Context and Consequence of a Stolen Kiss

It’s been a while since I’ve had more than two shoujo anime to watch in the new season. So maybe three is only one more than a couple, but it thrilled my little heart to see the previews — and now, episodes — for these series.

The stolen kiss — or more commonly, the stolen first kiss — is a shoujo trope as old as the sun. For the typical adolescent female, the first kiss is a momentous occasion; it marks her entry into the world of adult romantic relationships. Socialization has taught her that her first kiss will set a pattern for all future relationships, so it’s important that she chooses the right one for the first one. The stolen kiss is a popular yet intriguing trope since it removes the burden of choice from the female. Instead of the girl picking whom she’ll kiss, the other person makes the decision for her, hence the “stolen” descriptor.

For the three shoujo anime starting this season, all of them unsurprisingly show a scene where a character has a kiss stolen from her (or him). What are the implications of this stolen kiss to the plot? Were the characters primed for the scene or was it really a surprise? How could this stolen kiss affect the characters and the narrative later on?

Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita) is the one that I’m most familiar with, having read a good chunk of the volumes that Viz has already released in English. The anime pretty much follows the manga plot to the letter, from Nanami’s first meeting with Mikage to her trip to the spirit world to get Tomoe back as her shinshi. I don’t remember which other anime blogger mentioned the rushed pacing, which didn’t bother me at all — I really would much rather get to the rest of Nanami’s crew as soon as possible since the Tomoe vs Nanami’s snark/love fest could get tiring really quickly.

I found it almost impossible to watch this series without thinking of its (Daichi) spiritual sibling, Fruits Basket. Same setup: girl without a home, stumbles on a new possible place to live, discovers her attractive new housemates are supernatural creatures. Nanami, though, isn’t a namby-pamby housemaid. She may not know exactly what’s going on, and what exactly are the implications of her being the new earth deity, but she isn’t going to take Tomoe’s abuse lying down. She’s going to take that bull, err, fox by the horns…

Nanami stealing a kiss from Tomoe is proof of her own personal agency. Onikiri and Kotetsu told her the kiss was the only way for the earth deity to establish the contract with the shinshi. Nanami had to make her decision quickly, even with the knowledge that being with the rude and oafish Tomoe may be one of the worst decisions of her life. On Tomoe’s part, I find it interesting that such an intimate human gesture would be the act that binds him in servitude. You’d think that a shinshi who’s obtained his freedom, albeit by neglect, would be more careful where his lips are pressed against.

My Little Monster (Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) is the one that’s raised eyebrows and ire throughout the (English-speaking) anime internet when it premiered last week. Haru needs to hire a quick-talking publicist to repair his image, stat!

Where Tomoe found himself being pulled to Nanami for a quick pucker, in My Little Monster, it was Shizuku who found herself on the receiving end of Haru’s luscious lips. From what happened in the first episode, I’m surprised that Shizuku was surprised that Haru would do something so audacious. How was it different from everything else that he’s done? Was his abrupt confession of love, despite their short acquaintance, not as shocking? Haru stealing her first kiss was perfectly in line and consistent with his personality and behavior.

Haru and Shizuku seem to me to be two sides of the same coin; where Haru projects his emotions externally and physically, Shizuku claims not to have feelings and instead hides under her mask of stoicism. They’re both socially awkward and are isolated from the bigger group. Haru recognizes these traits in her and maybe that’s why he was drawn to her from the get-go. Shizuku possibly felt the same connection, but her pride in being “Dry Ice” told her to hold back, since she might end up being hurt by him sometime down the line. After the kiss and Haru’s abrupt statement that he didn’t feel any excitement, would Shizuku’s opinion change? Is Haru worth the emotional investment?

The kiss scene in Say I Love You (Sukitte Iinayo) is the one which I felt was the most emotionally fraught. Mei Tachibana, like Shizuku in My Little Monster, has chosen to isolate herself from her peers, going years without saying a word to any of her classmates. She catches the eye of Yamato Kurosawa, the cute popular guy, who possibly has jboy-band aspirations with that snazzy hairstyle.

The initial chemistry between Mei and Yamato is really adorable. As Mr. Popular, he’s used to girls fawning on his every move, and since she’s not acting that way, he’s intrigued. He seems to think that she’s a challenge — not necessarily as a sexual conquest, but with more of an intention of finding out what makes her tick. Mei, with her limited experience with boyfriends, is at least cognizant  that Yamato is interested but doesn’t know enough of the social conventions of courtship. It was so cute when she thought that he wanted to exchange cell phones with her, not getting that it was shorthand for exchanging phone numbers. I have a feeling that Mei may not be ready for a relationship right this very second, but with Yamato, she appears ready to the idea of having a relationship.

