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Shojo Beat: Volume 1

For the nerd-impaired:
shô•jo (sho'jo) n. 1. Manga appealing to both female and male readers. 2. Exciting stories with true-to-life characters and the thrill of exotic locales. 3. Connecting the heart and mind through real human relationships. Also spelled shoujo.

Shojo Beat is a manga compilation magazine produced by Viz. It's a monthly magazine that features NANA by Ai Yazawa; this was my main reason for picking it up. I didn't want to subscribe at first because I figured I probably wouldn't be interested in the other series they were featuring, but I guess I changed my tune since I just sent in my credit card information to Viz's site. If any of you are into shoujo (both the typical lovey-dovey stuff and the not-so-typical girls-kickin'-ass stuff) I'd recommend checking the magazine out.

Read on for mini-reviews of NANA by Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss), Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yugi), Godchild by Kaori Yuki (Angel Sanctuary), Kaze Hikaru by Taeko Watanabe, Baby & Me by Marimo Ragawa, and Crimson Hero by Mitsuba Takanashi

NANA by Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss)

The story of Nana Komatsu and Nana Oosaki, two girls from the suburbs who move to Tokyo to try to make a life for themselves. While Nana (later nicknamed Hachi) strives to become an independant woman without the constant need for love in her life, the other Nana hopes to finally make it as a singer in her band. Those of you familiar with Yazawa's work know that her characters are always heavily fashion-forward, Nana consistently sports Vivienne Westwood gear while Hachi follows are more gyaru look. I've been hooked on this series since I found scanlations for it late last year and I'm happy to report that the use of retarded slang by Viz to make it more Americanized is kept to a minimum.

NANA is hugely popular in Japan and is currently being filmed as a live action movie. A NANA café has even opened up in Tokyo to promote the series and the film. NANA is love, man!

Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase (Fushigi Yugi)

Okay, cheeseball title aside, this is a series about Riiko, a high school girl (wait, what shoujo isn't about a high school girl?!), who meets a salesman that can promise her the one thing she has the worst luck in getting... a boyfriend. You saw this coming, right?

Without jumping into spoilers, it has a Chobits feel to it with more goofiness thrown in. I'm probably not the target audience for a series like this, but I can appreciate the cuteness.

Godchild by Kaori Yuki (Angel Sanctuary)

It should go without saying that you generally won't be able to understand Yuki's work by just reading one chapter, but here goes nothing! Apparently this is the second "season" of her previous work, Count Cain, and set in the 19th century. The main character, Cain C. Hargreaves, is the son of a wealthy count with tons of mystery surrounding him. From what I gathered so far, he gets involved in mysterious events and manages to help solve them while still maintaining his foggy past.

Obviously, all the character designs remind me of Angel Sanctuary, but the 19th century costumes are pretty to look at and Yuki was never one to shy away from drawing stuff like beheadings so that's pretty cool too. Mmm... manga blood.

Kaze Hikaru by Taeko Watanabe

A historical series set in 19th century Japan centered around Seizaburo Kamiya, a young boy trying to make his way to become a part of the Shinsengumi a group of samurai who defended Kyoto during a time of political unrest. The style of art is very "old school" manga looking, very simplified compared to Godchild which precedes it in the magazine. However, the story presents an unexpected (okay, well, I expected it... but whatever) at the end of the chapter which makes it one of the series I'm anxious to read more about in the next issue.

Baby & Me by Marimo Ragawa

A young boy is forced to help care for his toddler of a brother when his mother dies at a young age. It looks to be a story about growing up, accepting responsibilities and learning to love.

Crimson Hero by Mitsuba Takanashi

Shoujo sports manga! The story of Nobara, a high school girl (what... again?), who must balance her life between her family's expectations of her to be a good traditional Japanese girl and her own desire to play volleyball and become a sports star. If any of you girls out there have ever had one of your parents tell you that you weren't "ladylike" enough, I'm sure you'll relate to this character.

And The Final Verdict Is...

The magazine also came with a DVD for Ultra Maniac by Wataru Yoshizumi (Marmalade Boy) and a special sneak-peak pull-out of its manga. I tried watching the first episode but couldn't get past the magical girl feeling I was getting out of it. It's safe to say that ever since I kicked my Sailormoon habit in college I haven't looked back since.

One of the appeals of the magazine format is that I don't have to squint my eyes to see the artwork. If any of you have tried to view Angel Sanctuary in it's book form you'll know that there are just some things that should not be shrunk. It's nice to see the pages in it's original size and having a variety of series in one magazine means I won't get bored of one story. (Although, the likelyhood that I'll get bored of NANA is very very slim.)

They also do columns that pertain to the stories: history of Shinsengumi for Kaze Hikaru, fashion for NANA (they actually did a pretty decent job discussing Tokyo fashion that didn't rely on outdated stuff like the FRUiTS book or Gwen Stefani), an interview with a female college volleyball player for Crimson Hero and others. Overall I'd say they did a really good job presenting the series.

The design and layout of the magazine stays true to its Japanese roots and reads right-to-left. I was worried that they were going to bombard it a la Seventeen style with tons of cutesy illustrations and an overabundance of pink type and slang, but it's actually not that bad. The fact that many of the series deal with typically-not-pre-teen fare (murder, sex, cheating in relationships, etc.) probably helped curb that.

I swear I don't work for Viz (although I'd like to if they were hiring a graphic designer!), but you guys should try to check it out if you've got an extra $6 lying around. You can find it at any major bookstore.

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