I know I left off this series discussing manga I loved in middle or high school, but this time I’m doing a half-manga, half-novel entry because I remembered I never covered one of my favorite books in middle school…
In 5th and 6th grade, my Reading teacher (we had separate Reading and English classes in 5th and 6th grade for some reason) passed out mini-catalogs of books to take home to our parents. We got their permission and brought the cash, I think, and she would order a book for us that we could pick up at school in a few weeks. This was long before Amazon, and it was a great way to find books we’d never otherwise have heard about.
Since a friend and I were fantasy fans (largely thanks to The Chronicles of Prydain books), a fantasy book in this catalog called Winter of Fire piqued our interest. We both got copies, and we both wound up loving it. I re-read it a number of years later, and although I know I found it a bit simplistic, I still loved it—and made it a quest to track down the other (many out of print) niche titles by New Zealand author Sherryl Jordan (whose most well-known book, I believe, is The Raging Quiet).
I don’t remember a ton about Winter of Fire, other than it was set in a bleak, snowy fantasy world where half the people, the Quelled, are slaves to the other half, the Chosen. The slaves are miners, digging up firestones, which heat the homes of the Chosen. The protagonist, Elsha, is a slave (with a broken eye socket—you can kind of see it on the cover!) and something happens to make her slave (handmaiden, says the wiki summary?) to the leader of the Chosen. I remember there was romance, too, and I believe Elsha had a special power…
After I graduated high school (thus her books never appear in this series), I started reading Diana Wynne Jones (thanks to news that Miyazaki Hayao was set to adapt one of her books, Howl’s Moving Castle) and devoured every one of her books I could get my hands in within a few years. DWJ is definitely the queen of middle grade and YA fantasy in my opinion, but I have a special affinity for Jordan’s fantasy books, too. I’m still working on reading them all—I managed to buy most of them second-hand a few years ago online—but I’m pretty close. My love for the first book of hers I read was enough to inspire me to keep reading her books all these years later. (Too bad her latest release seems to be New Zealand only…)
I’m kind of cheating here because I’m not sure I read much of the manga before graduating high school. (I did buy and read it all shortly thereafter, though.) However, the anime based on the manga was a favorite in middle and high school. Kodomo no Omocha, called Kodocha for short, is a zany comedy series starring 11-year-old Kurata Sana, a (fictional) popular child actress. The story follows her shooting her most popular TV show, commercials and other events, but it’s largely set in the normal school she attends and at her crazy home.
Sana’s mother drives a Power Wheels-type car around the house, always wears a kimono, and lets a pet squirrel live in elaborate and ever-changing tiny homes in her hair. She’s as rich as Sana, having written an award-winning and globally-best-selling book called The Gigolo and I, the story of her troublesome and crazy marriage. Sana’s mother’s ex-husband, whom Sana lovingly calls the Gigolo, and whom she’ll tell you early on is not her father, is often over begging Sana’s mother for money she made from the book but rarely gets it.
Sana and her mother live with Rei, a twenty-something homeless guy Sana picked off the street and made into her bodyguard, whom she lovingly and publicly refers to as her “pimp,” thinking the word means something like “boyfriend.” (Although that’s entirely one-sided on her part.) Sana requires Rei to wear a suit and tie and sunglasses at all times, even at night, because she thinks that’s what bodyguards need to wear.
Sana’s happy-go-lucky insane life is turned on its head when she goes back to school to find that a bunch of delinquent boys have so scared their teacher, they goof off and cause destruction during class and the frightened teacher doesn’t do anything to stop it. In one instance, the boy’s leader, sullen Hayama Akito, sits back and orders the other boys to shoot their teacher with water pistols. Sana, who’s tried to ignore the problem but has had enough, snatches a water pistol and shoots Akito instead. Akito vows revenge after school, but when Sana goes to finish the altercation, she finds him ordering the other boys to shove one of her friends into the pool—all because that friend called him a “demon child.” Sana and Akito fight, and Sana’s not intimidated, even when Akito, karate champion, gets rough. The two begin a rivalry that has the potential to blossom into something more as Sana tries to get to the bottom of why, when she’s so happy in her own life, someone could act like Akito does and not care much whether he lives or dies…
Kodocha tackles some serious drama (sometimes melodrama), but it’s mostly incredibly funny. The manga lasted for 10 volumes, but the 102-episode anime made up a few story arcs and characters to get the most out of the franchise. I actually prefer the anime to the manga—it’s even funnier, and Sana’s insanity has to be seen to be believed—but the manga that started it all is funny and just as sweet, if a bit even more melodramatic.