When she calls Yamato to meet her at the convenience store, a kiss was probably the furthest thing from both their minds. I’d like to give Yamato the benefit of the doubt — that he came in there wanting to genuinely help her and calm her fear from the guy stalking her — I don’t think he went in there with a calculated ploy to steal her first kiss and her heart. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  For Mei, who’s just re-learning to navigate the headwaters of social relationships, having this unexpected first kiss is like having a tsunami hit her in the face.

For all these three couples, the stolen kiss is a gamechanger. The dynamics of their relationship will inevitably change because of this event, and it’s up to the couple on how much drama they’ll have to pass before ending up in romance happyland.

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Magical Boy Sherlock Holmes

This isn’t the Sherlock manga that you’re looking for. This version, with the story and art by Toya ATAKA, originally entitled Sherlock Holmes wa Kage ni Sasayaku (Sherlock Holmes Whispers to the Shadow), is currently available through JManga. The other one, which is based on the BBC drama, is not available in English, as of this writing. (And honestly, please don’t ask me where to get raws/scanlations for that, ’cause REALLY?!?)

This version follows Holmes and Watson on a case to figure out what exactly happened to a promising young opera singer whose teeth inexplicably fell out during a performance and died. The investigation is further complicated with the interest of the Minister of Finance on the singer’s death. What exactly is his involvement in this situation?

I have mixed feelings about this short one-shot. As an addition to the Sherlock mythology, I think it misses the point. Sherlock as shota just doesn’t work for me. He seems too emotional and too easy to rile up — not at all what you’d expect from London’s smartest mind. He bristles when Watson calls him “kid,” and speaking of which, I don’t think it’s appropriate for Watson to carry Holmes like a princess when Holmes destroys his car. I think it’s the same cognitive dissonance each time I would watch an Edward Elric throw a hissy fit over being called short; he’s supposed to be a genius alchemist but he goes around stomping his feet over a tired joke. If you look like a kid and act like a kid, then guess what? You shouldn’t get upset when people treat you like one.

Beyond the character’s appearance, I think Sherlock’s ability as a “shadow user,” in this manga, in which he uses the shadows to extend his senses through space and time, takes away from the keen observation skills that this character is well known for. Sherlock doesn’t need to see behind doors, he already sees and knows more than the average investigator. He combines the observation with flawless deduction to solve the cases. That’s the only magic that he needs.

Does this story work well as a manga though? Sure. The two characters have a sexy, if typical, relationship going on. I mean, Watson has a checkered eyepatch! How could you not think that’s sexy? And he’s all tall seme to Holmes’ babyface. It’s easy fujoshi bait, because you know, the story of Sherlock Holmes is so immune from that sort of thing. The art is actually very pretty and the action scenes are well-done. The author manages to combine the creepy and heart-pounding elements in the panels and the artwork. The final reveal on what really happened to the opera singer’s teeth was very creepy cool.

I’m truthfully not a hardcore Sherlock fan, even though I have watched the BBC series as well as the CBS version, Elementary (which I adore! You can’t change my mind about it!). Maybe if you’re a purist, this manga would be too watered down Sherlock for you, but if you’re like me and you don’t mind looking into other interpretations of this classic character, then give this a try.

You can preview the chapter before purchasing it, even though I think we should all support JManga so that they’d continue to have more interesting titles available digitally.

Tsuritama and the Lonely Island

I should’ve posted last week this before all of the new autumn anime started premiering. Never have I felt more out of sync than right now, writing about a series that finished so many months ago when every other anime blog is posting about the here and now!

Tsuritama‘s premise is actually pretty simple: alien recruits local boy to retrieve a fellow alien who’s been wrecking global havoc. That’s it; once that goal was completed, the aliens leave.

But retrieval is a multi-step process. The alien, Haru, believes that the only way to retrieve his alien compatriot is to fish him out of the ocean. Haru can’t fish on his own, so he befriends Yuki to get it done. Yuki doesn’t know how to fish either, so he has to get lessons from Natsuki, the local teen fishing prodigy, on the basics of the hobby. All this time, Akira, an agent of Duck — an alien investigation agency — is keeping tabs on Haru’s activities on earth and figuring out what brought him here in the first place.

Tsuritama comes out dressed as a light-hearted sci-fi which fails to hide its real nature as a sappy coming-of-age. Haru’s original goal may have been to find and get back the other alien, but once he got to know Yuki and Natsuki and the rest of the small community in Enoshima, fishing became the excuse for adolescent bonding. It became the fait accompli for Haru to keep stalling, because once he accomplished his goal, it would be time for him to leave. He didn’t need to pick Yuki; Natsuki could’ve done it just as well. Haru’s reasoning for even picking Yuki was just as arbitrary, he picked Yuki because of his red hair, which he liked.

