Boogiepop and Others

Boogiepop and OthersAuthor: Kouhei Kadono
Illustrator: Kouji Ogata

Translator: Andrew Cunningham
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781933164168
Released: January 2006
Original release: 1998
Awards: Dengeki Novel Prize

Boogiepop and Others is the first volume in a series of light novels written by Kouhei Kadono and illustrated by Kouji Ogata. The novel was originally released in Japan in 1998 after winning the Dengeki Game Novel Prize (now known simply as the Dengeki Novel Prize). Boogiepop and Others has been credited with igniting the light novel trend in Japan. Whether that is true or not, the novel has inspired more than a dozen other volumes in the Boogiepop novel series as well as other books, short stories, manga, music, a live-action film adaptation, an anime, and more. Out of the fairly large franchise, four of the light novels—including Boogiepop and Others—two short manga series, the anime, and the film have been released in English. The English-language edition of Boogiepop and Others, translated by Andrew Cunningham, was published by Seven Seas in 2006. Although I had been aware of the Boogiepop Phantom anime series for quite some time, Boogiepop and Others was actually my introduction to the franchise and is set before the events of the anime.

No one is entirely sure who or what Boogiepop is, but there are several rumors and theories among the students of Shinyo Academy. Stories are told about a spirit of death, an assassin who can kill instantly and painlessly. When a number of female students at Shinyo Academy go missing, many naturally assume that Boogiepop must have had something to do with their disappearances. Others believe Boogiepop to be nothing more than a myth or urban legend, but they can’t deny that something very strange and very wrong is going on at their school. Most of the missing girls are written off as runaways by the police and their cases are quickly dropped. And so a few of their classmates take it upon themselves to investigate since they can’t rely on the adults to pursue the matter. But it’s already too late. Some of the girls who have disappeared have lost their lives and there will be even more deaths before those who are responsible can be stopped. If they can be stopped. Any survivors will be left struggling to comprehend everything that occurred at Shinyo Academy.

Boogiepop and Others isn’t told from a single point of view, within a single time frame, or even through a single narrative. Instead, each chapter is seen from the perspective of a different student. Some of the characters are directly involved with the events unfolding at Shinyo Academy while others are only tangentially related. However, none of them know everything about what is going on, though they may have their suspicions. There’s Takeda Keiji, who becomes one of the people closest to Boogiepop, Suema Kazuko, who once was almost the victim of a serial killer herself, Saotome Masami, a deceptively unassuming underclassman, Kimura Akio, one of several boyfriends of one of the missing students, and Niitoki Kei, the president of the discipline committee. They each have their own story to tell, and each version of the events is accurate, but the complete truth can only be understood when all of the individual accounts have been completely disclosed and are then considered and taken together as a whole.

The narrative structure of Boogiepop and Others is actually quite effective in creating and sustaining the mystery and mood of the novel. It’s a slow build as little by little information is revealed and connections are made between characters and their stories. Piecing together everything is an incredibly engaging part of the novel. At times, Boogiepop and Others can be legitimately creepy and disconcerting. The elements of horror in the novel are just as strong as those of science fiction and mystery. Several of the characters are dealing with extreme mental and psychological disturbances and unfortunate family circumstances in addition to the apparent supernatural occurrences. Personally, I preferred Kadono’s exploration of the more reality-based issues over the more outrageous ideas, but in combination even those could be oddly compelling in their strangeness. I thoroughly enjoyed Boogiepop and Others, perhaps even more than I initially anticipated. I definitely plan on reading more of the series.

Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1

Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1Creator: Milk Morinaga
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781626920309
Released: June 2014
Original release: 2013

I greatly enjoyed the first two manga series by Milk Morinaga to be released in English—Girl Friends and Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink—and so was happy to see Seven Seas license one of her most recent series: Gakuen Polizi. The first volume of Gakuen Polizi was originally published in Japan in 2013 while Seven Seas’ edition was published in 2014. Currently, Morinaga is likely the best-represented yuri creator in English in that she now has the most titles available in translation. Granted, considering how few yuri manga have been released, especially when compared to other genres, that really isn’t too difficult. Still, her work has generally been well-received. Gakuen Polizi is a bit different from Morinaga’s other manga in English. She describes it as a “high school police drama” which is more or less accurate. The series has more of a buddy cop feel to it than it does romance or drama and is inherently more comedic as well.

