Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sand Chronicles vol. 1-4

Having only tried a total of three shojo manga(including this one), I am obviously still new to the demographic. This manga demographic has such a wide range of genres and sub-genres, there is so much to discover. So when the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast was announced, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make a new manga discovery. Going through my long library list, I had quite a few Shojo Beat series to choose from, but I eventually decided on 'Sand Chronicles', by Hinako Ashihara. Unfortunately, rather than finding a new and exciting series to add to my favorites list, I found a conventional and forgettable romance that didn't do much for me beyond providing a few laughs.

In 'Sand Chronicles', we follow the life of a young girl named Ann Uekusa who is uprooted from her life in Tokyo when her parents get a divorce. After moving to the countryside town of Shimane with her mother, Ann is at first very put off at how different life is in the country compared to the big city of Tokyo. Then one day when her mother becomes too exhausted to work, Ann herself decides to get a job to pull her weight. In this new job working at a distinguished family's mansion, Ann makes friends with local boy, Daigo, and the the children that live in the mansion, Fuji and Shika. But just when things were starting to work out, Ann experiences a great tragedy that tests who she is as a person, and also shows her how important her new group of friends is and will be. 'Sand Chronicles' is a look into the seasons of Ann and her friends' youth, their romantic trials, and the everyday troubles and triumphs of teenage life.

As I said, the story to 'Sand Chronicles' is pretty conventional, but a story doesn't need to be revolutionary for the manga to be good. A good cast of characters can carry a manga a long way. But even in that category, 'Sand Chronicles' kind of fell flat. The most interesting of the four, main characters are the siblings, Shika and Fuji Tsukishima. And what's interesting about them has more to do with their soap opera-esque family life than their actual personalities and actions. Though I guess I did feel mildly sympathetic toward Fuji and I at least prefer him to Daigo, who is a pretty boring, everyman type character. If I met these characters in real life, Daigo would be the most likeable because he is the most normal, drama-free of the group. As a character in a manga that I want to entertain me though, he doesn't bring much to the table, aside from maybe a drama diffuser for Ann(which at the point I left off in the story, he was failing at). Ann herself has the most focus being the primary main character. I do admire her strength for overcoming a great, personal loss, but after that, she hasn't really done anything to distinguish herself as the heroine of this story.  Not only do none of the characters stand out, but their interactions are also sub-par. Even with a cast of cardboard cutouts, I still could have been kept interested if they at least talked about some compelling things. I guess I just can't relate to teens and their petty, romantic problems. At the beginning of volume 5, Daigo was talking about his problems with Ann, and I had to keep reading the same page several times because the info was just not sticking. His dialogue in my brain just kept registering as "blah, blah, blah, generic teen drama, blah, blah, blah". It's at that point that I just quit reading.

This review was supposed to be for volumes 1 through 10. The complete series. But to be perfectly honest, I couldn't even get through twenty pages of volume 5. It just wasn't clicking with me, so rather than force it, I decided to put it down. Though I've only read a few shojo manga, this story felt so conventional and familiar. The story really wouldn't be out of place among the many rom-com/dramedy movies I have seen. Yeah, there is still six volumes worth of content that I didn't read that could prove me wrong, but what I read wasn't compelling enough to urge me on. I can kind of guess how the rest of the series plays out anyway. Maybe it will go something like this: Daigo and Ann eventually break up. Ann and Fuji become a couple and Daigo and Shika become a couple. They each get a few volumes to show their romantic ups and downs, and then at the end, they will decide if they will stay together or if Ann and Daigo will get back together. Even if that is not the case, it is not who is coupled together that would make me interested. It is what happens in between that would make me interested, and in this case, was not interesting. 

My mediocre experience with this series also has me wondering if I can even provide a fair review. As I understand things, the shojo manga demographic is targeted at teenage girls. That's not to say others can't enjoy shojo series, but as a man in my mid twenties, I am pretty far from the intended audience, and I have to wonder if my opinion even matters. For what it's worth(or not worth), I don't recommend 'Sand Chronicles'. I don't think you will find anything in the story that you haven't seen many times before in any, generic rom-com/dramedy film, and nearly halfway through the series, the characters weren't unique or likeable enough to make me care what happens to them or keep me engaged.