MangaMania: Backstage Prince/Beast Master

>> Monday, March 7, 2011

First, something I never ever do, I'm going to do. That's right, a contest! And it's a retroactive contest. See, during my manga mania, I picked up several books that I either already had or turned out didn't work out for me, including several first in a series: Otomen, Kimi ni todoke, Ratsetsu, Bride of the Water God, and Vampire Knight. I also have volume 20 (don't ask me why) of Fruits Basket over and above the whole set and volume 1 of Night of the Beasts, which I let my manga-obsessed toddler play with so I can't vouch for the condition. I figured I'd make a drawing of all those who took the effort to make a comment throughout the whole manga mania series (including those to come) and draw names out of the hat for each commenter. Then they get to pick which book they want (first come, first serve) and I'll send it to them. Five books, five winners (6-7 winners if anyone wants to take a chance on the state of Night of the Beasts or wants Vol 20 of FB). I'll include anyone who's already commented, though you can bow out if you'd like. Most are in good enough condition for regifting if you want to do that. If no one's interested, hey, I'll donate them to the local library.

Alright, moving on to series I liked but don't necessarily get down and reread over and over and over and over again. Ones that appealed to me for some reason or another, enough that I own all of them, too (or am getting all of them), but can't necessarily overlook their flaws. They often have either partially developed characters or only one character I really like. Four of them are earlier works by mangaku (manga authors) whose later works made my "gotta have 'em all" list.

Backstage Prince

First, here's Backstage Prince, a two volume to completion manga written by Kanako Sakurakoji (who also wrote Black Bird), in which we see the author favors a particular look for her protagonists, quite similar to those in Black Bird. We also discover that she's in love with a kabuki actor. Wikipedia has a really interesting article on Kubuki for those interested. But I digress.

Anime? No Volumes of manga: 2
Status: Complete

My rating: Has a certain appeal

Age range/taboos: I don't see an issue with any teenager reading this. No nudity, minimal lewdness. Cross-dressing is limited to the actual Kabuki.

Premise: "Normal" high school student, Akari, signs up to assist a talented up and coming kabuki actor after she accidentally hurts him. Although handsome and talented, the actor is a misanthrope and generally hates people, but she (and his cat) become exceptions to the world he mostly scorns. Her influence and support enable him to largely overcome his bad attitude sufficiently that it doesn't undermine his success.

What works: The cat is charming. I actually like our misanthrope who doesn't hate people so much as he is somewhat painfully shy and has been unwillingly in the spotlight since birth. He's been under the control of others entirely and his relationship with Akari is one of the first things he takes a stand on. He's not a people person and he, as a person, is unable or unwilling to compete with the image others have of him. Akari, who cares nothing about his image and sees him for himself, is the first person he sees as seeing him as he is. His ego is confined to his kabuki skills which are, apparently, prodigious.

His whole-hearted and unwavering devotion to the two things he cares about: the cat and Akari, is touching and sweet, even if he's not the best at expressing it. So, yeah, I liked him, even though we only saw him through Akari's eyes. I also liked their relationship, how she brought out the best in him just by being there.

To be honest, I thought the insight into Kabuki was also interesting, since I knew nothing about it. Cool beans. It's also a nice short read, but ending tidily.

What I didn't like: The characters aren't entirely fleshed out and it's a bit heavy on the teenage angst, given the assistant is a teenager. She's supportive but really doesn't do much of anything. She's sort of reactive, so she's not as strong as I would have liked. Still, she ends up as stalwart as her two-years senior boyfriend. The artwork is not particularly refined or notable.

Beast Master

I know, right? Some of the names . . . oh well, part of it is likely translation. Beast Master is another earlier work by a mangaku I like, this time Kyousuke Motomi (author of Dengeki Daisy). I might have actually bumped this into gotta have 'em all except I just finished writing those up when I read this one. It's still too new for me to be objective. So, be warned, it might move up the ladder (or conceivably, down).

Anime? No Volumes of manga: 2

My rating: Has a certain appeal

Age range/taboos: Our hero here, spent much of his life "in the wild" and will go on a violent berserk rampage if put at risk and/or bloodied (or, apparently, if his girlfriend is). So, yeah, bloody violence happens but no corpses except for a leopard. Still, I don't think many teenagers would be adversely affected by this.

Premise: Girl who loves animals but sends them running with her smothery ways befriends a boy who comes off as scary while being exceptionally good with animals. Turns out, he's lived in the wild most of his life. She discovers quickly that he will go berserk to protect himself, but that she can get him to calm down when no one else can.

What works: Both protagonists are appealing, "Leo" (the "wild boy") is unaffected and unstintingly affectionate with his own backward charm that I like. She is selfless and strong, without being overpowering or nasty. If she's a little slow to catch on to Leo's devotion to her, that's hardly anything new in manga. I like that she refuses to treat him like an animal and that both of them are focused on the well-being of the other. This manga could have been longer and still appealing, but it shortness kept it from bogging down, so that's nice, too. Tidy.

I like the emphasis on animals (the girl's father is a veterinarian) and find Leo's gentleness (when not in berserk mode) completely in character. I like his unfamiliarity with modern technology and processed foods fun, too. The artwork, like Backstage Prince was, is less refined than the author's later works, but still capable of being quite moving. This is more dramatic and emotionally pulling than Backstage Prince. I also have to admit I liked both of the short mini-manga stories included with the books.

What I didn't like: Side characters pretty much sucked (except for Banchou, the friendly neighborhood thug). Either they were shallow and uninteresting, or too wacked to take seriously. The back story behind Leo's unconventional upbringing was also pretty weak, even by manga standards. Fortunately, it wasn't really key except toward the end.


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