Thursday, January 15, 2015

High School Debut by Kazune Kawahara

Title: High School Debut (Kōkō Debut, Koukou Debut)
Author: Kazune Kawahara
Volumes: 13 (completed)
Volumes (English): 13 (completed)

Original Run: 2003 - 2008

When Haruna Nagashima was in junior high her life consisted of playing softball and reading comics. But now that she's going to high school, Haruna decides to put all of her energy towards getting a boyfriend and having the high school romance of a lifetime. To help in her quest, she enlists cute upperclassman Yoh Komiyama to coach her as she eschews her jock tendencies and turns herself into the kind of girl who can catch a guy. Yoh agrees, with one catch: Haruna had better not fall for him!

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All the spoils! If you want to avoid them you should really skip to the bottom.

High School Debut is one of my all time favorite manga series! This is a series that I reread when I need a laugh, a swoon worthy moment, an escape from reality, or an escape from boredom. It has everything a shojo should have: an unlikely, but quirky premise, a plucky heroine, a sexy, yet aloof love interest, meddling friends, and unconventional antagonists.

1. An unlikely, but quirky premise.

High School Debut has a fun, quirky premise that seems ludicrous on the surface, but works well in moving the plot along. Haruna Nagashima has spent her entire junior high career focusing on softball. Once she enters high school she decides to give it all up and focus on finding a boyfriend.

Unfortunately for Haruna, she has poor fashion sense and doesn't really understand how to attract the opposite sex. She takes several trips to the local hangouts trying to pick up guys with no success. On one of these outings she meets Yoh Komiyama when she loses a shoe. This chance encounter shapes the rest of the series rather delightfully and might be one of my favorite first meetings ever.

Later Haruna sees Yoh at school and is eventually able to convince him to become her "love coach," but on one condition, that she not fall in love with him. If you've read any shojo, you know this rule is going to be fact you're anticipating their eventual relationship from their very first meeting. Watching their relationship develop is a pure joy and the hilarity that ensues during their courtship and coupling is highly entertaining!

2. A plucky heroine.

Haruna Nagashima is an endearing character who is a combination of naivete, eternal optimism, and perseverance. She's one of those characters who you root for regardless of the circumstances. This determination is what ultimately draws Yoh to Haruna and convinces him to coach her.

Haruna isn't a delicate heroine who needs a handsome prince to come to her rescue. In fact, she is more likely to do the rescuing. One of my favorite scenes is when Yoh and Haruna are locked up in the gym supply closet and Haruna sets out to rescue him. In the end they rescue each other, which just about sums up their relationship.

3. A sexy, yet aloof love interest.

I LOVE Yoh Komiyama! Haruna and Yoh are my OTP and I was shipping them before the end of the first volume. They're the couple I want to have a happily ever after forever type of relationship. I love Haruna and Yoh together. Her optimism balances out his cynicism in the best possible way. They each bring out the best in the other.

My favorite part in the series is when Haruna cries with Yoh about his leaving and they're so caught up in the moment and their emotions, but unsure how to express their feelings. It's the most beautiful scene in the entire series and their commitment for one another comes across really well during this scene. Their love truly seems endearing and I can't help but hope that they beat the odds.

I like how Yoh's dork side comes out more as he dates Haruna. Most of the time he's cool and sexy, only with Haruna does he let his guard down and relax. He doesn't have to put on a show with her and she doesn't have to for him either. They both accept each other as they are, flaws and all, but more importantly they value each other.

4. Meddling friends.

This series has some of the most entertaining and outlandish secondary characters I've come across in a manga series.

Yui Asaoka - He's one of my favorite characters in the series. His mischievous nature and perverse sense of humor makes scenes with him immensely entertaining. One never quite knows when he's being serious or not. He develops feelings for Haruna, but his constant teasing leads Haruna to think he's joking when he finally confesses to her. His attraction to Haruna causes tension between Yoh and him, leading to a hilarious sports competition. The thing I like about this sort of love triangle is that Asaoka moves on when Haruna doesn't return his feelings.

