Monkey High, Vol. 1
Written and Illustrated by Shouko Akira
Viz Media Shojo Beat, 192 pgs
US: $8.99, CAN: $11.99
One major thing after another is coming up this month, and for me, part of that is moving to the great snowy north of Cleveland. My manga collection is certainly a big part of my possessions, and in order to pack things like, well, clothing, I have to decide whether or not to keep or donate books that I have accumulated over the past 6 years. My shojo section is the first to be thoroughly scrutinized, and I’m going to be doing “mover’s reviews” with the end of the review being one of three options:
Keep – I pack it and bring it with me
Donate – I like it but I’m giving it away to our local library system
Trash – I don’t think it is good enough to donate to a library (…ouch!)
Cliche is a large part of manga writing. It makes sense, financially, to continue to produce similar products because your audience enjoys the similarity between one product and the next. That’s all well and good when you are making toasters, but with manga series, it tends to create books that are eerily similar to one another. Finding a shojo series where the girl finds the guy that is thoroughly unique is about as hard as can be. Writers tend to acknowledge these cliches by either avoiding them, trying to modify them slightly, or my favorite, subvert them. Monkey High! understands the stereotypes and the cliches, and tries to subtly subvert one of the underlying principles of almost every shojo manga – the heartthrob high school hottie always wins over the stubborn, stoic girl with some combination of charm, wit, sensitivity, and that winning smile.
Monkey High! is absolutely… not that. Instead of the hottie, our heroine, Haruna falls for the class clown, a short guy Macharu (who looks/acts like a baby monkey). She’s recently gone through some trouble since her politician father has fallen out of favor due to some political scandal. Its the same, “bad things happen, school transfer, meet the new kids, find a new boyfriend” storyline that is familiar to most shojo manga readers. Haruna is an interesting main character because of her initial misgivings about her new classmates. She likens students to monkeys, with their cliques and fighting, and aggressively does not want to build friendships and romantic relationships. This is a different style of character that lends itself more heavily to introspection and reflection than most shojo leads. Atsu, Micharu’s best friend, is the heartthrob of the series, and attempts to woo this cute new girl, but finds his suave moves incapable of winning her over. Instead, it’s Macharu, with his honest smile, simple acts of kindness, and forthright charm that catches her eye, and we get to see the two of them begin their relationship together after a long school field trip involving hiking and group cooking. The rest of the cast is mostly classmates who fade in and out of existence to facilitate some of the major scenes in the book, but don’t necessarily have names.
The art of Monkey High! is mostly serviceable, and comes from the same vein as Yuki Obata’s We Were There (although the eyes in Monkey High! look less fishy and more human). Nothing out of the ordinary here, besides some pretty nice panel composition. Shading and toning are all fairly standard, and while the lanky shojo character is the norm here, it is nice to see that both Haruna and Macharu are at least drawn slightly out of range of that normal “tall, skinny, and cute” shojo illustration palette that I am so used to seeing. Another change is the lack of glitter, flowers, and starbursts in the toning of this manga, which is generally a given in this type of shojo story. I for one, am quite grateful.
The best part about Monkey High! is its strength of character and pacing, which are natural and also (sadly) somewhat unique to popcorn shojo manga. This book has the tendency to make you think a bit more than its fluffier counterparts and for its troubles, Monkey High! ends up being quite an enjoyable romantic comedy. Where others have failed, Monkey High succeeds in its subversive attempts to reshape the shojo story, and delivers a well timed and appropriate coming of age story. While it is not the most breath-taking manga, readers will certainly enjoy this well illustrated, well written romantic comedy, and even readers weary of the genre can find a lot to like.
On a lighter note, if ever o’ ever a tagline were to be printed on a back of a book that could make me cringe, “Going bananas for love!” is definitely one. Really Viz?
Mover’s Ranking: Donate.
While I enjoyed Monkey High! I don’t have a lot invested in the series (I only own one volume), and it wasn’t great enough to make me want to read it again. Still, it’s a fun title and I enjoyed it, and I’m sure patrons at the local library would love it.