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Review: More Shojo Bang for Your Buck

There seems to be a trend starting in manga where publishers are releasing titles in larger formats, often the size of two or even three traditional sized manga titles. I, for one, fully support that trend as it allows fans–and libraries!–to spend less money on more manga. I decided to look at three recent shojo releases to see what were the positives and negatives of the oversized format.

Castle of Dreams: stories from the Kare Kano creator
Masami Tsuda
Age Rating: 13+
TokyoPop, January 2009, ISBN 978-14278-1227-8
400 pages, $12.99

In Japan this was two volumes–Sorcerer Series (Yume no Shiro) and The Room Where an Angel Lives (Tenshi no Sumu Heya)–but TokyoPop has combined them into one volume which nicely shows off Tsuda’s work. If you’ve never read her shojo classic Kare Kano, then you may not realize how good she is at romantic drama (as well as having missed out on a gripping read). Her deft way with teenage angst is best seen in the second half of this collection. There she presents stories of girls dealing with their feelings for old childhood friends, distant boyfriends, and lost possibilities. The first four stories in this collection, though, are either fantasy or historical, something a little different than what her fans might be expecting. However, those stories are no less emotionally powerful and readers will connect with the feelings of characters trapped in roles they do not want and torn between love and family.

TokyoPop has done a nice job with this collection. The volume is the same heighth as their usual volumes, but twice as thick. The spine is sturdy and the book is easy to read, though some of the text dips a little too far into the gutter. There aren’t any extras beyond the author’s note from The Room Where an Angel Lives, though the covers for the original two volumes were included. I would have liked to have had them in color, but since the price for this collection was only two dollars more than a single TokyoPop volume that is a very small quibble to an otherwise great bargain.

Fushigi Yugi, vol. 1 (VIZBIG edition)
Yuu Watase
Age Rating: 16+
VIZ Media LLC, January 2009, ISBN 978-1-4215-2290-6
600 pages, $17.99

VIZ has gotten notice for their VIZBIG editions which started in January 2008, but they didn’t start putting out shojo titles in that format until this January, starting with Yuu Watase’s shojo fantasy classic. Each VIZBIG volume contains three of the manga volumes for a series, which makes it an excellent way to collect longer series for less money. Additionally, the VIZBIG editions have extras such as color inserts, notes on content, and sturdier covers. Little details, like black and white drawings inside the covers and the oversize format, make these volumes almost more like art books than just manga collections.

For a series like Fushigi Yugi, the oversize format and the crisp white paper helps make the drawings even sharper so that fans can appreciate Watase’s faux Ancient China setting. The story–about a girl sucked into a mysterious book and force to collect a series of heroes to help her in a quest–is full of romance, danger, humor, and a lot of very, very handsome young men, part of the reason why it is a shojo classic. But its fantasy setting seventeen year old publication date does not mean that Watase shies away from subjects like sex, violence, rape, and other hard topics that she’s dealt with in her other series. Nothing is overly graphic, but this is still a series for older teens.

Hot Gimmick, vol. 1 (VIZBIG edition)
Miki Aihara
Age Rating: 16+
VIZ Media LLC, March 2009, ISBN 978-14215-2348-4
552 pages, $17.99

Aihara’s edgy teen drama is more contemporary in both setting and publication date than Watase’s, but she is equally unafraid to force her characters to deal with hard issues. Hot Gimmick is, at heart, a soap opera. Hatsumi is a mild-mannered girl surrounded by boys who want to use her for all the wrong reasons. Readers who eat up over-the-top stories such as Peach Girl (by Miwa Ueda from TokyoPop) will love Hot Gimmick‘s series of no-win situations, dramatic confessions, and abrupt changes of heart, though Hatsumi’s misadventures are very much for older teen readers.

There aren’t a ton of extras in either collection, but the ones that are there are useful. Since Fushigi Yugi was published by VIZ before they began translating sound effects, they have included a sound effects guide in the VIZBIG edition. Much of Hot Gimmick‘s story revolves around the problems of living in corporate housing, so VIZ staffer Tomo Kimura offers an explaination of what exactly that entails.

I applaud both companies for looking for new ways to release titles. The omnibus editions are great ideas. They keep fans from having to wait as long for all of the volumes of a long series and they help fans and libraries stretch thin budgets even further. If you like your shojo in this format, there are others to look for from both publishers. VIZ kicked off their VIZBIG line with the shonen classic Rurouni Kenshin, which has more than enough romance to appeal to any shojo fan. TokyoPop has several shojo titles in omnibus editions, including the shojo science fiction epic Jyu-Oh-Sei by Natsumi Itsuki, Tsubasa: Those Who Have Wings by Fruits Basket creator Natsuki Takaya, and the manhwa fantasy comedy Jade of Bango by Ae-Ju Yim and Jin-Ju Yim. They also have oversized, hardcover "ultimate edition" versions of popular shojo series such as Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya and DramaCon by Svetlana Chmakova.

This review is based on complimentary copies supplied by the publishers. All images copyright © VIZ Media LLC and TokyoPop.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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