Story/Art: Arina Tanemura
Translation: Mary Kennard
Adaptation: Heidi Vivolo
What They Say
Short-Tempered Melancholic Kajika Yamano is a female ninja whose job is to protect her family’s legendary weapon. But when a boy she has a crush on tells her she should be more ladylike, she vows to give up all ninja deeds.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Arina Tanemura’s Short-Tempered Melancholic and Other Stories is a single-volume compilation that tells several short stories in which quirky heroines are put face-to-face with experiences they aren’t used to having – love and romance. In each of the tales, the main character discovers love in places she least expects it, usually directly under her nose. While all four shorts could easily be labeled as formulaic and their twists and turns as predictably obvious, they all have a certain charm that is likely to leave receptive readers and shoujo fans feeling pleasantly satisfied.
The titular story follows a teenage ninja named Kajika who just can’t seem to keep her skills a secret, to her grandfather’s dismay. It’s her job to protect the family heirloom, a powerful weapon, but she spends more time using her martial arts skills rescuing stray children from the street than she does committing herself to serious ninja activities. She develops a crush on a classmate, but before long she realizes that he’s the one trying to infiltrate her family home and that her true love, her faithful friend Yuga, has been next to her the entire time. The other stories feature similarly contrived situations – in one, two characters pose as their friends’ pen-pals and end up falling in love of their own accord, and in another, a girl purposely forgets her umbrella every day so that she can share the umbrella of her crush, but discovers that he was a geek whose love she once rejected.
While each of these stories is what I would describe as “fluffy” and insubstantial, they do feature a few problematic elements that might prove to be hurdles for some readers. In the opening story, Kajika grapples with the desire to seem “feminine” to her crush, who has criticized her for not presenting herself as such. She tries to engage in “womanly” activities like cooking and flower-arranging, only to fail at them one-after-another. While the ultimate (and quite positive) message of the piece is that one shouldn’t have to change oneself in order to impress someone, the labeling of certain activites as exclusively feminine pursuits (and those who fail at them as “unfeminine”) comes across as archaic. The characters who star in these romantic tales make a lot of questionable choices and even engage in some fairly substantial lies to drive the plot forward. While that may be par for the course in romantic fantasy of the less-realistic variety (a category in which I would assign the stories in this volume), for readers more inclined to question what they consume, the logical fallacies may be too much to handle.
On the plus side, I appreciate the fact that all the heroines of these stories are presented as having character flaws that, in the end, don’t prevent them from achieving happiness. Having recently read Backstage Prince, a major difference I noticed immediately is that, unlike the protagonist of that series, the girls in Tanemura’s short pieces come across as more resilient and able to bounce-back from disappointment. Kajika discovers with horror that her crush is really the son of a rival clan. In spite of that set-back, she still manages to save the day using her own skill, and ultimately retains her identity despite having been judged negatively for it. There’s an element of fantasy and heroism in these stories that, while not exactly accurate to real life, seems missing from a lot of other shoujo manga. Sure, there’s a certain lack of tension – it’s obvious that each character will end up with her true love – but that’s a small price to pay for something that’s certainly very entertaining.
Arina Tanemura is probably most well-known in the West for her authorship of the Full Moon o Sagashite, and her distinctive character artwork is demonstrated here in its various earlier forms. One of the more interesting aspects to me of compilation pieces like this is the opportunity to track the development of an artist’s particular style, sometimes over several years (her debut work, “The Style of the Second Love,” definitely has a few mid-nineties stylistic affectations to it). In this case, we get to see that her tendency to draw characters with huge eyes developed early and stuck around. One problem, however, is that many of her male characters are very homogenous-looking; I found myself confused more than once by characters from one story who seemed to show up again in the next under a different name.
None of these stories are particularly complicated, nor are they realistic as far as most actual teenage romantic relationships are concerned, but in this case that doesn’t come across as a detriment to the overall work. In these four stories, the setup may be completely contrived and the resolution predictable, but the intent is genuine and its payoff is satisfying to those willing to overlook a few minor faults. As a collection of standalone works, fans who are interested in giving Tanemura’s stories a try can do so without committing to a multi-volume series.
Content Grade: B
Art Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: VizManga.com
Release Date: August 5th, 2008 (Print)
MSRP: $8.99 Print / $3.99 Digital