These days it seems like digital manga is finally hitting its stride; between the major publishers finally getting on board, the flood of stuff put out by the Digital Manga Guild, and the few weird platform-limited Japanese projects (Renta!, Manga Reborn, MangaBox, ComicWalker), there’s a lot of stuff to (legally) read on (mostly) the screen of your choice. Unfortunately, aside from digital editions of print manga from the aforementioned major publishers, most of it is extremely low profile; you probably don’t even know it’s available, and even if you did, it’s probably not something you’re dying to read. Like this one.
The Beautiful Skies of Houou High, Vol. 2, by Aki Arata (Houou Gakuen Misora-gumi 2, originally serialized in Comic Blade Avarus. Blade Comics edition 2009; Digital Manga Guild edition, 2014)
Back in 2011, DMP released the first volume of this 4-volume shoujo comedy series, and it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. I was reasonably sure we’d never see any more of it, but lo, the Digital Manga Guild is fulfilling its promise to bring totally unlicenseable stuff to English-speakers, so here we are with volume 2, available in a selection of digital formats from eManga (including convenient PDF download), or in Kindle and Nook formats from Amazon and B&N, respectively. (The first volume is out of print but very cheap on the secondary market; it’s also available digitally, for consistency.)
The first page of the manga is a plot recap, useful for those of us Anglophones who might have lost track in the intervening three years. Kei, our heroine, likes girls and has a pathological distaste of boys. Mom, who is not on board with the gay and wants Kei to snag a rich guy (“If you get pregnant, we win!”), manipulates her into enrolling her into an all-boys school (in the guise of a boy, of course), on the suggestion of cute perky evil-guy Yui, who is Up To Something but we haven’t found out what yet.
Most of this volume is fairly episodic comedy. V1 ended with the threat of a physical examination (Kei will be exposed!) and a hint of some new characters; these factors turn out to be connected in the form of that kind of narcissistic, self-dramatizing, occasionally crossdressing guy that shows up in shoujo comedies a lot, and his superdevoted manservant. Then we have the evil-genius shotabait twins playing detective to figure out why the school let a girl enroll (most of the main cast knows Kei’s secret); once they discover that Yui’s behind it, they start to scheme about how they can get Kei to cooperate in bringing him down (since Kei nixed the idea of just bumping him off – they’re evil, remember?) – of course, Yui finds out and lays the smackdown on them, because he’s even more evil. Then Kei goes home for summer break and gets harangued by Mom about why she hasn’t landed a loaded classmate yet and why she’s so unfeminine. Et cetera. And of course her phobia of men gets a lot of play; Kei has earned the title “prince of puke” because of her reaction whenever she is touched, however innocently, by her classmates.
In a certain way, this series reminds me a lot of Oresama Teacher; we’ve got the heroine who looks good in boy’s clothes and schmoozes all the girls (although for Kei’s it’s because she’s hot for them, rather than just getting all of her info on how to relate to girls from hanging out with guys, like Mafuyu), we’ve got the big scary guy the heroine bonds with over their shared love for a weird animal mascot character (in this case Usasy, a stripper hostess bunny-girl), we’ve got the masochistic guy who gets jealous every time the object of his obsession abuses someone else, we’ve got the school administration full of shady secrets, and we’ve got the cute, ukeish, perkily evil guy who somehow has a lot more control over the school than seems entirely reasonable.
But the plot is completely different; no fighting, a lot less crazy, and higher dose of drama. Aside from wanting a hot girlfriend, Kei really doesn’t have any plans for the future; she tells her mother she can support herself and doesn’t need to marry (“These days, there are plenty of single women”), but as Mom points out, she has no skills and isn’t particularly good at anything. She hasn’t even figured out what her concentration will be; Yui casually states that they’re going to concentrate in social welfare together, and although she’s not happy about him making decisions for her, she doesn’t have any better ideas, and she’s starting to realize that this is a problem. Aside from Kei’s issues, quite a lot of this volume is about humanizing Yui; he’s still evil, but we start to get hints that he has reasons for it, and that he is maybe nicer than he seems… maybe.
Arata is still playing Yui’s motivation in getting a girl to enroll close to her chest, but at this point the overarching plot for the series seems to be pretty clear: Yui and Kousuke will teach Kei to get over her phobia of men, and Kei will teach Yui to be less evil. There’s also slight hints of a possible romantic relationship between Kei and Yui, in which case Yui had damn well better turn out to be a girl in drag, considering that Kei has already busted out the l-word (at least in the English translation).
I do vaguely enjoy this series, and I’ll keep reading if and/or when the rest of it comes out, but compared to the really good shoujo comedies out there it’s only so-so. I am amused that Kei is the second-butchest “guy” in the main cast (after Kousuke, who’s actually a softie), and I like Yui (cute perky evil femme uke dudes, mmm), but the comedy is only mildly funny and the drama is (so far) only mildly engaging. It’s a reasonably pleasant diversion, but you’ll probably have forgotten everything about it by the time you’ve put your e-reader down.
From a technical end, the translation and presentation is nicely professional aside from a rendering artifact on one page. But I don’t like that the ad pages come before the author’s note and omake 4-koma strips at the end of the book; if I hadn’t been compulsive-obsessive about flipping through all the pages I would probably have stopped at the first ad and missed them.