Ever since she was young, Sasami Aoba has wanted to be a champion of justice, dreaming of crushing evil and helping the weak, and now she finally has her chance as an assistant police officer. Specifically, Sasami has been assigned to Hanagaki Girls’ High School as one of its polizi—a young undercover cop sent to investigate issues at problem schools. The only thing is Hanagaki doesn’t actually seem to have any problems. There’s no bullying, the students and staff are all very pleasant, and even the school’s newspaper has difficulty finding juicy material to report on. Hanagaki is actually the second assignment for Sasami’s partner Sakuraba Midori. Before Sasami’s arrival, and because the school is so peaceful, Sakuraba has had plenty of time on her hands, quite a bit of which she would spend distracting herself by drawing yaoi manga. But now with the less-experienced and overly eager Sasami constantly on the verge of blowing their cover as polizi, Sakuraba has more than enough to worry about.

Gakuen Polizi is kind of a strange mashup of genres. Since nothing much happens in the way of crime at Hanagaki, there’s not much for Sasami and Sakuraba to be doing in regards to police work. The series is generally lighthearted and often silly, especially towards its beginning. At first the cases at the school are fairly inconsequential—a dog with a penchant for stealing things, small squabbles between classmates, and so on. The second half takes a more serious turn, dealing with gropers and stalkers, but even then the humor in Gakuen Polizi is a prominent feature. Most of the comedy revolves around Sasami. She is very enthusiastic and passionate, but somewhat lacking in common sense. Sakuraba, in stark contrast, is more serious and reserved. According to the afterword, readers should expect more romance-related drama to come in the series, but there is very little of that to be seen in the first volume of Gakuen Polizi, though a chemistry between Sasami and Sakuraba has begun to develop.

It is fairly obvious that Morinaga is personally having a lot of fun with Gakuen Polizi. I found the first volume to be entertaining, but readers approaching the manga hoping for a series similar to Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink or Girl Friends will most likely be disappointed. Though Gakuen Polizi has the potential for some drama and romance, so far the series tends towards the absurd and ridiculous. Morinaga’s artwork and character designs are cute, with particularly dynamic facial expressions that add to the series’ silliness. While I like the characters in Gakuen Polizi, I’m not attached to them in the same way that I was to the characters in Morinaga’s other manga. I do find Sasami, Sakuraba, and their friends to be amusing though. Gakuen Polizi isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The emphasis is definitely more on the series’ comedy than it is on its believability. Overall, Gakuen Poilizi, Volume 1 was largely an enjoyable, fluffy read. Although I may not be desperate for more, I do look forward to reading the next volume.

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom PinkCreator: Milk Morinaga
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781937867317
Released: June 2013
Original release: 2012

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink is the second yuri manga by Milk Morinaga to have been licensed in English. The first, and my introduction to her work, was her series Girl Friends. I quite enjoyed Girl Friends and so was looking forward to reading more of her manga, in this case one of her earlier series. Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink was released in English by Seven Seas in 2013 in a single-volume omnibus edition. Morinaga first began creating the stories included in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink in 2003. In Japan, the earlier stories were collected into a single volume in 2006. However, Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink was later released again in 2012 in two volumes that collected additional stories, including some that were previously unpublished. This two-volume edition of Kisses, Sighs and Cherry Blossom Pink is the one upon which Seven Seas’ omnibus is based. As such, the English-language edition of the manga collects nearly a decade’s worth of material into a single volume.

Nana and Hitomi were best friends who grew up together and attended the same elementary and junior high schools. Nana was looking forward to becoming a student at Sakurakai Girls’ High School, but that was when she thought Hitomi would be enrolling as well. However, Hitomi was accepted at Touhou Girls’ High School. Finding it too painful to continue to suppress her love for Nana after being rejected, Hitomi chooses to attend Touhou instead. Despite how close the two of them used to be, Nana finds Hitomi drifting away and she misses her terribly. But recognizing her own feelings is only the first step in mending their relationship as is begins to evolve into something more than just friendship. Similarly, several of the other young women at Sakurakai and Touhou are faced with their own first loves and crushes on classmates. It isn’t always easy to confess their feelings and falling in love with a person of the same gender often brings along challenges that other couples don’t have to deal with.

The stories collected in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink follow a vague chronological order, but many of them aren’t directly related to one another. They share the same setting and to some extent the same characters, but only Nana and Hitomi are the focus of multiple stories in the volume. I actually really enjoyed Morinaga’s structural approach to Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink. Nana and Hitomi’s relationship provides a more developed, ongoing narrative, creating a framework which supports the supplementary side stories about their classmates and friends. Overall, I feel this gives the manga slightly more depth. Also included in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink is a diagram that visually shows how all of the different stories and characters overlap and are connected to one another. Although they are interrelated and occasionally make references to previous developments and chapters, most of the stories do stand perfectly well on their own in addition to contributing to the manga as a whole.

Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink tends to be very cute, sweet, and romantic, which is not to say that every story is a happy one. I appreciated that some of the chapters in Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink have touches of angst, sadness, and bittersweetness to them. Nana and Hitomi’s relationship, despite having its ups and downs, does have an ending that seems to tie everything up a little too easily and nicely, but I won’t deny that it made me smile. Morinaga also addresses some very real issues and concerns, such as homophobia, that are encountered by same-gendered couples, but many of the feelings expressed are relevant for any romantic relationship. The manga may be a bit melodramatic at times, but it is emotionally resonant. Kisses, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink also incorporates a fair amount of humor. It’s a highly enjoyable and charming collection of short manga with likeable characters, a generally optimistic outlook, and a satisfying amount of realism to go along with its sweetness.

Strawberry Panic: The Complete Novel Collection

Author: Sakurako Kimino
Illustrator: Namuchi Takumi

Translator: Michelle Kobayashi and Anastasia Moreno
U.S. publisher: Seven Seas
ISBN: 9781934876992
Released: June 2011
Original release: 2006

Strawberry Panic: The Complete Novel Collection, written by Sakurako Kimino with illustrations by Namuchi Takumi, is one of the many incarnations of the Strawberry Panic yuri universe. Strawberry Panic began as a series of illustrated short stories before being expanded into manga, light novels, anime, visual novels, and more. My introduction to the franchise was through the manga adaptation which, even though it began serialization in Japan before the light novels, was never completed. The light novel omnibus released by Seven Seas in 2011 is the first time that all three Strawberry Panic novels were made available in English. Previously Seven Seas had published the first two novels as individual volumes in 2008, but until the omnibus was released the third volume hadn’t been translated. Michelle Kobayashi served as the translator for the first Strawberry Panic light novel while Anastasia Moreno translated both the second and third volumes. In Japan, all three volumes of the Strawberry Panic light novel series were initially published in 2006.

Aoi Nagisa recently transferred into the fourth year class of St. Miator Girls’ Academy, a prestigious all-girls school known for its high academic standards and refined students from distinguished families. Soon after Nagisa arrives at St. Miator, she is swept off her feet by the idol of the campus, Hanazono Shizuma, and into the Étoile competition, the premiere event held between the sister schools on Astraea Hill: St. Miator, St. Spica, and St. Lulim. The couple who wins the Étoile competition becomes a symbol for the three schools—the living embodiment of sisterly love and a model to be followed by the other students. But Shizuma has already competed in and won the Étoile. Competing two years in a row, especially with a different partner, is unheard of. The event is thrown into even more turmoil when St. Spica’s “Prince” Otori Amane, who was expected to win, disregards the other Spica students’ wishes and declares that Konohana Hikari, another transfer student, will enter the Étoile with her instead of the candidate who had already been selected for her.

Make no mistake about it, Strawberry Panic is complete and utter fantasy. In fact, a large part of the series’ charm is that it is so incredibly unbelievable. If you are looking for realism, you are looking in the wrong place with Strawberry Panic. Nobody really talks the way the young women on Astraea Hill speak, expressing themselves and their feelings through overwrought dialogue and intense earnestness. Even the narrative is filled with images of bright, angelic light and showers of flower blossoms. Strawberry Panic is marvelously melodramatic and over the top. There is a huge emphasis placed on the purity of the girls in Strawberry Panic while at the same time large portions of the plot rely on them becoming intimate and falling in love with one another. Despite appearances, only one character in the entire series is ever declared to be a “genuine lesbian.” (And yes, the quotation marks are also included in the novel.) There is no question at all that Strawberry Panic panders to its audience. A few of the sexualized encounters even come across as a little creepy.

Although two translators were involved with the English edition of the Strawberry Panic light novels, their styles are similar enough that the change isn’t too jarring. One thing that I wish the omnibus had included but didn’t is a full table of contents. Instead of listing the individual chapters, the contents page only notes the start page of each of the three books. If the prose in Strawberry Panic is stunningly absurd (and it most definitely is) the chapter titles are even more so. They may not always make a whole lot of sense, but they’re fantastically ludicrous; I would have liked to have seen them all together in one place. As unrealistic as Strawberry Panic is, parts of the story are supposedly based on the author’s own experiences attending an all-girls school. (Exactly which parts are never revealed, though.) Strawberry Panic is utterly ridiculous and yet highly entertaining. I’ll have to admit, I enjoyed reading through the series a great deal.