Sweet Indulgences: Guilty Pleasures 2008
In the spirit of indulging in less than “good for you” things over the holidays, here are the answers to a question I tossed out to the group: what’s been your guilty pleasure this past year in terms of graphic novel reading? Is there a title or series that, even though you know it’s not really great, you love anyway? Or you realize you keep reading the latest volume first, even if that highly recommended quality title was at the top of your “to read” pile? I asked everyone to consider kids or teen appeal titles, and limit their selections to three.
Guilty pleasures…I’d have to say…Initial D is at the top of that list. Most people take one look at the art and run away screaming. I have to admit, it’s blocky, it’s emotionless, and it’s kinda boring. However, the pure adrenaline rush that is the plot more than makes up for it. The action scenes (i.e. car races) are thrilling.
Another one of my guilty pleasures this year has been Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross. I swear, I am the only person on the entire Internet who derives pleasure from this series that isn’t purely sarcastic. I really do think the characters’ plights are highly readable, and I actually look forward to the next volumes.
Since I’ve been limited to three, I have to pick Prince of Tennis. The art is great, the tennis scenes are fabulous, but for some reason, the characters and plot just aren’t as endearing to others as they are to me. I really enjoy the Seishun tennis team’s fight for victory.
(Guiltiest pleasure of all: I’m a huge manga fan.)
Oh, good question, Robin! I have several!
There are two series that remain my favorites, ones that I snatch up as soon as they are released and read immediately. I’ve re-read the earlier volumes of both series multiple times, loving them again and again and again. The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa is about a group of hot guys who must try to reform a sloppy, horror-movie-loving, people-avoiding girl into a lady. It could be insulting, but the fact that the boys quickly realize that their charge has a lot of great qualities and the fact they they love her for those qualities, despite all of her other issues, makes me so happy. Chocolat by Ji-Sang Shin and Geo is a Korean title about a girl who accidentally befriends the members of a pop band, though not the pop band she’s a raging fangirl for. I love how it explores issues of fame, growing up, and the effect that past traumas can have on a young person’s emotions. Plus, it’s really funny and very romantic.
Lately I’ve also been obsessed with V.B. Rose by Banri Hidaka. I love this beautifully fluffy series about a girl who loves to craft who gets a part-time job at a custom order wedding gown salon which is conveniently staffed by two GORGEOUS men. So sweet, so romantic, sigh!
Guilty pleasures….that’s most of my collection I think. But I have to say, my newest guitly pleasure is Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom. There isn’t an original idea in the entire book, not characters or plot, but the way they were put together…I just really enjoyed reading it! It’s about Nora, who is really Cerebus, the legendary Hellhound, being put under the control of an over achieving, bored high school student.
Hell Girl is my second. I know people like to rip on the series for the seemingly petty grudges the girls get, or the extremity of the punishment, but having been bullied throughout 8th grade and most of High School, I can’t say I don’t get some bit of pleasure at seeing tormentors getting their just desserts.
Only three, huh…then I have to say my third is Naruto. I don’t know what it is, but just absolutely love reading this title. I was so sucked in during the last Naruto Nation, that I read 11 volumes over a seven day period. I just couldn’t put them down! I’d finish one and then just tell myself I’d just see how the next one started, and then I was sucked in again! Best kind of manga IMO.
For me, InuYasha remains a guilty pleasure. A big part of the appeal is Rumiko Takahashi’s skill as a storyteller: no one mixes teenage angst, slapstick, horror, and religious hokum quite the way she does, and the results are often shockingly fun. She also creates great characters, from the feisty Shippo to the lecherous Miroku, who surely has one of the most grotesque afflictions ever suffered by a manga character. (Think about it: he’s a human vacuum cleaner, for Pete’s sake. Yuck and double yuck!) Now that Viz has begun releasing material not covered in the anime, I’m even more eager to pick up the latest volumes.
My other secret shame: Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs. I’ll be the first to admit that Inubaka isn’t good in any objective sense of the word. The plotlines are ridiculous. The female lead is kind but dumb as toast. And the other human characters are one-dimensional at best. But if you’re an animal sap like me-and I’m a big one-it’s hard to say no to stories that revolve around cute puppies and faithful hounds, especially when they tug so shamelessly at the heartstrings. No doubt Inubaka would be Cesar Milan’s favorite manga… if he read, manga, that is.
I’ve been thinking about this a long time, because I didn’t really feel like I had a ‘guilty pleasure.’ Until a student returned one of the Babysitter’s Club titles today. I realized that was my guilty pleasure.
Mostly, because they stayed so true to the original books and that just reminded me how much I loved reading series in those days. Remembering that time of my life is what helps me as a librarian today.
