Friday, January 29, 2010

The Mangaka Review: Yoshizumi Wataru

The mangaka herself.
Yoshizumi Wataru's mangas hold a special place in my heart. While I had seen and read manga for many years, her works were the first I bought in earnest, back when the manga in bookstores did not occupy five bookcases. Marmalade Boy was not truly a standout manga in any sense, but for my impressionable, naive, eleven-year-old mind, she was a genius.

Perfecting the Cliche

I began to draw silly fan comics as a kid as soon as I picked up my copy of Pikachu Shocks Back at a Toys R Us (I can thank my grandmother for that gift), but it was Marmalade Boy that began my long love affair with shoujo manga... And my varied attempts at drawing it. The first shoujo manga I drew? I'll never tell. But watch a few romcom chick flicks and you'll get a good idea of what the story was like.

Suffice it to say, it was not my destiny to become a mangaka.
Cover featuring the spunky Koishikawa Miki.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that I tried too hard to emulate Yozhizumi's storytelling style. She knows how to write a clean, consistent shoujo story. In my much less skilled hands, however, it was only another cliche for the throwaway pile. Her works might not be the most original, nor the most emotionally compelling, but they are adequate and certainly entertaining. She has captured all of the shoujo archetypes and perfected them to her style; it is distinctive to her particular works, yet familiar and comforting.

Marmalade Boy, for example, features a young teenager Miki as the star, a girl all sorts of genki. She's a little naive, almost borderline stupid, but earnest, loyal, and above all, super spunky. Her best friend, Meiko, is smart, beautiful, and mature; she comes from a broken family, and as a result seems to hide her problems under a quiet exterior. Ginta is Miki's other close friend. In the past she had feelings for him he couldn't return, but there may be more to the story (you know where this is going)... And finally there's Yuu, clearly Miki's love interest from the beginning. He's cute, sly, popular, and he loves to tease her. And of course, he has intimacy issues.

It all sounds so typical when written out, but many of Yoshizumi's characters and storylines are like that. Her drawing styles follow a similar vein; she is remarkably consistent. Though her style has changed from where she was when she drew Handsome na Kanojo, in general her art has remained very static. Nothing too fancy a la Tanemura Arina, but nothing minimal like Takahashi Rumiko.

Group photo!
Is this good or bad? It depends on one's mood and, of course, age. Personally, when I finished my first volume of Marmalade Boy, I experienced for the first time that unique sort of addiction manga affords. We've all felt it. Try to remember. You close your very first volume of manga and are still in that strange, absorbed state; you remain in the manga's world for just a few seconds after officially leaving it. It's unique, and something you'll never experience in the same way again.

Yoshizumi gave me that experience. And for my little cynical, preteen self, Marmalade Boy was eye-opening; I couldn't believe I had never picked up manga before.

In retrospect, Yoshizumi's works were perfect mangas to introduce me to shoujo. Her stories and characters are not exactly edgy or unique, but they're incredibly well-executed. She writes the true shoujo story, written for the squealing girls who want to fantasize about bishi boys glittering on the page.

That's what I learned to appreciate about her work. Sure, she's not a brooding underground artist tearing up the page and changing the landscape of manga, but just how many indie freaks can there there be in the industry (I say that with love)? We need our comfort foods once in a while too.

On another note, watch for her newest manga, a shoujo series titled Chitose etc.! I have yet to be able to find any scans, but it started only last year. Read news about it at Anime News Network and and its Baka-Updates profile.

Foray Into Josei

I recently read Yoshizumi's Spicy Pink, marking one of my first, earnest ventures into josei manga. I didn't necessarily choose Yoshizumi intentionally, but it was oddly appropriate considering my experience with her shoujo.

The story definitely has the more meandering quality of a slice-of-life manga. It follows a thirty-something mangaka named Sakura and her relationship with plastic surgeon Koreeda. There isn't really a story, the main conflicts consisting of the usual hurdles between the two main lovers. You won't see anything truly sad or even really bittersweet in this story, but it does have an ending that I wasn't expecting. Don't build up your hopes; it's not anything mind-blowing. But somehow it conveyed a certain josei maturity that I was hoping to see.

It was a good, quick read, and I encourage anyone who's just curious about josei to give it a look. Again, nothing awe-inspiring, but I will say that it personally got me more interested to find other josei series; it was a good place to start.

For a more mature storyline, however, look into her recent Cappuccino josei manga. Even shorter than Spicy Pink, this story is also very slice-of-life. It is also more serious, however, and more poignant. It's a very fast read, but that also leaves out some deeper plot development.

The story deals with a de facto marriage between its two main characters, Ari and Sosuke. To be honest it's a bit of a downer ("bittersweet" according to Manga Fox's synopsis), but at the same time more realistic than her other stories. The tone is still consistent to her style, however, which can probably be attributed to her experience in the medium.

The Bottom Line: Read Yoshizumi Wataru's mangas when you want something girly, romantic, and comfortable.


PS: According to the Marmalade Boy Wikipedia article, Tokyopop no longer has the licensing rights to the manga or its anime. Unfortunately this means that the English translated title is out of print, but this also means that I can give you the link to its scanlations on Manga Fox!

PPS: Thanks to MyAnimeList for the image of Yoshizumi! I'd never seen a picture of her before that... And thanks to (who else?) Wikipedia for the Marmalade Boy volume cover. Thanks to Manga Fox for the image of the Marmalade Boy cast; however, I cropped the picture myself. Finally, thanks to One Manga for the image from Spicy Pink. You can find scans of Spicy Pink there in addition to those found at Manga Fox.

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