Saturday, July 31, 2010

A couple of manga series about a couple of schools.

Animal Academy Vols. 1-4 (Tokyopop) What a great premise. Neko Fune isn’t the brightest student in the world, and due to her poor performance in school, she had a really hard time finding a high school that would accept her.

The only one that would was the mysterious Morimori High School, but when she shows up on the first day, the school tries to send her away, as there was some problem with her application—they thought that because there was a “neko” in her name that she was a cat, and not a human being.

See Morimori is a special school for animals—specifically, the magical transforming animals of Eastern lore—where they can learn all about the human world and perfect their human disguises.

The school seemingly takes pity on Fune and allows her to stay, but only provided that she keeps the fact that she’s actually a real human being a secret from all the other students, who usually appear human, but can revert back to foxes, tanuki, cats and so on in moments of stress.

The mode of manga-ka Moyamu Fujino’s work is one of a gently, youthful melodrama, realistic despite the fantastic elements, and while there is an awful lot of humor involved, it mostly arises naturally from characters showing the stereotypical traits of the animals they actually are.

Fune’s first and best friend, for example, is Miiko, a cat, who is jealous of any and all attention Fune pays to anyone but her, and constantly bats at others (particularly Kotaro, a fox who is in love with Miiko).

The human-secretly-attending-an-animal school set-up leads to two varying views, one humorous and one more serious. Firstly, Fune finally finds herself in a situation where she’s the smartest kid in school, and, in fact, has to hide what a genius she is at the human world so as not to tip off her peers. Secondly, as she faces the various challenges of growing up, particularly making and losing new friends, she laments her position as a human at a school where the curriculum is how to be human.

Being human is something everyone has to learn though, right? I’m not so sure about magical transforming animals, but human beings certainly need to learn to be human.

Animal Academy is a very charming work, and Fujino fills it with cute human characters and even cuter animal characters. Four volumes of the series are available so far, with a fifth due in August and sixth in September.

CLAMP School Defenders Duklyon Vols. 1-2 (Tokyopop) Sometime in the future, the CLAMP School Foundation has created a gigantic, privately-funded, K through graduate school educational system, which functions as an independent society.

None of that is at all important to the two-volume story that follows the two-page info dump.

What is important is that the school is defended by two sentai-style superheroes who, under the command of violent, hammer-wielding high school sophomore Eri Chusonji and a mysterious general known as The General, defend the school from the evil of The Imonoyama Shopping District Association. When the armored warriors of Duklyon aren’t saving the day, they’re high school freshman Kentaro Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaid.

They’re a fairly typical odd couple pairing, with the unique twist that the wealthy, sensitive Kentaro always wants to take care of Takeshi who, it turns out, he actually wants to marry one day.

The only other member of their class with a speaking part is Kotobuki Sukiyabashi, who looks an awful lot like the leader of evil Imonoyama Shopping District Association, except he wears glasses and a school uniform instead of glam make up and gigantic spike-covered shoulder pads.

The stories of the first volume are as formulaic as can be. Kentaro and Takeshi fight, Kotobuki comments on how much he admires their friendship, Takeshi protests that their relationship is even that far along, then they’re summoned to deal with the Shopping District Association’s attempt to take over the school using a small army of henchmen and some sort of rarely ever threatening-looking Evil Beast:

Duklyon arrives, destroys the evil beat with their signature “Duklyon Final Crush” (the first and only move they ever employ), the Shopping District escapes, and the cycle begins anew.

Gradually a romance develops involving two of the supporting characters, an overarching narrative begins to form and the heroes get pushed further and further out of their own manga. It’s so repetitive that it can be a bit of a slog, but the characters are engaging enough, the new variations on the running gags are occasionally kind of inspired, and it’s short, so that by the time it becomes clear that each chapter is pretty much the same, the formula begins to change and then the story ends.

It’s certainly no classic by CLAMP standards, but not a bad way to kill an hour, particularly for fans of this creative collective or this setting, which reappears in some of their other works, like the more popular Clamp School Detectives, X/1999 and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

Monkey High Vol. 1 (Viz) Haruna Aizawa is a gorgeous high school girl—cool, aloof and with an unwanted air of celebrity and danger that comes from the fact that her politician father was recently arrested for corruption, and she has had to transfer to a new school.

That school’s not literally called “Monkey High,” but she thinks of high school in terms of monkey society. “School life is like being on a monkey mountain,” She thinks in the very first panel. “Monkeys in the same gang constantly fight and get back together again…There may be slight differences, but it’s essentially the same anywhere you go.”

Creator Shouko Akira keeps the monkey metaphor going throughout the entire volume, and it can get awfully strained at times, with references to monkeys often feeling forced, but the important monkey reference is the fact that Macharu Yamashita reminds her of a baby monkey (That’s him on the cover. Akira gives him prominent ears, and inquisitive, mischievous eyes and expressions throughout. He’s a little wild and playful, and immature compared to the rest of his classmates, but immature in an innocent, charming way rather than in negative, character fault kind of way).

The alpha male of Haruna’s new class/monkey troupe is Atsuyuki Kido, the handsome, popular, womanizing best friend of Macharu, but Haruna is immune to his charm. She’s immune to Macharu’s at first as well, but his kindness slowly chips away at her defenses, and she finds herself falling for him, despite the difficulty she so often has in seeing him as a man instead of as a cute little baby monkey.

The first volume is filled with rather predictable start-stop, will-they-won’t-they romance, as the leads navigate typical Japanese high school manga events like a field trip and school play for the festival, but the relationship moves rather quickly—that is, there is a relationship by the end of the first volume—and if Akira’s monkey business can occasionally grate, the drama is affecting and, most importantly, feels real.

The innocence and incongruous importance of all the relationships, the class’ investment in various characters coupling off and succeeding, the way expectations and only partially understood emotions seem to drive events more than reality, reading Monkey High was a lot like being in 12-to-15 or so again, only it’s a lot more relaxing watching fictional teenagers experiencing the safety of adulthood, protected by a fourth wall.


Jeremy said...

Wasn't there a Cartoon Network series about a kid who ends up at a school full of animals because his last name was Lyon?

mordicai said...

I have a fondness for Hayate X Blade.

Oliver said...

Wow, Duklyon is SOOO old! But you can still find the volumes here or there. Animal Academy sounds interesting the way you put it, but it looks too junior.