A month or so ago, I took one of those online quizzes. (You know the kind I mean.) This quiz determines if you are a nerd, a geek, or a dork. According to my results, I’m so geeky that I’m both the Mayor of Geekville and conductor of the Geekville Trolly. Kaze Hikaru allows me to geek out to such a degree that even I am somewhat taken aback.
Taking place during the final years of the Edo period, a girl witnesses the killing of her father and brother at the hands of Choshu fighters. So she disguises herself as a boy and joins the Shinsengumi in the hopes that, through them, she will have the chance to avenge the deaths of her family. Because the series is based on history that most Japanese school children learn as they grow up, there isn’t a lot of background information in the books to help us non-Japanese readers along. But I’ve got to tell you, I have had more fun researching this time period in order to understand what’s going on in this series than I ever did when I was studying history in school. I’ve read Hillsborough’s Shinsengumi: The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps cover to cover, then photocopied the index for easy access to quick facts. I’ve scoured the internet for photos and images of all the major players on both sides of the conflict, watched the Peacemaker anime, read all of Rurouni Kenshin, seen episodes of various j-dorama period pieces, and debate with myself over being fascinated by or repulsed by the Shinsengumi regulations. Wallowing in the tragic romance of Kaze Hikaru and the doomed Shinsengumi is a complete and utter guilty pleasure, especially when you consider how many other things I’m supposed to be doing.
I am unashamedly in love with Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify! It had me immediately once we joined our stoic hero, Shota, atop Mt. Fuji, attempting his patented repair blow over and over again. I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going, but I adored the comic timing evident in every panel, and the fact that despite an incredibly goofy premise, at the center are the ideals of compassion, sympathy, and heroism. And really, it has karate to fix machines, a girl raised and trained to fight by pigeons, and an art style that manages to be hilarious caricature and lovely line work at the same time.
I also have two very guilty pleasures in the vaguely creepy, skating the edge of propriety sort of way: Demon Flowers: Kuruizaki no Hana by Mizuki Hakase and Vassalord by Nanae Chrono. They are both, let’s be clear, built for the older teen girls and ladies who love angst, style, a bit of gore, and a substantial dollop of homoeroticism. I do always feel vaguely ashamed admitting that I love either one of these titles too much, as I know they put off a lot of readers. Demon Flowers mixes demon assassins, human-demon hybrids, and intense and bloody battles. On top of that, the central trio’s provocative amorality and precocious sexuality leave the title teetering on the edge of creepy. Even so, the main characters’ most defining feeling is the desperation, against all odds, to remain a loyal family. I find that no matter how I occasionally think it goes too far, in the end the romance (in many senses of the word) and Hakase’s extraordinary style keep me coming back for more.
Vassalord is in some ways very similar to Demon Flowers, except this time the supernatural plot features vampires, cyborg-priest vampires (in the way only manga seems to get away with), and a sketchy mission to maintain some sort of order as a Vatican assassin. In so many ways, the plot barely matters (nor is it terribly cohesive.) There’s a vampire playboy named Johnny Rayflo (Rayflo, for pity’s sake!), and a bickering, innuendo driven relationship with his minion/cohort Charley. There’s a good amount of sexy neck biting and some violence, but nothing too out of hand, and the sexiness comes more from the eye-candy side of things rather than anything actually explicit. I’m intrigued that this is by the same guy who created Peacemaker — I can see elements of that series in the fight sequences, the flashes of silly humor, and the fluid, lovely art. I also felt a tiny bit vindicated by the fact that two of my teen girls came running up to me with the first volume squeeing about how much they loved it, so at least I’m not alone.
I think it’s important to highlight the books that we unabashedly love, even if they’re fluffy, goofy, cliche, or just not great to other readers. Believe me, I have a number of titles I really enjoy that other people think are, well, not so good, but it doesn’t make me love them any less, and it’s what makes comparing reading so much fun.
The Babysitter’s Club by Ann M. Martin, adapted by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic)
Chocolat by Ji-Sang Shin and Geo (Yen Press)
Demon Flowers: Haruizaki no Hana by Mizuki Hakase (Tokyopop)
Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross by Arina Tanemura (Viz)
Hell Girl by Miyuki Eto (Del Rey Manga)
Hikkatsu! Strike a Blow to Vivify! by Yu Yagami (Go Comi)
Initial D by Shuichi Shigeno (Tokyopop)
Inubaka: Crazy for Dogs by Yukiya Sakuragi (Viz)
Inuyasha by Rumiko Takahashi (Viz)
Kaze Hikaru by Taeko Watanabe (Viz)
Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto (Viz)
Nora: The Last Chronicle of Devildom by Kazunari Kakei (Viz)
Prince of Tennis by Takeshi Konomi (Viz)
V. B. Rose by Banri Hidaka (Tokyopop)
Vassalord by Nanae Chrono (Tokyopop)
The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa (Del Rey Manga)
About Robin Brenner
Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.
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