I have never been a subscriber to Shojo Beat, but I was definitely among those who were sad to hear that the July 2008 issue would be its last. I’ve read the magazine off and on at the library for the past three years, and I’ve enjoyed the early access to chapters of favorite series as well as some of its pop culture/lifestyle features. On a side note, I have never enjoyed Shonen Jump nearly as much, even though I read just as much shonen manga as shojo manga.
Shojo Beat is usually checked out at the library where I work, but I was lucky enough to find a bunch of recent issues on the shelf today. So I checked out the April, May, and June issues and settled down tonight to enjoy the latest chapters of Sand Chronicles. I’ve read volume 5 of that series already, but these are some (or all?) of the chapters that will appear in volume 6 and were thus new to me. And they were lovely.
Sand Chronicles is such a bittersweet and thoughtful series. Sadly I don’t think its distribution is great; I don’t find it in my local B&N or Borders, and I get my copies from Amazon. We first meet the main character Ann as an adult, and in the chapters that follow she looks back over her adolescence, starting with her move to the small town of Shimane at age 12. So the story takes place within her reminiscences, and every so often you are reminded of the adult narration framing this very young story. This isn’t a trick that every mangaka could pull off, but Ashihara does it with aplomb.
When I first read Sand Chronicles, I thought it was pleasant but unremarkable. But the more I read, the more impressed I was by its sensitive depiction of the passage of time and its interest in more than young love. It doesn’t rely too much on really dramatic plot twists, but it still resists predictability. In an average shojo series, the reader knows what couple will end up together from chapter one. In this series, the reader doesn’t. Ashihara could take the romantic storylines in many different directions, and they would all be plausible precisely because Ashihara is writing about more than romantic love. She’s also writing about family, friendship, grief, and growing up. I think I will be happy with any of the possible endings as long as Ashihara’s characterization of the central foursome continues to feel as honest as it has thus far.
Back to Shojo Beat magazine. Other series currently being serialized in the magazine that I am following include Honey and Clover (another all-time favorite of mine), Vampire Knight, and Crimson Hero. I enjoyed the chapters that were in these issues, though I sometimes despair of Viz’s production of the English version of Honey and Clover. The overuse of slang and the busy lettering/typography especially bother me, though I tolerate them because I love the story anyway.
The June issue also had a sneak peak at the series Kimi no Todoke: From Me To You by Karuho Shiina. This is one of my favorite new licenses: the mood is sweet and funny, and the art is easy on the eyes. I especially love chibi Sadako and Kazahaya’s enormous smiles. I’m looking forward to the first volume coming out from Viz in August.
And of course, promotional mentions of the NANA and Honey and Clover anime were everywhere in these issues. I would be tempted to make fun of the obvious product placement if I didn’t love both series. Check out the official websites: Nana official U.S. site and Honey and Clover official U.S. site.