SHOJO BEAT FEBRUARY 2008

SHOJO BEAT FEBRUARY 2008
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by
Viz Media

I’ve never picked up an issue of SHOJO BEAT (or SHONEN JUMP, for that matter) that wasn’t easily worth the six-dollar cover price, and this issue is no different from any other. Let’s get that out of the way. I happen to think that, conceptually, Viz’ magazines are just about the perfect way for a larger publisher to approach releasing their comics and graphic novels.

Why? Examining this issue of SHOJO BEAT, here’s what we get: an interview with J-Pop sensations Puffy AmiYumi. A feature story on J-Pop, along with the magazine’s own music awards. A column on fashion and beauty and another one on how to make your wardrobe look expensive on a small budget. Pieces on trends, purification rituals, and how to draw. Good, solid magazine material. Then you add the seven manga serials presented in the book, including the first fifty pages of a new series hitting shelves soon (MONKEY HIGH), and thirty to fifty pages of the other six.

We’re talking just short of 300 pages of manga, and considering that an individual 200 page volume is usually at least $8, that’s a hell of a value. But the smart thing is how it works as a platform. Looking at PREVIEWS, I’d have likely ignored MONKEY HIGH, but reading this sample here makes me take notice that it’s kind of cute and could be worth my time and hard-earned yanqui dollars.

I’m not sure there’s a smarter way to get people hooked. God knows, if Marvel and DC went this route, they might actually make inroads into that mythical goal of attracting new readers. Right now, personally, I read one DCU book. Maybe if I had an option like SHOJO BEAT for their product I could be enticed to buy more.

The magazine material is pretty fluffy, but as it’s meant for the ‘tween and teen girl audience, it reads at just the proper level for its audience, and this one will be passed on to the ‘tween in my life as soon as I’m finished writing about it. Really, SHOJO BEAT is a terrific idea, and a terrific idea that delivers terrific results. Be on the lookout for the new one with the Bryan O’Malley cover. Should be one not to miss.

Marc Mason

LOVE COM THE MOVIE

LOVE*COM THE MOVIE
Starring Ema Fujisawa and Teppei Koike
Available From
Viz Pictures

Risa is the tallest girl in her class, and that’s proving to be a bit of a problem. She’d like to have a boyfriend, but she’s rejected for being taller than the boy she wants. Otani, on the other hand, has the opposite problem: he’s the shortest boy in class, and no girl he likes wants to be with a boy smaller than her. Forced into an unlikely friendship, the two find themselves growing closer, until eventually the seeds of love between the two are planted. But the seeds of love, like any plant, take time to grow. And there are a lot of obstacles and hurt feelings to get through along the way.

LOVE*COM is based upon the award-winning manga series by Aya Nakahara, and it’s a solid and entertaining adaptation. Unlike what you might expect from an American film, this Japanese gem actually finds ways to stay true to its roots as well as deliver an emotionally compelling story on the screen. The key is balance; when the film does want to pay heed to its manga roots, it’s done as a transition moment, particularly in a running gag about the kids’ teacher and his wacky wigs. But it never disrupts the flow of the tale, and that’s important. It shows a sharp eye on both the part of the screenwriter and the film’s editor who did an excellent job of putting together a cut that digresses but never loses pace.

The movie’s look is somewhat uneven, but after a while, I found myself wondering if that was a deliberate choice by director Kitaji Ishikawa. Daylight scenes are colorful, almost too colorful, and saturate the screen. The light almost gives the movie a very hazy look in the daylight, and I think it was perhaps meant to suggest the confusion in how the kids, especially Risa, are seeing their world. As she grasps with her developing feelings and her inability to communicate them to Otani and get a reciprocal response, her emotional state begins to falter and the on-screen colors match her along the way. It’s subtle, and it nearly passed me by, but it works. In contrast, the two major nighttime scenes look absolutely dynamic. In particular, a Christmas sequence is an absolute feast for the eyes, and with the amount of light set against a dark background, I’d have expected a lot of “haloing,” especially on the home screen. But it holds amazingly well, and the cinematography crackles. Again, the film uses the darkness and the colors around Risa to match her mood and mental state, and it’s quite beautiful.

(This moment in the film used an intentional  haloing effect)

This being a teenage love story, you go into it knowing that a happy ending lies ahead, so that’s never a consideration. What matters is two things: does the resolution pay off in a way that excites and also serves the characters well? And do the actors pull it off? As to question one, the answer is “yes, if a bit…oddly”; the movie’s climactic sequence is a basketball game, which comes out of the blue, but it does manage to do exactly what it needs to do. However, the big thing is question two, and the answer to that one is a giant affirmative. The two young actors carry this movie on their backs and really sell it. This is due, unquestionably, to the pair having a great deal of natural chemistry. Who knows how they felt about each other off the set, but in front of the camera? They’re gold. Koike has the easier role for most of the film, getting most of his meaty material at the end, but Fujisawa’s performance requires a lot out of her from the first scenes, and she’s up to it. She’s a very gifted young actress.

As mentioned above, the transfer is excellent, and the subtitles are handled well, giving just the right amount of time to read without overwhelming the frame. Extras on the DVD will include interviews with the stars, director and cast profiles, a parody film related to a running joke in the movie, and a music video. This would be an excellent addition to the library of manga fans, Japanese film fanatics, and, oh… since no one really makes movies like this in the U.S. anymore, I’d add that LOVE*COM is the closest thing to getting a new John Hughes film we’re going to get. Check it out.

Marc Mason