Thursday, December 3, 2009

High School Debut: Volume 8

From Kazune Kawahara, the writer, artist, and creator of the High School Debut series comes Volume 8. The entire series is considered Shojo Beat: Manga from the Heart. But in order to understand the plot line and characters, from this particular volume, we have to back up and look at the series as a whole. The series revolves around a girl named Haruna. She is described as a hapless girl whose luck at getting a boyfriend during high school is anything but successful. But, she enlists the help of Yoh, the "class stud," who coaches her on how to get a boyfriend. Predictably, Yoh and Haruna fall for each other and the series turns from "how to get a boyfriend" to "how to date a boy."

During the first half of Volume 8, some newcomers to the school threaten to meddle with Haruna and Yoh's new relationship. These younger boys have no idea how undesirable Haruna used to be, and only see her as Yoh's girlfriend. Since Yoh is one of the most popular boys in the school, Haruna quickly becomes desirable to the new students. Yoh has to remind her how to behave properly around them and obstacles soon arise.

The other plot line present in Volume 8 deals with Haruna's upcoming 17th birthday. Yoh struggles with this because everything that Haruna would like for her birthday is just not his style. Although Haruna does not want to put any pressure on Yoh to get her the perfect gift, her lack of suggestions that fit Yoh's personality lead to a lot of stress on his part.

I feel the need to start out by saying that the artwork in this book was great not only for its consistency and obvious talent, but also for its ability to clearly show feeling. Reading this book was also interesting because it read from back to front and left to right (thankfully there were instructions on the book itself, or I probably would have begun reading it the wrong way). This may appeal to students who want to try something new.

Unfortunately my criticism on the book's storyline and content is not as positive as the artwork and alternative way to read. I found Yoh's treatment of Haruna to be a bit awkward, and almost sexist. His facial expressions make him look as though he may slap her across the face at any moment. When one of the new students actually kisses Haruna, Yoh's reaction causes her to retract into a self-hating state - even though the other student was the one doing the kissing. Haruna apologizes endlessly to Yoh for "her" mistake, obviously a sign of some self-esteem issues.

I worry about the entire plot line of the series and its impression it may leave on teenage girls. By Haruna enlisting Yoh to teach her how to get a boyfriend, it is as if the author is saying that, first of all, all girls need boyfriends, and secondly, that just being yourself is not enough. If you do not have a boyfriend, then perhaps you should enlist the help of a very popular boy to train you. And not only that, but once you do have a boyfriend, he should remind you how to behave. This also left a bad taste in my mouth as far as how teenage boys might read it - that they could "train" a girl to behave properly as their girlfriend.

In the end, I likened this book (and the rest of the series) to something along the lines of the Gossip Girl series. Sure, it could be a fun read for some students (as long as they know that "normal people" do not behave in such ways) but as a critical text that might be used in a classroom I would not recommend it. The age range is, I'm sure, geared at middle and high schoolers (since the series actually begins with Haruna in middle school), but I would be hesitant to suggest it for younger readers who may take some of the characters' words and actions more literally. I think it would be okay for those readers who have a better grasp on a healthy male-female relationship, and who might actually be able to comment critically on the characters actions and behaviors.

Because I truly did find the artwork in this piece to be very interesting, I've included a video below in which an artist describes some of the key elements to drawing your own Manga. It is a bit long, but if you are at all interested in the artwork style it is very good!


schenieka hoskins said...

I’m not sure because of course I have not read the book, but is it possible that the harsh treatment that the female receive is an actual lesson for young girls to say they do not need a boyfriend. It seems as if the girl is insecure as you have mentioned in your post. She feels as if she needs a boyfriend and then when she gets one she does not make him treat her well. I think maybe this book in itself can serve as a sort of “conduct book” book for young ladies. In demonstrating how the young lady acts in the book it can teach girls the right way which to act the opposite. However, the problem with this is many young readers take things at face value and do not read into messages or themes in depth. Therefore, I understand your worry that young adult readers can take this book the wrong way. However, I defiantly think that the book will capture and hold young readers interest. The book seem like it have the traditional outcast, popular good looking kid, and an embedded love story. Great post!

Paige said...

I completely agree with you when you say that the book is somewhat pressuring teens to want to have a boyfriend of girlfriend. It sounds like it may be an enjoyable book but I wonder if it would affect YAs in a way that makes them feel like they need to have a boyfriend. Also, when you said that the book is read from back to front it reminded me of the time when I was first reading one of my boyfriends comic books with him. He reads the NARUTO series which is a Japanese anime. I had no clue how to read it until he explained it to me.