Wednesday, October 3, 2018

CLASSIC MANGA - Reading "Songs to Make You Smile" by Natsuki Takaya

Natsuki Takaya
Twinkle Stars is my favorite manga of all time. Fruits Basket is close behind. So in anticipation of Natsuki Takaya's upcoming Fruits Basket Another volume 2, I've decided to go back and read her works that I had not yet gotten to. This week, it's "Songs to Make You Smile" a collection of one-shots published over several years early in her career.

Like most collections of one-shots, it's tough to develop the characters much and the plots are relatively perfunctory. Perhaps more so in a shoujo release than other genres (guy meets girl, girl pines for dad she didn't know...). This volume is no exception.

The first story, "Songs to Make You Smile" focuses on a high-school boy who barely speaks and the band he sings for, the girl who is misunderstood and bullied, and the way music brings them together. It's one of the better stories in this collection and the art, while still from an early point in her career, is closer to what we think of as her mid-career style (similar to the opening chapters of Fruits Basket, but not yet as refined as Twinkle Stars).

Next up is "Ding Dong" which features very early art in an early shoujo style. It's not refined art, nor refined storytelling. We do get themes that are repeated throughout Takaya-sensei's later works, including the parents who separate and in this case, even die, such that the daughter is left with a step-mom. Due to an inelegance in the writing and art, and a soap-opera, overly-dramatic story, it's one of my least favorite stories here.

Third is "Voice of Mine" which features a violinist and a violist. The female violist is accused of copying the phrasing of a classmate, the male violinist is accused of riding his talented parents coat-tails. Ultimately, the two of them explore what it means to have a personal voice in their playing and prove to others that their sound is unique. This one too has very early art, my guess is between the two prior ones in age, slightly more refined than "Ding Dong" but not yet recognizable as a step towards her mature style.

"Double Flower" is cute and different, and features a young man who loves to sew (perhaps foreshadowing Ayame from Fruits Basket?). One day, his young niece pops over and stays with him. She's feisty and calls it like she see's it. Despite giving him a hard time, she's clearly on his side, especially when it comes to the woman he loves. This one is simple, but due to having less pathos, is a nice change of tone from the others. The art is also in between the styles of the other stories.

The volume concludes with a parody chapter with the characters from Tsubasa: Those With Wings that probably isn't as meaningful to me because I haven't read it (yet - it's on order!). We can see from the art in this story how Takaya transitioned from Tsubasa to Fruits Basket's art styles as it is closer to the early chapters of Fruits Basket and more mature than several other stories here. I'm not sure if it was the translation or what, but several aspects of the story felt misogynistic, particularly some violence against women that was played for comedy. It also might just be dated, but either way, it didn't really work.

In all, probably only those who are Natsuki Takaya fans or fans of early 2000's shoujo should read this. It doesn't really hold up well enough on its own, nor is the art or writing so amazing that it can overcome its age. I'm going to give it a 5/10.

I have a hunch, given that Fruits Basket is mentioned on the cover, that it was published in the wake of the success Fruits Basket had, even though the stories are much older. I'm glad I read it, but mostly as a study in Takaya-sensei's development. Look for reviews of Tsubasa: Those With Wings and Phantom Dream, her older series, in the next few weeks.


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