Shoujo Beat: the lowdown, part 1

English-language Shonen Jump is about to get a sister publication called Shojo Beat. (For those who came in late: "shonen" theoretically refers to manga aimed mostly at boys, and "shojo" to manga for girls, although of course the two audiences aren't segregated that neatly, especially outside Japan.)

The starting series lineup, which I snarfed from Nikkei, is:

  • NANA (NANA −ナナ−), by YAZAWA Ai (矢沢あい), from Shuueisha (集英社)
  • Crimson Hero (紅色HERO), by TAKANASHI Mitsuba (高梨みつば), also from Shuueisha
  • Absolute Boyfriend (絶対彼氏。), by WATASE Yuu (渡瀬悠宇), from Shougakukan (小学館)
  • Kaze Hikaru (風光る), by WATANABE Taeko (渡辺多恵子), also from Shougakukan
  • Godchild (ゴッド チャイルド), by YUKI Kaori (由貴香織里), from Hakusensha (白泉社)
  • Baby and Me (赤ちゃんと僕), by RAGAWA Marimo (羅川真里茂), also from Hakusensha

Interesting point number one: titles from lots of different companies. As far as I know, Shonen Jump only has stuff originally published in the Japanese magazine, 『週刊少年ジャンプ』 ("Weekly Shonen Jump"), which is published by Shuueisha.

Being both intrepid and literate, I thought I'd mosey on down to Book Off, get me a second-hand copy of Volume 1 of each of these titles, and see what's what. (Yes, it is deeply embarrassing to be the only male in the pink-and-white wonderland of the shojo section, thanks for asking.) I can't promise there won't be any spoilers, but I'll do my best. Here we go:

1. NANA. Nana is the 500-pound gorilla in this lineup, as far as I can tell, and it's the only one I'd read (or even heard of) before this experiment. I resold my copies long ago, but here's what I remember: it was originally going to be a series of unconnected stories about girls named "Nana", but after writing two backstories Yazawa said the hell with it and turned it into one big continuity with an ongoing plot. So, it became the story of two girls named Nana who live together. You can see them both on the cover of a "premium fan book" here. The one on the left, who writes her name in katakana (ナナ), is a punk rocker with lots of scary, rangy male friends who play bass. (Including this one dude who's, like, covered in piercings, and is only 16, or something. That kid scares me.)

The one on the right writes her name with kanji (well, one kanji and a repeat symbol: 奈々) and is a whiney norm who just wants to land herself a good man and settle down. They're the original odd couple! Except repeatedly betrayed by guys they trust. As you might expect, they both learn from each other yada yada. Neither of them is anywhere near as cool as their mutual friend Junko, who has j-dreads.

Three more things about Nana:

  1. A lot of its backgrounds are photographs of actual bars and hipster spots in Tokyo that you can really go to if you want, although of course you won't find any cartoon characters there.
  2. Although I believe this will be the first official translation of Nana into English, the French translation is already well underway. There's a lesson there somewhere.
  3. Serendipity! Via Rachel I learn that a Nana movie is in production and will star these people (yeah, it's in Korean.) What the hell, while we're at it, let's link to the game as well, coming out next month, in which you can become "the third Nana" and taste the crazy romance of life in Tokyo as a young woman named Nana. Just like you always wanted.

2. Definitely Boyfriend. So there's this whole genre of shonen manga where the dorky, unpopular male protagonist somehow becomes the target of a magical/robotic/magically robotic babe's affections. Definitely Boyfriend is a girl-centric version of this story, specifically the subtype in which the magical babe actually ends up being more of a life trainer to help the clueless nerd -- in this case, a high-school girl named Riiko whose parents are conveniently not living with her -- win the heart of a non-magical person, usually a childhood friend.

There's one big difference, though, and that is this: in the boy version of this story, other boys are jealous of the nerd who got the babe, but they express it in farcical ways, like running around in boggle-eyed packs, plotting ludicrous operations to steal the babe's heart, and frequently weeping rivers of tears. In DB, other girls are jealous and they express it in nasty and all-too-plausible ways, like ganging up on the lucky girl, kicking mud on her clothes and calling her an ugly bitch. Girls are scary.

3. Baby and me. Elementary-school boy Takuya's mother dies shortly after giving birth to his younger brother, Minoru. Takuya has to grow up faster than expected, make sacrifices, learn not to randomly yell I HATE EVERYBODY to his dad, etc. It unfolds more or less like you'd expect, but it's pleasant reading. The author is pretty funny, too; her commentary in "Chapter 1" is "GAAAA!! TAKUYA, MINORU AND PAPA ARE ALL SO UGLY IN THESE EARLY STORIES!!!" I wonder if that'll make it into the translation.

Trivia: Internal evidence in the text suggests that it was originally to be called 『お兄ちゃんの僕』 ("I, Older Brother").

More next time.

Popularity factor: 0

Comment season is closed.