By Yuuki Fujimoto. Released in Japan as "Kirameki☆Gingachou Shoutengai" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.
It has to be said, it's a rare manga that can win you over by simply making you feel good. No stunning originality, no impetuous romance (well, not much), nothing you haven't seen in a bunch of other Hakusensha titles... just a good cheer and brightness that threatens to overwhelm you at times, drowning you in a big smile. At MangaNext, Ed Chavez was noting that you shouldn't read Ayako if you're already depressed. I will add that if you do, you can cheer yourself up by reading this.
The basic premise follows the lives of six teenage sons and daughters of merchants as they live their life in the middle of a shopping district and marketplace in Gingacho, a fictional Osaka township. And when I say six protagonists, I mean two, really, but I am hopeful that the other four will get a lot more focus as the volumes go on - this is 10 volumes total. The stars of this volume are Mike (pronounced Japanese style) and Kuro, the standard Hakusensha perky clueless girl and aloof guy. Mike has a smile to die for - you could hurt your face trying to imitate it - and everything always seems to be the MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER in her life. In other words, a perfect shoujo teen.
The chapters in this particular volume ran in Hana to Yume's sister magazine The Hana to Yume, which comes out 6 times per year, before it moved to the main magazine for Volume 2. This is why the chapters are so long, and also why we get reintroduced to everyone once we start a new chapter. I don't mind this too much if it's not overdone - Natsume's Book of Friends was recently doing it as of Volume 4, which seems excessive - and it helps me recall the names of the other 4 kids in the Stellar Six, who get less of a look-in here. We have the playboy, the meek girl, the team mom, and the deadpan flake. I suspect they'll pair up by the end as well, though may be wrong here.
Although Chapter 2 does get into Mike and Kuro's relationship, and how it might develop, the series is firmly about friendship so far, with Mike desperate to hold on to those magical childhood years when the world is your oyster. It's also nice to see a manga centered around a shopping district - there is a school chapter, but you sense that the focus of the action will be the various stores, which are all family-owned and no doubt will continue to be when the next generation comes along. No one in this book is stunningly rich - a bar getting trashed makes it very likely the bar will have to shut down, and a quest for 100 popsicle sticks is something that could take years to achieve.
The Stellar Six of Gingacho is not going to win any originality awards, but by now readers of this blog know that doesn't really bother me. It's a feel good manga about the lives of six kids, emphasizing friendship over romantic angst. And though it's rated T for teen, you could easily give it to a youngster and not have to worry about anything. The art is a bit messy, but hey - Hakusensha title. Overall, I'm quite pleased that Tokyopop is giving this series a chance, and hope that readers do as well.