotion, less restraint. And the way she framed the characters off center, made me think of Blue by Kiriko Nananan. Oh, and have you read 12 days by June Kim? I find it just as quotable.

Ariyoshi...<333 the messy hair, the sultry glances! The willful attitude...-melts- Im sorry, I just have so many feelings about this manga I wasn't aware of!

I guess I could ask you this: has any manga impacted you emotionally in such a way that you relate to it profoundly? That you find yourself irrevocably attached to it?

Sheldor said...

*shakes fist* Damn that insufferable vibrating mattress!

You know it’s a funny little story, that being said I really did love it when I first read it and have read it many times since. It’s not a manga that can be easily discussed, the feelings it evokes are rather intimate but you’ve done an excellent job!

Katherine said...

@ Rakki- Yes, I have read 12 days. I enjoyed it also. ^^ I posted a review of it a while ago here:

I do have titles like that (including this one). Sometimes I'm not completely cognizant of how attached I am to a particular one until I write about it. (For example, when I started this blog, I thought I liked Aoi Hana and Sasameki Koto pretty equally. As I wrote about each series, I noticed that my attitude towards Sasameki Koto was "That was fun!", while I treated Aoi Hana like the Second Coming.) A few other examples of titles that will probably always stick with me: Sailor Moon (my gateway manga), Girl Friends (sometimes annoying, sometimes incredibly realistic, sometimes both), Strawberry Shake Sweet (first yuri-centric manga series that I became a slavering fan of; the ending's a little weak, but I still adore Julia and most of the other characters- Zlay ftw!). Sometimes there's a title that irrevocably sticks with me more because I used to be a huge fan of it in the past, rather than my still being really into it. (Like Fushigi Yuugi.) This response was pretty rambling.... ^^;

@ Sheldor- Thanks! ^^ I've read this story several times also. It's always a great read.