Saturday, November 27, 2010

Eensy Weensy Monster Volume 1

By Masami Tsuda. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine LaLa. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

After the success of Kare Kano (well, success in a broad sense - I know many people who read the ending and now disown the series and everything to do with it), Tokyopop picked up a few other titles by Masami Tsuda that were a) short, and b) easy to translate. (B is likely why we aren't seeing her newest series, Chotto Edo Made, a romantic school comedy set in the Edo period, which scanlators dropped after one chapter due to the vocabulary.) The first was a short story collection bundling a few of her Japanese one-shots, and this is the second, a two-volume series she did for LaLa in 2007.

I quite enjoyed it, and it's good at showing off the technique that Tsuda has learned by working on the long-running Kare Kano. The premise has Nanoha, a normal girl who happens to hang out with two childhood friends who are the queens of the school. She's sweet, likeable, has trouble with classes, and is noted to be unmemorable. She also possesses a "little monster" inside of her, one that comes out whenever she meets the smooth, suave Hazuki, who is a handsome guy who wraps all the other girls around his finger. He drives her nuts, and when this grabs his attention and he calls her on it, she completely opens up and tears his "petty, superficial" self to shreds.

There's lots of things to like here. Hazuki is indeed a pretty-boy phoney, but it's not a deliberate mask. He was spoiled by his parents, and praised for his looks and natural intelligence, so it's never occurred to him to look further. One he does, and finds that he hates what he sees, he makes an honest effort to change, even if this means blocking himself off from the girls who want to be around a hot guy. (The girls tell him point blank they know he's not boyfriend material, he's just there to be seen with.) Naturally, when he thinks of HOW he can change, he turns to Nanoha.

Sadly, Nanoha's not the sort who will cheerfully counsel him. He still grates on her nerves, and now that it's no longer because he's a vain stooge, she can't figure it out. What's worse, she thinks about how she went off on him, and now he's a loner with few friends, and realizes that her 'little monster' is bullying him. So now she's simply nervous and twitchy, trying to control herself and avoid him as much as possible. Too bad he's now sitting next to her in class...

One of my favorite parts of the manga is in Chapter 5, where we get POV shots of the two characters on opposite pages. First we see Nanoha sitting at her desk, watching Hazuki be calm and self-possessed and sneaking glances at her, while she sweats, freaks, and tries to do her notes. On the opposite page, we see Hazuki, watching Nanoha constantly, and seeing her looking diligent and serious - without all the super-deformed freaking out we saw in her own POV. It's great to see this sort of layout in a shoujo manga, especially a story like this that depends on understanding another point of view. The art helps to teach the story.

Another thing I enjoyed was the suggestion that the other, supporting characters are having lives and adventures of their own just off the page. This can be a drawback sometimes, of course - you risk the reader wanting to read about them more than your heroes - but it's fun here. We see her friend Renge, who reminds me a great deal of Hanajima from Fruits Basket (not all that uncommon - many shoujo series have a cute normal heroine, a tall lanky blonde female friend and a silent, serious female friend) and her strange family that still call each other by baby names. There's Hazuki's sister, who is just as pretty as he is but forces her brother to do her hair and makeup so that she can achieve that - which may seem petty, but given he was a spoiled brat, actually seems to be more like an object lesson in humility. And then there's Ryuzaki, the "Lady Oscar" of the school, who's blonde, elegant, gorgeous... and dirt poor, as she notes herself. She maintains a garden solely because they need vegetables to eat, and her equally gorgeous brother works at a broken-down construction site. Kare Kano showed us how much fun Tsuda has with her side character's backgrounds and lives, and we see that even in a much shorter series such as this.

Eensy Weensy Monster only has two volumes, so no doubt Nanoha will get over her issues soon and fall for Hazuki - it is a shoujo romance, after all. But the quirky characters and the mature art design help to sell me the story, even more than the name recognition of the artist who did Kare Kano.


  1. I love Tsuda-sensei's scenes shown from two different perspectives, which I still remember from Kare Kano. I'm glad she carried that sort of stuff over to her later work—she has an interesting, very deliberate way of going about things. I think it's interesting that with this series she set each chapter one month after the previous, so even though it's just two volumes, it covers one full year in the life of the characters.

    Your point about the difficulty of translating Chotto Edo Made makes sense, but I still, selfishly, want it to be licensed (maaaybe they'e waiting because it's only a few volumes long yet). Tokyopop could hire the translator for Kaze Hikaru! It'd be perfect, since Viz has slowed that series down so much. *whine, complain, mope*

  2. Hi, thanks for reviewing this! I think you're right in describing it as a formulaic shoujo plot line, but somehow when this artist draws one, it doesn't read like it fell out of Betsucomi. The characters are well-rounded and their flaws are very human and not unnecessarily exaggerated. I think, just like in Kare Kano, there are ways that I can relate to these characters that bring the story home for me, so it's definitely a winner. I love the line where the girls are trying to come up with a way to foil Nanoha and they suggest they shred her party dress. But that may have been the only time I really laughed out loud so I'm wondering why TokyoPop slapped this laughing mouth icon on the spine. Is that just for anything that isn't action?