The author hints at an attraction between Mami and Asaoka by the end of the series. Mami is the only character who can tell whether or not he's being serious. I would have liked for the author to have done more with their relationship and I'm not insistent that it need be a romantic one. I thought Mami and Asaoka would have made great friends. My all time favorite scene with Asaoka is at the end of the "date" he goes on with Haruna and he tries to kiss her to make Yoh jealous. He is completely unapologetic when Yoh finally admits he's been following them.

Mami Takahashi - Mami is Haruna's best friend and probably one of the most intuitive characters in the series. She's one of the most decent characters in the series as well and I admired her loyalty to her friend. No matter how ridiculous the situation, she always managed to retain some sense of decorum. Throughout the series it's obvious how much Haruna cares about and respects Mami, but you don't get a sense of the depth of Mami's feelings until they go on a school holiday together and Mami admits a betrayal. The best part is that Haruna instantly forgives her, saying there was no betrayal (and she's right, Mami shouldn't have been feeling guilty).

Asami Komiyama - Yoh's sister is a hard character to like. While I don't hate her, I usually found myself wanting to punch her in the face. Asa basically likes causing as much mischief as long as she isn't put out by it. She's not a good person and is incredibly selfish, but to her credit she knows this. She also has a serious brother complex. I cheered aloud when Haruna calls Asa out on it. Haruna is probably one of the only people to accept Asa for who she is, but also isn't afraid of confronting her when she's acting inconsiderate, especially in her relationship with Fumi.

Fumiya Tamura - Fumi is probably one of my least favorite characters. It's not that I hate him, he's just kind of boring. He's a bit dim, but with a gentle nature. Haruna and him get along quite well and he was her first crush. His hooking up with Asa helps push Haruna and Yoh together so I wasn't complaining when Asa snaked him from Haruna. He's a bit of a pushover and honestly needs to break it off with Asa and find someone better. I think that's the main reason I don't like him; he's willing to stay with someone who treats him like crap and refuses to recognize it's happening.

5. Unconventional antagonists.

The antagonists in this series range from love sick to deranged. (But in the best possible way.)

Makoto - Yoh's ex-girlfriend and one of the more interesting plot twists. She's an unhateable character...even Haruna likes her. True to Haruna form, she rescues Makoto from unwanted advances while riding the subway (might be train) and they become instant friends. Haruna goes so far as to encourage Makoto to try and win back her ex-boyfriend. Of course Haruna has no idea she's Yoh's ex, so it's quite funny watching Haruna unwittingly play matchmaker with Yoh and his ex.

While Makoto a bit weak and acts like a damsel, she's still an interesting character. One of my favorite moments in the series is directly because of this character trying to win Yoh back. A truly swoon worthy moment, Yoh meets with her for closure and after basically saying that the reason he is someone Makoto could even want to be with again is because of Haruna, he runs back to Haruna and affirms his feelings for her. (It was even snowing! C'est très romantique !)

Leona - Haruna's nemesis turn kind-of-friend. Her sole purpose when transferring to Haruna's high school is for a rematch. She wants to prove that she's the better softball player and when she finds out Haruna isn't playing any longer she tries other means to get her revenge. I loved this character and I loved the scenario she created in her head when she locked Haruna and Yoh in the gym closet. Yoh's comment, "It seems as though even her enemies are from some alternate dimension" defines Leona's character perfectly. She's quite intense and persistent.

Miyabi - Leona is merely bizarre, Miyabi might be psychotic. She's one of Yoh's classmates in cram school who develops a strong obsession towards Yoh after he basically treats her like a human being. Miyabi is a clever, yet plain and overweight girl, who hates herself and everyone around her. Her attitude at first is combative towards Yoh, calling him shallow and then proceeding to insult Haruna. Her attitude towards him does a complete 180 after Yoh comes to her aid when she is hurt. It's one thing to crush on someone, it's another thing to stalk them.

Miyabi does everything in her power to break up Yoh and Haruna, even going so far as sending a breakup text to Haruna from Yoh's phone and then deleting Haruna's number and changing it to her own number. It's some crazy shit. Even with all the crazy, I can't bring myself to hate Miyabi. I relate to her self loathing and the need to feel loved. Instead I feel a mixture of pity and hope. I pity her current mental state, but the end of her arc gives me hope that she's reevaluating her life and trying to put it back in order.

