Review: Cactus’s Secret (Saboten no Himitsu)

I had a lot of time over spring break to catch up on my shojo manga reading and one of my favorites was Saboten no Himitsu, or Cactus’s Secret by Haruta Nana (who made her debut as a mangaka at age 15, incredible!). The storyline isn’t anything too complicated, but provides a short and sweet read when you’re craving shojo.

Cactus’s Secret follows the quest of a bright high school student, Yamada Miku, to get her longtime crush, Fujioka Kyohei, to notice and fall in love with her. However, Fujioka’s dense and unintentionally insensitive comments often drive Yamada crazy, and she ends up punching him. If things couldn’t get any worse for Yamada, her violent rage prompts Fujioka to nickname her “Cactus Alien.”

A scene from Cactus's Secret where Yamada is first called a cactus alien.

These scenes are often repeated throughout the shojo as Yamada struggles with her love for Fujioka and her hate for his fatheadedness. Yamada’s temper is probably the reason I love this manga so much–she reminds me exactly of the way I would act!

The manga doesn’t go out of the box in the “school life and love” genre, but Yamada and Fujioka’s personalities make it an interesting read. There are only 17 chapters, which can all be found on onemanga.com or in your local bookstore.

Liz’s rating: ★★★

Josei–The Gentlewoman’s Manga

I’ve been writing and reviewing a lot about shojo manga, so I thought I would tango with a new topic: Josei manga. The term means “female” in Japanese, hinting the target audience is for the older crowd (college students, mature women, etc.) and usually focuses on the life of an adult woman with less idealized romance. Sounds like a party-pooper already, right? But Josei doesn’t always lose it’s romantic touch–in fact, it can be more heart racing, more provocative.

Take Nana for instance, one of my favorite mangas. One of the main characters, Nana “Hachiko,” still acts like a love-crazy high schooler, which gets her in a quite a few dangerous situations. The storyline is more complex–drugs, sex, and violence, to name a few–and greatly appeals to college women encountering the same situations in their lives. Just as the peer pressures of college change the characters of young 20-somethings, the women of Josei experience inner turmoil and regret as they love and lose.

Other notable Josei mangas on the market are Honey and Clover (not one of my favorites, but is widely popular), Paradise Kiss, Make Love and Peace and Loveless.

Josei is an acquired taste, but you’ll appreciate its honesty and real life storylines. You can only take so much idealized shojo to make you want to give up on men forever.

Shojo Beat: The end of a dream

I’ll never forget the day I found out Shojo Beat, one of the only shojo manga magazine for Americans, folded for good. I was eagerly waiting for the August issue to deliver the latest chapters on Sand Chronicles and Vampire Night. July 11 came around and sitting on my doorstep was the plastic wrapped magazine I was dying to read. However, this time, a note was attached to the plastic wrap. It contained the magazine’s farewells and offer to continue my subscription to Shonen Jump (a “boy” manga magazine) instead. In disbelief, I tore open the plastic wrap and screamed in horror when a copy of Shonen Jump lay in my lamp. Naruto stared–no glared–back at me, his smirk taunting my heartbreak.

Why Shojo Beat? Is this the end of an era?

For a while, I held on to this pessimistic view. Shojo Beat was the only shojo magazine catered to Americans who loved romance comics just as much as the next Japanese girl. Why couldn’t VIZ Media do anything to save it? Were they really that lacking in sales? I find this hard to believe–just look at the dozens of facebook groups protesting the magazine’s end.

Some people suggest I turn to onemanga.com, that it was all the same, and I could read even more than what the magazine offered. But what they don’t understand is that Shojo Beat isn’t just a comic book–it’s a guide to Japanese culture, food, fashion, and literature. It showed us American girls how we could make Lolita our own, and where we could find the gear here in the states. It offered Do It Yourself guides for cute Christmas gift wrap and lanterns. It even gave authentic Japanese recipes.

You can’t find that on any manga site, mind you, especially a guide as honest as SB.

So, where are the female comics fans supposed to go now, and how much of a slap in the face is this (however unwitting on VIZ’s part) in reflecting the state of the industry at large? Given the recent demise of Minx, it feels like publishers are not giving girls and women the chance to prove their fandom, or perhaps they’re attempting to fit them into fandom boxes that aren’t accurate or profitable. Does it show that girls prefer buying bound manga to reading it in magazine form? Perhaps. Does it show that there aren’t enough girls reading manga? Doubtful. Also, how much will this move, like the demise of Minx, cause commentators and industry folks alike to chime in with, “well, this proves there’s no real teen girl audience for comics, anyway”? (http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/540000654/post/1810044981.html)

Will we ever see this magazine again? The only way to predict this is to see what Cartoon Network and the WB can bring in next. Animes like Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo, and Cardcaptor Sakura introduced young Americans to quality Shojo. If TV is the only way we can get to these kids, it must be done. And fast. I don’t know how much longer I can go on with Cosmo and Vogue.

Shoujo>Reality TV: My ultimate addiction

As a reviewer for MangaLife.com, most of the titles I receive to review are the complete opposite of what I normally read–shonen, seinen, supernatural, action, etc. I’ve discovered how remarkable manga really is–whether you’re craving a cry-your-eyes-out read or violent thriller, it’s hard to find a genre not covered by mangkas and artists all over the world.

My new favorite couple, Teru and Kurosaki from Dengeki Daisy (Fanpop.com).

Even still, I can’t fight my love for shoujo manga–while many women my age are watching Gossip Girl, The Hills and other dramatic reality TV shows to get their romance fix, I can’t turn away from my manga obsession. The “reality” of reality TV, while it may be 3D and feature “real” people, doesn’t interest me the way a great shoujo title does.

For example, I am still managing to read a few different shoujo chapters from my favorite titles between work–Kaichou wa Maid-Sama!, Black Bird, Kimi ni Todoke, Kyou Koi wa Hajimemasu and, most recently, Dengeki Daisy. I am OBSESSED with Dengeki Daisy and wish there were more hours in the day so I could get further along in the story. Like Kaichou wa Maid-Sama, the main couple is absolutely divine–both living lives of angst and humor, wishing to be together, but holding back due to multiple tragedies of the past.

I would melt into Kurosaki's embrace too...

I laugh just as often as I tear up when reading Dengeki Daisy–Teru is such a naive, carefree spirit who embraces her lack of sex appeal and cherishes the mysterious Daisy, a man who watches over her from the distance and only communicates through text message. As creepy as it sounds, their relationship is very pure and protective, like brother and sister. Unbeknown to Teru, her beloved Daisy is really Kurosaki, her high school’s attractive, 20-something janitor who tortures her into being his slave.

What I love most about their relationship is that we get to see Kurosaki’s side and internal struggle just as much as we see Teru’s. In most shoujos, the heroine is the sole focus of attention and her concerns and fears are always much greater than her counterpart. But in this case, we see that Kurosaki’s intense love has lasted much longer than the first page of volume one, and that his sins of the past prevent him from confessing to Teru.

It just feels so very real. When my heart skips a beat, when I hold my breath, when I can’t wait to turn the page… To me, this is realty–a pure love story entwining life’s lessons, struggles and motions. It may seem silly, it may be juvenile to take a shoujo so seriously… So say I’m a dreamer. I’d rather wrap myself in pages of beautiful art and dialogue than stare hopelessly at the oversexed characters on reality TV. Is it really a hard decision?