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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Manga Review: Strobe Edge GN 2 & 3

Strobe Edge volume 2 & 3
Author: Io Sakisaka
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
200 pages (v.2) & 192 pages (v.3)
What is love, anyway? Ninako Kinoshita’s friends tell her it’s one thing, but Ninako wonders what this mysterious feeling really is. When she meets Ren Ichinose, the handsome, enigmatic guy that all the girls worship, her life takes an unexpected turn. With just a few words and a smile, he changes her world... Once Ninako realizes that she’s fallen for Ren, she confesses her feelings to him even though she knows he has a girlfriend! Meanwhile, a new semester brings an outgoing guy called Ando into Ninako’s life—is Ando just an outrageous flirt or will he turn out to be Ninako’s savior? (Source: Goodreads)
Strobe Edge is determined to not be a typical shojo comic. How? Ninako confesses her feelings to the object of her affection at the end of the first bloody volume. There's no ifs, ands, or buts about it, and the series doesn't shy away from the fallout from Ninako and Ren's relationship shifting moment. If anything, Strobe Edge is like a more mature, smarter version of Peach Girl, except people are more honest about their feelings and Ninako's female friend isn't a terrible person. Where Peach Girl fell apart, Strobe Edge succeeds.
And, as an added bonus, each volume of Strobe Edge doesn't end with me wanting to throw said volume against a wall in frustration because the characters are acting so stupidly and refuse to talk to each other. Awesome!

First of all, full on happy clap for Ninako for telling Ren how she feels, even if she knows he already has a girlfriend. Why? Because Ninako is not ashamed of her feelings and she knows pretending they don't exist doesn't help her. Still, it hurts to see Ren have to reject her. At least they stay friends, which is must better than full-out rejection.
So with Ninako spurned by Ren, who is spoken for, and her friends Daiki and Sayuri might be getting together, Ninako is clearly lacking in a viable love interest. Enter Ando, the Kairi to Ninako's Momo to further the Peach Girl parallels (although Ren has a way warmer personality than Toji). He's a goofball and player who will put any and all girl's number into his mobile without question. And I adore him quite a bit.
Having said that, I wonder if Ando will end up with Ninako. They have interesting chemistry, and Ando clearly understands whenever Ninako needs help and can't help herself. Plus, he can plainly see that Ninako's feelings for Ren may be making their friendship more painful than it has to be. Plus, FOREHEAD KISSES. Those are like the markings of destined lovers, right?
Yet I still adore Ninako and Ren together. It's obvious that Ren has feelings for Ninako but he doesn't yet realize the full extent of said feelings. It becomes plain as the nose on his face every time Ninako and Ren come together with Ren's girlfriend (Daiki's sister, Mayuka); Ren becomes different in front of his own girlfriend, but seems much more natural in front of Ninako.
Oh, Mayuka. It hurts for me to say I ship Ninako/Ren as endgame because, damn it, I like Mayuka! She is not a bad person! It just sucks that Ren is clearly being disingenuous in front of her and being real to Ninako. Mayuka definitely deserves better. Does Ren care and love Mayuka? Yes - but not in the same way he cares and loves Ninako, and he needs to realize that very quickly before he hurts both of them in the process.
Also, can we talk about Daiki and Sayuri for a second? Because of all the surprisingly sweet and practical couples I've seen pop up in shojo manga over the years, they have managed to nearly top the list. I didn't think Daiki was a right fit for Ninako, so seeing him find screwball romantic happiness with Sayuri makes me happy for them both.
The art in Strobe Edge is just lovely, all light and pretty shojo style art which knows when to get heavy when the drama is laid on. Plus, the character designs are pretty great. I can tell all the female characters apart when in school uniform, which for some reason can be difficult in some series. Plus, the boys have such pretty hair. Ahem.
I have read a lot of shojo manga in my time. I mean, a lot. And Strobe Edge is really doing its best to kick all my expectations of it to the curb, setting it aside such series as High School Debut and Kare Kano and Ouran as a very strong, character-driven series with a heroine that has a distinct personality and is worth cheering for. I see now why the manga world has been talking about Strobe Edge for so long; it is one of the more entertaining titles currently being released by Shojo Beat.

Side note: Io Sakisaka is a rather prolific shojo manga-ka in Japan, but only Strobe Edge has been licensed for English (or so it seems). Perhaps the success of Strobe Edge will lead Viz to release more of her works? I'd love to read Blue Spring Ride, Mascara Blues, and Gate of Planet.