Another reason I can't bring myself to hate her, is that I have a soft spot for her brother Akito. Akito is a freshman who has a bit of a crush on Haruna and a misunderstanding, exacerbated by Miyabi, leads Yoh to think Haruna might be into Akito as well. I also hope that Akito and Miyabi can finally grow close and have a better relationship now that Miyabi is actually trying to improve her life.

The ending of this series was perfect! From the airport departure scene to their reunion in Tokyo. I loved every moment of it. Yoh's reaction in Tokyo to the newly grown up Haruna brings the series back around to it's beginning.

Final Thoughts

This is one of my favorite manga series! I love everything about it. I've lost count of how many times I've read this series. It's one of my go to comfort series when I'm feeling down or feeling bored. It's a fun read that never fails to make me happy. I highly recommend this series.

I also recommend reading the one shot Enren Debut. When I first read this, I had to rely on the online scanning sites because it hadn't been translated into English. Luckily for you, it's finally being translated into English and is going to be published early February!!! (Fangirling so hard right now!) What's even better about this, is that the other one shot she wrote, that's never been translated into English (even on the online scan sites) is going to be published as well!!! So excited and so buying this volume when it comes out!

Follow Amy Gideon's board High School Debut=Koukou Debut on Pinterest.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Otaku's Best of 2014

I fell a little short this year on my Goodread's reading challenge;three short to be exact. In 2014, I read 119 volumes of manga, across 26 series, and 38 books for a grand total of 157 books or 29,090 pages. In addition to all the books I've read, I've also watched more anime and foreign dramas (primarily Korean and Taiwanese) than might be good for me.

Following are my best picks for manga, books, anime and dramas I read or watched in 2014. I hope to give those I haven't already reviewed a full post in the coming year, but I'm not sure if I'll actually do so based on my limited posting from last year.

My Best Manga Reads of 2014 

Say I Love You
Say I Love You by Kanae Hazuki:  I watched the anime series last year and fell in love with it. When I heard this series was finally being translated into English, I knew I had to read it. The first few volumes were a little rough, but they've gotten progressively better with each new installment and the things I love about the anime shines brightly in the manga. My favorite thing about this series is how every character, even the most villainous, can find redemption. The series does a great job creating three dimensional characters who are believable precisely because of their flaws. Take a kick ass heroine who doesn't take crap from anyone, coupled with a hot leading man and you have a recipe for awesome. 
Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama:  The anime is spectacular and while I don't think the manga is quite as good, it's still well done. The world building in this series is well done and truly horrifying. The premise is fascinating and not a little mystifying which will keep you reading long into the night. 
Ao Haru Ride
Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka:  I LOVED Strobe Edge, but I think this series is even better. Like Strobe Edge, the characters have a sense of depth not always found in manga and I related to them on several levels. There are all the usual shojo tropes in this series, but the character development is so well done that it makes them seem new again. There's a lot of emotion in this series, which is something I've come to expect form Io Sakisaka. I only hope this will eventually get translated as I'd love to own the series and read the official translations. As it is, I'm just grateful of the online fan translations.  
Sand Chronicles
Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara:  This series is quite broad in scope and reminded me of We Were There. Like We Were There, it tackles serious issues and follows the lives of these characters over a twenty year time span. The series explores dark and innocent themes alike. Beautiful character development and a rather lovely ending. While I could have done without the sort of prequel volume the rest were well written and hard to put down. 
I am Here
I am Here by Ema Tōyama:  A super cute series that'll make you feel happy. I enjoyed the simplicity and sheer joy found in this series. It reminded me of a younger version of Kimi ni Todoke. I enjoyed watching Hikage grow into herself and finally speak out and act on her needs. It's a really fast read guaranteed to make you smile. 

