I haven’t done one of these in a while, but when I last did, I was working on getting through the manga I loved in middle and high school, and some recent news that one of those manga is getting a sequel spurred me to get back to business! In both of these cases, I was introduced to the anime version first, and it wasn’t until late high school/early college that I got my hands on English-translated versions of the manga series. But still, I loved the stories in middle and high school and imported the Japanese versions originally, so they count, right?
One of the first shoujo (aimed at pre-teen and teen girl readers) series I liked that was just plain dramatic (and occasionally comedic) hijinks, no magic or sci fi or fantasy elements included. In the sense that there are so many love entanglements it’s practically a mishmash of love octagons, Marmalade Boy isn’t that different from standard shoujo fare. But it was my first, it was addicting, and I remember ravenously consuming every anime episode when I first watched—and then went on to re-watch it all within a year again. (I also re-watched it all some years later and realized only then how cheesy and overdramatic it could be, but I still love it. It certainly spoke to me when I was in the target audience.)
The basic introductory summary for Marmalade Boy is wild, and I could certainly see it as a zany YA book. As time goes on, the craziness that starts the action of the story is less important than the everyone-has-tons-of-people-who-want-to-date-them-and-misunderstandings-lead-to-heartbreak that follows, but still. It stars Koishikawa Miki, a high schooler whose parents come home from a Hawaiian vacation with smiles on their faces and inform her they’re getting divorced. If that wasn’t shocking enough, they inform her that they still love each other (more like brother and sister love, they say), and they’re both getting re-married—to another couple they met also on vacation in Hawaii who’s divorcing each other with no ill will. (As in, Miki’s mom is marrying the husband of this couple and her dad is marrying the wife.) And since the original couple still considers their exes-to-be good friends and there are kids to consider, they decided they’re all moving in together, both new couples under the same roof, with kids in tow.
Miki is flabbergasted, to say the least. When she hears the other couple has a son named Matsuura Yuu her age, she feels even more awkward, but she hopes he’ll think it’s as bizarre as she does and that the two of them can talk their parents out of it. Nope. When she first meets her new step-parents and step-brother-to-be, Yuu doesn’t give a crap about the situation, and Miki’s literally the only voice of reason. Before she can have more than a melt-down or two, her parents are divorced and re-married, the new step-parents are moving in, and she’s got a new step-brother, who’s aloof… But also really cute.
Of course, Miki’s got a ton of emotional baggage with her childhood friend and once unrequited crush, she has a gorgeous and quiet best friend who’s hiding an earth-shattering secret from her, and Yuu’s ex-girlfriend isn’t taking kindly to him living with another girl to whom he’s not technically related—just to give a hint of all of the drama to come. There’s a lot more going on with Miki’s and Yuu’s parents than meets the eye, too.
The manga, only eight volumes, is almost entirely adapted in the anime version, but I was able to read it later, so it was a refreshing way to get back into the story. There’s an entire arc set in the US that’s in the anime and not the manga, and the manga does have one small arc later on that never made it to the screen. Definitely check it out if you like crazy drama and sweet romance!
Shoujo Kakumei Utena was one of my favorite anime in high school. It’s visually stunning, artistically bizarre, and really spell-binding. Unlike the other manga I’ve reviewed in this category, it was created to be an anime, and there was a manga adaptation, but that came after in development. (Although I believe it started publication slightly before.) If you like one, you’re sure to like the other. The stories in both are fairly different, too—enough to get a different experience when you read and watch.
Utena is hard to explain, but I’ll try. It takes place in a pseudo-classic French-looking Japanese boarding school (but you never see the real world). Tenjou Utena is a middle schooler who dresses and acts like a boy (but still looks fairly feminine). It turns out when she was very young, when she was at her lowest at her parents’ funeral, a prince appeared and offered her words of comfort as well as a rose signet ring. Instead of falling in love with the prince, she decided she wanted to become him, so much did she look up to him. She wears the ring still and always stands up for those who are weak and bullied.
One day she comes across a beautiful student watering roses in a greenhouse. She watches in horror as another student, a high school boy, batters her. Utena intervenes and learns that the female student, Himemiya Anthy, is engaged to the boy and has no objections to him beating her. Horrified, Utena challenges the boy to a duel, thinking they’ll meet in the practice room of the kendo club. Instead, the boy sees her ring and asks if she’s a duelist, saying he’ll meet her in the “arena” outside of the school.
Utena goes, and finds that she can only open the door to the arena with her ring. She climbs magical, impossible stairs and finds a strange scene at the top of the arena. Anthy appears dressed as a princess, and her fiancé claims she’s the “Rose Bride.” He draws a sword out of her chest and fights Utena, who manages to defeat him even with only a wooden sword with which to defend herself. Baffled, Utena leaves and goes back to her dorm, not sure what to make of what happened.
Anthy appears at her dorm shortly thereafter. She explains that Utena is now the victor of the duels and that means that she, Anthy, is engaged to Utena. She’ll do whatever Utena asks of her, and Utena now must accept challenges from any duelist with a ring who asks for a duel. Originally unsure that she wants to be engaged to this other girl, Utena eventually comes to revel in the duels and keeping Anthy away from unworthy fiancés/fiancées, determined to protect the weaker girl and show her what it means to have self-confidence and self-respect. And of course, there’s a pretty weird, magical reasoning behind everything going on that’s revealed over time… And all these years later, I’m only sort of sure I understand it, actually, but I love it even so.
For some reason, the only kind of “battle” I love watching on screen is a sword battle. (I’m talking lightsabers, medieval swords, whatever.) Utena has plenty of those, as the duels are sword-based. Each duel has its own operatic song, too, and I just really got pumped every time I watch the duels, even when I’ve re-watched the series a few times over the years.
There are only five volumes of manga, and it entirely skips a large arc of the anime. There’s also a bonus sixth volume loosely based on the movie—and the movie itself is a different continuity than the anime series, so there are plenty of different versions of Utena to go around.