Japanese commercials

If this doesn’t explain why commercials for products in Japan are so amazing, I don’t know what else does!

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S.P.Y makes swimming sexy

I’ve been vegging out on shoujo manga a lot lately for a few reasons…

1) No more work – I finished my last day at McKinney Today last Thursday so I’ve had some time to catch up on my reading. Only one week until I’m back in Columbia working, so I’m trying to get my fix before senior year hits full force.

2) Asian Film Festival of Dallas – Instead of reviewing graphic novels this week for MangaLife.com, I was given assignments to review films for AFFD, which started last Thursday. I think reviewing films is a lot more intense than manga because I have less experience and I’m no “movie junkie” by any means. Either way, it’s exciting to get more experience with review writing.

3) The End of OM – Onemanga.com announced last Thursday that they would be shutting down their scanlation powerhouse site at the end of this week. While I understand the publishers have their rights, I will be sad to see OM go–I’ve read so many great titles and experienced new genres thanks to them. I hope the publishers will start similar sites up with subscription fees–I would rather pay $10 a month than $10 a book.

So in my quest to read as much as possible, I discovered S.P.Y, a beautifully drawn manga by Ayane Ukyou (author of Desire Climax, another great read). The story follows 16-year-old Nagi in her quest to reunite with her Olympic swimming gold medalist mother, who abandoned her and her father when she was born. After moving to Tokyo when her father finds a job in a high school dormitory, Nagi watches a handsome boy swim and begs him to coach her.

Aoi hesitantly agrees to help her after their high school swim club, dominated by boys, refuses to let Nagi join unless she can swim 25 meters after three days of lessons. Her sweet persistence and determination inspires those around her, even the cold Yuji, a rising model and swimmer with a secretive past.

Nagi, Aoi, and Yui are all likable and passionate characters, and their love triangle will have you yelling at the pages and sighing with happiness at the same time. The romance isn’t overly cheesy, and I must admit, there’s just something tantalizing about attraction in the water. Just look at the cover for volume 2 on the left side of this page–hormones are racing like crazy in this shoujo, but what amazes me is that there is no sex (or even close encounters) in the entire series (which is only 13 chapters). This is a stark contrast to Ukyou’s Desire Climax, which I’ll leave the title to speak for itself.

But the amazing thing about this shoujo is that it doesn’t need the characters to have sex or do super lovey dovey things that are characteristic of this type of genre. The manga is powerful in its own storytelling ability–even a soft hug or caress between Aoi and Nagi will have your heart pounding. The love is innocent, but not totally naive.

Even further: for once, there’s a shoujo with a heroine that isn’t obsessed with love or finding a boyfriend! I admire Nagi’s focus and longing for the motherly love she never had. The story revisits this theme numerous times through Nagi’s own maternal instinct toward Yuji and the swim team and her mother’s cold behavior in their first encounter. Despite Nagi’s abandonment issues, she presents herself as a character set on keeping promises and reaching her goals, no matter the hell she has to endure to get there.

I would classify S.P.Y as more of a josei (manga targeted toward older woman, see my post on this genre) than a shoujo because of its mature approach to family issues, relationships and real world life. Even though the characters are all high school students, its refreshing to read a title that takes a serious look at issues outside of high school crushes and also promotes self-sufficiency and achieving your dreams. As a short read, S.P.Y will make you take a step back from your own world and wonder if you’re on the right track to success, as well as how to channel Nagi’s positive energy into day to day life.

Liz’s Rating: ★★★★