I got a kick out of watching another anime set in Enoshima. Even more than Tari Tari, Enoshima is just as much of a character in Tsuritama as the four boys. The mythology, the culture, and the depictions of the people were all necessary to make this story work. I thought it was sheer brilliance to use Enoshima dance to show when people were under JFX’s mind control. You know that I hate using the term “slice of life,” but it’s a mostly appropriate way to describe how the creators of Tsuritama were able to present the local color of this (mostly unfamiliar) setting. It presents the local culture earnestly and straightforwardly; nobody flinches or grimaces with all the variations of whitebait cuisine, from rice bowls to ice cream.

My impetus to check out this show over any other anime that I could’ve checked out last week was because of an AMV. When I mentioned my interest in the show was piqued by the AMV, even if it had nothing to do with the actual plot of the show, people commented that the video was actually an accurate representation. After seeing the entire series for myself, I disagree, but hey, it got me to watch and finish the show in two days — which is  a record for me, I think.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I don’t think this series would’ve worked in a setting another than Enoshima. The four heroes — Haru, Yuki, Akira, and Natsuki — converged on that place at the exact time when they needed to be there. Prior to their meeting, they really were all four lonely boys, broken in some way but didn’t know or want to show it. If it wasn’t for Enoshima’s magic, they wouldn’t have met each other, they wouldn’t have gone fishing, and they wouldn’t have saved the world.

A Toast to Drops of God: The New World

Last we saw the two rivals, they had just found the Second of the Twelve Apostles, that is, the twelve wines that wine critic Yutaka Kanzaki had left for them to figure out in his will. This volume moves ahead to Shizuku and Issei’s search for the Seventh Apostle, a wine that they both believe would be located in the New World, that is, in a country outside the traditional wine-producing areas of Europe.

Warning: unmarked spoilers after this point.

I admit, it was a little tricky in the beginning to figure out what has happened in the gap between the previous volume and this one, which corresponds to volumes 23-24 in the series. It appears that Issei had lost out to Shizuku as to the identity of the Sixth Apostle, so now he has decided to change tactics and actually go and visit the area where he believes the Seventh Apostle originates from. That was such a difference from his previous eccentric methods of discerning the wine, such as meditating in a temple or going on a desert journey.

Issei must’ve mellowed a bit, since he actually brings Loulan along as a sounding board in his search for the Seventh Apostle. They fly to the US, right into Napa Valley to take the Napa Valley Wine train, which is something that I’ve wanted to try myself.  Imagine taking  a leisurely three-hour train ride through the entire village of Napa, passing through the various wineries, enjoying the scenery while sampling the best wines produced in the area. Loulan was so lucky! Issei could be such an arrogant bastard, but with his wine expertise and seemingly bottomless wallet, maybe it wouldn’t be so unpleasant to spend three hours with him and the best Napa wines.

It’s also somewhat interesting that Shizuku’s knowledge in wine is still on a novice level. When his co-workers surmised that the description of the Seventh Apostle suggested that it was a New World wine, Shizuku even queried them what that meant. It’s not as if he has been drinking only French wine all this time; he mentions that he’s had a Chilean and New Zealand wine, did nobody think of explaining that to him back then?

Shizuku’s own quest takes him to the Barossa Valley of Australia, where he and Shinohara meet up with a Taiyo Beer colleague, Nadia Simon, who acts as their guide to the world of Australian wines. Shizuku follows a hunch that the Seventh Apostle would be Australian, and finds out that even his own father found himself in the same area fifteen years ago, working amongst the same group of people that Shizuku himself met.

While it was interesting to learn about the intricacies of Australian wine, I thought the eco-community side plot was a distracting tactic for explaining why Nadia’s father hated the Japanese. And Shizuku’s nose leading them to the cause of the fire? Hilarious. I guess the dog analogy had to end up being useful somehow.

Vertical has hinted that this may be the last volume that they would publish in this series. To say that I’m disappointed would be an understatement. When I heard that they had licensed this series for English publication, I took out my wallet and bought each volume as they were published. For years, I’ve almost stopped buying manga altogether but this title was one that I knew that I needed to support and one that I actually wanted to own. I can’t say that my wine-drinking habits have improved because of it, but I certainly don’t feel as dumb anymore when I walk into a wine shop and read all these descriptions that used to mean nothing to me. It sounds silly to attribute my oenological interest to a manga, but a comic is far more approachable than any textbook when it comes to such a dense subject such as wine.

Cheers to you, Shizuku. I hope that we will meet again someday.