My Best Book Reads of 2014

Jellicoe Road Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: One of my all time favorite books, I've read it multiple times this year. The writing is beautiful with deep observations on life, family, and friendship. I can't gush enough about this book. I laughed and cried and in the end I felt better for having read it. The story and characters will stick with you long after you've finished reading.  
Bone Doll's Twin Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling:  This is the first book in the Tamir Triad and all three have found their way on my favorites shelf. This is a blend of fantasy, gothic and coming of age with a bit of court intrigue. The writing pulls the reader in from the first page. The author took an overdone plot device, the hidden child King (or Queen in this case), and turned it into a truly unique and rather dark tale. Beautifully crafted. 
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: I related more to the main character in the book than I like to admit. Cath is the ultimate fangirl living in her make believe world, which is cooler than anything the real world can offer...or so she thinks. I loved watching her come more fully into the real world, while not giving up her enthusiasm of the fandom she loves. The book also explores the bond of sisterhood and what it means to be a twin--the struggle of finding your own identity when someone else is wearing your face.
Crash Into You
Crash into You by Katie McGarry:  This is a series that improves with each volume. Isaiah is one of my favorite characters, and I so wanted him to find a happy ending after his unrequited love was well and truly rejected in Dare You To. This volume delivers all this and more. 
Still Life Still Life by Louise Penny:  I usually don't go in for mysteries and if this hadn't been a book club pick I never would have read it. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this first in a series. While it was a rather slow beginning and the mystery was easily solved the character development is top notch and the writing is beautiful. 

My Best Anime Finds of 2014

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: I started watching this series on a whim, and binged watch most of the series in a week. The story is action packed, has a unique premise, and alternates between comedy and sorrow at any given moment. I loved the relationship between Ed and Al and can't wait to watch season five! 
Sailor Moon Crystal Sailor Moon Crystal:  I'm a huge Sailor Moon fan, so I'm incredibly excited that they've rebooted the anime. While I have a soft spot for the original series, I have to say that I LOVE the new reboot. The artwork is better and the characterization is more true to manga series. My only issue is that the episodes are released as such a slow rate. If they revamp the entire series it may be ten years or so before they complete the fifth season. 
Blue Spring Ride Blue Spring Ride:  Based off of the popular manga series Ao Haru Ride by Io Sakisaka, this is one of my favorite anime and manga finds this year. While the anime series only covers the first half of the manga, it does a good job of tying up loose ends since it's unlikely to get a second season due to an unfair bias against shojo anime. The anime series leaves off on a hopeful note that I think defines the manga series. The music in this series is quite beautiful and at times playful. 
Attack on Titan Attack on Titan: Such a freakin' awesome anime series! I fangirl ridiculously hard for this series. It has a compelling plot and unforgettable characters. Not to mention one of the coolest female heroines in anime. While I liked the manga I think the anime is better. And the soundtrack is amazing!
My Little Monster My Little Monster:  This series is ridiculously cute and silly, something I feel like we should all have more of in our lives. The chemistry between the main characters, Shizuku and Haru, is not only believable but so much fun to watch while it develops. Super cute; super fun!

My Best Drama Finds of 2014

To the Beautiful You To the Beautiful You:  I adored this K-drama. While the premise is unrealistic (no one is mistaking Sulli for a boy, even with short hair) it didn't distract from the story. I loved the straightforward way the series approaches gender issues, especially with regards to Eun-gyeol's feelings for Jae-hee. I'm not gonna lie, I also love the fact that Shinee's Choi Minho is the leading man in this series. I also love that EXO members were also part of the series. K-pop makes everything better!
Fated to Love You Fated to Love You:  One of my best friends recommended this T-drama to me and I'm so very glad she did. It might be one of the most melodramatic series I've ever watched, which just adds to the sheer pleasure of watching it. The more ridiculous the better! I'd like to add that it has one of the funniest "sex" scenes I've ever seen. This scene alone makes the series worth watching.
Playful Kiss Playful Kiss: I tried watching this last year and couldn't get past the first episode. The daydreaming was just too out of control. This year, I decided to give it another try and I was rewarded with a new favorite. Part of the reason is because I find Kim Hyun-joong incredibly sexy. I adored him in Boys Over Flowers and absolutely loved him in this. The asshole with a heart of gold works for him. If you can make it through the first two episodes you'll be rewarded with a cute yet unlikely love story. The absurdity of it all makes it that much better.