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Manga Before Flowers — The Short Good-Bye

One of the joys of manga is that most series have definitive end-points.  There is pleasure in being able to say a proper good-bye to favorite characters or good riddance to the ones that made you curse and throw the book across the room.  Go! Comi recently finished releasing two of its best series, After School Nightmare and Her Majesty’s Dog.

Today I want to say good-bye to these series by giving a quick overview of the last volumes of each (ASN vol 10 and HMD vol 11).  I’m going to avoid as much spoilers as possible and try to talk more generally about the role these volumes play in wrapping each series up.

In a way, After School Nightmare will never really be over for me — it still lives very strongly in my mind as an exceptional shojo series that I could puzzle over and think about for years to come.   Volume 10 certainly gives a sort of “closure,” but I think the pleasure of ASN is that you can’t take anything for granted.  It allows for multiple readings — perhaps even encourages them — of “what really happened.”  In this story, as in dreams, I don’t think there is any “real” event, only half-completed projections of possible events.

I think that is the difficulty and the draw of the last volume — we feel compelled to read it after embarking on this strange, nightmarish journey with Ichijo as he struggles to resolve the question of who he really is.  But I don’t feel a strong sense of closure after reading it –  creator Mizushiro’s answer to Ichijo’s identity is more than place hir into a box of “boy” or “girl,” which may seem like no answer at all.

Final Verdict: The series ends up being much more than the sum of its parts.  This means volume 10 was not a particularly satisfying reading experience in and of itself, but has actually encouraged me to the come to the series as if it were new.  And then come to it again.   And again.  Reading each volume as it was released was a wonderful experience as this world that Mizushiro created is slowly revealed to us and often re-made in subsequent volumes.   Simply put, this story remains unique and unexpected in the world of manga and I can’t recommend the title highly enough.

I’ve always described Her Majesty’s Dog as a good shojo series, but the last two volumes (10 & 11) take the story to surprising places and do it so beautifully I’ve had to reassess my evaluation of the entire work.  The problem with the series is that main character, Amane, is an incredibly passive teenage girl despite the fact she has a supernatural gift of “kotodama” — meaning the ability to speak words of power, aka spells — inherited from her family, that places her in a position of great responsibility.  She is the intended “head of the family,” but she generally has followed everyone else’s plan for her.  Although she is in love with someone she shouldn’t be — her “guardian spirit,” Hyoue — Amane never attempts to break free of the familial reigns that hold her and, therefore, doesn’t attempt to figure out how to be true to herself.

All of this ends with the last two volumes of the series — Amane is tested by a most beloved family member, who forces her out of her passivity by threatening her very existence.  These volumes are breathtaking in many respects as creator Mick Takeuchi weaves external and internal conflict together in deeply effective ways.  Amane is thrown into despair by outside forces  but then must choose how to deal with the loss of everything she holds dear including her very “voice.”  In volume 11, we watch her grow into her humanity, something that we always knew was there, but was hiding somewhere deep in herself.

Final Verdict: There is certainly something to be said for well-done shojo, but there is something even more to be said for shojo that can knock your damn socks off.  And that is what HMD does in its last two volumes — I think Mick Takeuchi grows leaps and bounds as a writer in the conclusion of this series, something that is reflected from the very start of her new series, Bound Beauty (which may be my one of favorite on-going shojo series right now that ASN has ended).

Review copies provided by Go! Comi.

9 Comments

You know, if you hate it so much you throw it across the room, you can always stop reading it before the ending.

hi Michael, I was referring to hatred for particular characters in a title not the series itself — I’m not a big believer in reading things you dislike just for the sake of completing something. I mean I want to smack lots of the characters in NANA but I still adore the title….

Is my grammar unclear in that first paragraph? just curious….

I’m embarking on a marathon of Her Majesty’s Dog this week, and have yet to start ASN, so I only kind of skimmed your comments. Still, certain phrases like “more than the sum of its parts” or “surprising places and do it so beautifully” make me very happy.

I, too, love the definitive endings of manga. And also of British TV shows.

Jun — *nods* The British “Life on Mars”! Why did they even try to make an American one? Bah!

And good luck with the HMD marathon — it is one of those “supernatural” case file of the week type story that usually drive me kind of crazy. The fact I still like HMD in spite of the fact I tire of that genre fairly quickly hints at its many charms. Also, it may be hard to stop yourself from marathon-ing ASN once you start, but I feel it is one of those titles that is packed with emotional content and might read better if savored.

I am totally with you on the Life on Mars remake! Who needs some other random dude when you can have John Simm?! Also, when oh when is that coming out on DVD here?

Now you’ve got me wondering whether you watch Doctor Who. I am betting you do. :)

Marathons and I don’t generally mesh too well. I do it sometimes, like with Monster, and then my mind gets all frazzled and I start to kind of want to take a break. Usually I’m doing it to try to meet a Manga Recon deadline (as is the case with HDM). Normally, I prefer to read stuff in chunks or 2 or 3 volumes.

I don’t watch DW, somehow I picked up some classic Sci-fi nerd culture (i.e. Star Trek: Next Gen, X-files) but not all of it (DW, all other flavors of Trek). I’m completely random ….also, I would *kill* for LoM dvds, simply because lots of people in the U.S. would love this show (as they should) and shouldn’t have to download it to see it, support it, etc. But mostly I just want to show it to my boyfriend! And thanks to the thick working-class British accents we really need the subtitle feature on a show like this.

ohhhhh! Can’t wait to see you examine this series for Manga Recon…I say it all the time, but you guys do such a great job :-)

[...] Danielle Leigh devotes her latest Manga Before Flowers column to the conclusions of two series, After School Nightmare and Her Majesty’s Dog. J. Rentilly reviews Ral Grad and Honey and Clover at Graphic Novel Reporter. Billy Aguiar sees more [...]

Thanks! I’ll be doing v10 for Manga Recon, but the rest’ll be on my personal blog.

[...] Danielle Leigh devotes her latest Manga Before Flowers column to the conclusions of two series, After School Nightmare and Her Majesty’s Dog. J. Rentilly reviews Ral Grad and Honey and Clover at Graphic Novel Reporter. Billy Aguiar sees more [...]

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