Monday, March 16, 2020

Missed it Monday - Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty volume 5 (Manga Review)

A high-school girl with her eyes closed and a contented smile stretches up into the light, surrounded by roses
"Missed it Monday" is the ongoing column where I review manga/anime that I didn't get a chance to read/watch when they first came out.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty vol. 5 - 8/10 (*See full scoring rubric below)

I was already really liking Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, but volume 5 (Kodansha Comics) cemented it for me. I think this was probably the strongest volume yet in the series with extremely powerful writing alternating between heartbreak, heartwarming, cute, intense, sad, warm, you name the emotion and this volume had it. And even though it had some slightly over-dramatic setups, they all worked as part of the whole and started pulling a bunch of threads together in some very interesting ways. Needless to say, I'm super excited for the concluding volume (volume 6).


Volume 5 picks up with Tetsu and Shizu running away from her family to his grandfather's beach house/inn/restaurant. They don't really have a plan other than to ask to stay there knowing that this will at least force the issue with her family. There's an adorable couple moments and references to the fact that Tetsu's father eloped with his mother and that Tetsu is just like him. It's cutely thrown back in Tetsu's father's face by the grandfather as well.

While his grandfather is worried, he also allows her to stay. The scene that night where Tetsu and Shizu talk and hold hands is super cute. Tetsu's grandfather contacts Tetsu's father, who comes down with Tetsu's sisters. Tetsu's father also let's Shizu's mother know where they are. She ultimately comes down as well, setting up a real powerful reckoning between Shizu and her mother.

Along the way, there are lots of amazing scenes and vignettes. Haru (a spirit in Shizu's body) gives some good advice to Tetsu about sharing his feelings more plainly with Shizu and we see that happen at several points later, all of which drive Shizu and Tetsu closer together.

As part of this, Tetsu finally explains to Shizu how he overheard his father borrowing money a year ago from the grandfather to keep his mom on life-support for this past year. Tetsu shares that he wanted to earn the money to pay his grandfather back in order to keep his mom on life support longer.

As Shizu and Tetsu continue opening up more, there's a really intense, but thoughtful constructed moment, where Shizu offers to let Tetsu's mom inhabit her body if she dies, and Tetsu forcefully tells her that that's not what death is supposed to be like. It actually shows some deep understanding and acceptance on Tetsu's part that he knows that death should be final, and not some state of limbo. It also clearly shows that he doesn't want Shizu giving up her own personhood to be used by others. She doesn't quite get this and is worried that she's really upset Tetsu, but he's not mad at her at all. For him, this was part of his declaration of true love for her as a unique person who deserves to live her own life outright.

Shortly thereafter, Shizu's mom shows up to reclaim her. But Shizu and Suzu (Tetsu's youngest sister) are missing. Tetsu helps Shizu's mom look for her, and Tetsu and her mom have a heart-to-heart. Tetsu helps her mom to commit to helping, rather than hiding, Shizu.

When they find her, it's Mirei in Shizu's body, and she introduces herself to Shizu's mom and asks "what are you going to do about it?". Rather than run, or hide, or turn away, Shizu's mom embraces Mirei tightly, exclaiming with relief that she's okay. It's her mom's first true embracing of her daughter's complexity and it's a heartbraking and heartwarming scene.

I don't want to spoil it, but through Mirei's time with Shizu's mom we find out more about Mirei (who is in Shizu's body as a spirit). Boy howdy is it a powerful set of moments and revelations with "Mirei" and Shizu's mom talking and confronting each other. It also suggests some really powerful conclusions await in the final volume.

After they return, there is some great reconciliation and family togetherness on Tetsu's side as they resolve to work together as a family to decide the future of the comatose mother. It's good to see models for how families can openly talk rather than trying to do everything themselves and keeping their feelings and needs hidden.

When Shizu and her mom return home, Shizu's father is waiting. It does not go well to start. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but we get the father's back story which provides at least some insight into why he's treated his wife and daughter the way he has. Needless to say, he's had his own childhood trauma to cope with. It doesn't justify his actions, but it does explain them somewhat. The volume ends with Shizu's mother and father really talking, setting up what should be a rewarding concluding volume all around.

The artwork continues to be strong, with great emotions depicted clearly in the character's faces and expressions. The various spirits who inhabit Shizu are well represented with subtle changes to Shizu's facial and body language and presentation. Screentones are well used for shading, but there isn't the extra sparkles and stuff like that, but it does add depth to the panels. There is strong draftsmanship and the art definitely enhances the story.

So Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty volume 5 is probably my favorite volume so far in a good series. It might even elevate this close to being a "great" series (if not quite). While it has some very (over) dramatic moments, it also promises some real thoughtfulness on how they all connect, the threads that link the various characters together, and in how it will resolve in the final volume. There is proving to be some real insight into grief and loss and living, which takes this series up a notch. Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty vol. 5 gets a strong 8/10.

*SCORING RUBRIC
BASIC SCORE:
  • Story interesting (0-10): 8 - there are some revelations in this volume that are awesome and really elevate the whole series. 
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 7 - Tetsu is still a little bland and predictable, but Shizu and her various spirits are great, and although Tetsu's middle sister is underutilized in this volume, her few moments are wonderfully comedic. 
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7 - Tetsu putting Shizu in her place for suggesting that his mom can inhabit her when she dies is so well writing. There are many other well written scenes in this volume as well.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 7 - definitely some overly dramatic moments, and some pretty intense reactions to things, but the whole series has a premise that means some suspension of disbelief is necessary. Overall though, there are some incredible moments in this volume.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7/10

BONUS POINTS:
  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 3 - Between Tetsu confronting Shizu, Shizu's mom embracing and talking with "Mirei," Tetsu's family working out their issues, and even Shizu's mom and dad working through things, there are some very powerful explorations of grief and loss and love in this volume.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - not a strength of this series, particularly as Tetsu tends to drive some things forward.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 2 - Shizu speaks up and confronts Tetsu's grandfather. Shizu's mom makes a huge leap forward. Even Tetsu learns to share more of what he's thinking inside.
  • Quality art (0-5): 2 - definitely good, strong art that enhances the series.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

PENALTY POINTS:
  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -0

FINAL SCORE: 8/10


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Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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