Monday, February 11, 2013

Valentine's Week! Day One

As I've indicated before, I'm a sucker for a quality love story.  I love that particular moment in the movies when a character realizes that there's someone else in the world who completes them.  I love sappy proposals, I love heartfelt confessions, and I love those little moments between laughs during "crazy ensuing hijinks" when someone realizes just how special the person they're with is.

Now, I'm also a huge fan of Valentine's Day.  Not the whole over-commercialized "every kiss begins with Kay," "don't forget your Hallmark card" business.  See, in my mind, I've broken down Valentine's Day, stripped away the commercialism, and boiled it to what I think is its purest essence.  In short, I think Valentine's Day is a day where you celebrate all relationships in your life.  It's a day to celebrate your friends and the special people in your life, which could easily be a carry-over from elementary school when I'd have to remember every single classmate's name and write them down on the backs of Shirt Tales valentines.

So with that in mind, I'm devoting all articles this week (the work week, anyway) to celebrating stories, movies, and other forums depicting relationships.  And let's start out with something that captures that perfectly well in the shape of teenage crushes and romance.

Boys: Be (a title shortened from the farewell speech to his students from Lafcadio Hearn) is a multi-volume (according to the Internet, at least 17 were released, I have four) manga written by Masahiro Itabashi and Hiroyuki Tamakoshi, one of my favorite manga artists of all time.  Before I get into the actual stories, I want to discuss his work.

I first discovered Hiroyuki Tamakoshi (or, as his friends call him, 玉越 博幸) in a manga titled Gacha Gacha, in which the first batch of volumes involve a high school boy whose female best friend comes back from a trip with multiple personalities downloaded into her brain from an experimental video game system, and he has to help her keep these personalities a secret while helping her eliminate them by using the experimental system to battle his way through her brain, eliminating the other personalities.

In other words, it's awesome.

Now, when a lot of artists try to draw young adults, what they usually end up drawing is "smaller adults."  Many western comic book artists are guilty of this, only remembering to make a teenager look "youthful" when there's another adult standing in the room.  Otherwise, you'll have the cast of Teen Titans being as believable as teenagers the original cast of Beverly Hills 90210 as teenagers.  

Hiroyuki Tamakoshi, through clean lines, expressive faces, and the most soul-piercing eyes I've ever seen someone be able to put down on paper, manages to remind you that these are characters who are certainly going through physical changes as hormones slosh through their systems, but they're also young, naive, and nervous about everything that's happening to them.  When he draws someone smiling affectionately, it's like warmth radiates from the page.  A character crying looks like any moment water's going to soak through the paper from their tears.  And those eyes, oh god those eyes.

 Hey, don't knock it.  Where you do you think Disney got the idea for the design of Ariel from The Little Mermaid from?  ...well, okay, not from this guy specifically, but from how Asian artists were drawing their young people.  ...anyway, moving on.

Back to Boys: Be.  Each chapter of the manga (with multiple chapters per volume) usually spotlights some hapless high school student who has to deal with school, sports, hanging out with their friends, going to parties, and all the usual stuff I heard normal high school students dealt with back when I was young. 

At some point during the story, we're introduced to the character's crush, be it the "cool kid in class," the "shy coworker," or simply "my best friend since we were little."  The stories are pretty formulaic, in that the character needs to work up the nerve to confess their feelings and dealing either with the warmth of having those feelings returned or the heartbreak of realizing that person wasn't for them.

Now, some stories divert from this formula, like one story about three boys in high school discussing which parts of the female body (besides the blatantly obvious) are their favorites, such as the back of the neck, the line of a shoulder, or the curve of a shin.  It's a rather entertaining read since most manga I've read that focus on "what parts of the woman's body are awesome" usually involve close-ups of the butt and breasts, and aren't handled this delicately (or with quite as clever a punchline at the end when one of the guys' girlfriends shows up).

A few stories extend to more than one chapter, sometimes dealing with things like a long distance relationship or a difficult break-up and how hard it is to move past it.  In each case, as I said, the stories are pretty formulaic, but what elevates them past being something for a CW teen soap opera is
Hiroyuki Tamakoshi's artwork.  His backgrounds are amazingly detailed, his characters are expressive, and whatever he draws seems more than capable of carrying the emotional weight of a story.

Now, to be fair, there are a few chapters that might upset a more "conservative" audience.  The one that comes readily to mind is the story of a young man who gets warned by a fortune teller that if he tries to have a physical relationship with the girl he likes for one week, their friendship will be ruined.  However, his girlfriend is under the belief from her fortune that if she doesn't get things physical with him, she'll lose him forever.  

Now, I'm not going to get into the cultural differences between Japan and America here, so just take my word when I say that nothing is drawn with the intent of being "smut" or "porn."  Nothing is ever really revealed, and it isn't as gratuitous as in something like, say, American Pie.

It's a pleasant book for short, heartwarming tales, and one I recommend along with the first five volumes of Gacha Gacha (after that it gets kind of weird, but still entertaining, with a different character's story), if just to get people to see Hiroyuki Tamakoshi's artwork.  I wish he did more books that were brought over to this country, and it'd be fun to see him handle a romantic comedy style book in something like When Harry Met Sally, with adults dealing with relationships.



Bradley Cooper said...

It is that time of the year when love in all its forms and types is celebrated. Yes, it is Valentine’s Week, starting from February 7 to February 14. Especially around this time, happily-in-love couples make the time and efforts to make their loved ones feel special. They mark the day by exchanging gifts and spending quality time with each other. Building up the hype of Valentine’s Day are the seven days that come before — Rose Day, Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Day, Promise Day, Kiss Day, Hug Day — in that order before the big V-Day comes a-calling.

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