A Girl In A Birdcage

I know why the caged bird sings. But I wish I didn’t.

The following review is about the bonus story in volume one of “Portrait of M & N”. We’ll save that for a different day, as I have a lot I want to say and I don’t want to be distracted by the masochism and narcissism. Instead, we’ll be looking at “A Girl In A Birdcage”.

I’ve been holding onto this review for years. I bought M&N in Israel, and I thought the primary story decent enough. Now, I have some issues.

However, when I read the bonus story, I was horrified. Keep in mind, this was a number of years ago, and I wasn’t really the amazing reviewer you see before you. Yet even then I could sense that I was going to hate this. As such, I wrote up a separate review and put it aside for later.

It is now later.

Problem is, it doesn’t really fit what I want to say. Maya Angelou died today, so obviously I want to insert “caged bird” references.

And then there’s the killings. That’s what this is really about. I want to mostly blast the main character. It’s time to shut up and start talking.

We have Kobato, just your average high school girl. She gets forced into a relationship with Roger, but that’s not his name. I don’t want to call him by his name, because he offends me. If you can’t find him in the manga, here’s a clue: He’s the only other male character there. Roger forces Kobato to date him, alienating her from her female classmates and possible boyfriends.

Now, in the poem “Caged Bird” by the late and great Angelou, the caged bird sings for freedom. Kobato likens herself to a caged bird throughout the story, feeling isolated from the world.

This is the first problem with the story. There’s no way to put Roger and Kobato together without being entirely wrong. Here are some ways Roger shows his “love”:

-Chasing her
-Leaning over her in a way that looks like he’ll rape her if she moves
-Literally telling her, “Until you answer me, I’m not letting you go.”
-Forcing her to come home, making her feel “horror, anxiety, regret, sadness, etc.”, as if those weren’t enough.
-Screaming at her if she calls any other guys good looking
-Literally trying to rape her

Roger, Edward Cullen is the wrong role model. And that’s my obligatory Twilight comparison.

This could have been a story about the perils of guys like Roger, since he’s so obviously abusive. Well it isn’t. Instead, Kobato starts falling for him.

Stockholm Syndrome. Dammit.

She is a caged bird, but since she starts seeing he’s awkward, that makes him cute!

NO NO NO NO NO. YOU CAN’T JUST SEE THAT HE GETS EMBARRASSED BY A NEW HAIRCUT AND FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM.

“It certainly is a small bird cage… but the food may be pretty tasty.” Dammit, dammit, dammit. BUY A HAMSTER!

Kobato tells Roger that she tried to give Valentine Chocolates to her teacher in grade school, but a bully chased her and Kobato fell down the stairs. Remember, one character in this story is male. In the hospital, Kobato met a sweet boy who couldn’t speak, but he was a great comfort. One male character.

Of course, it turns out that Roger was a fat kid and that he was the bully who hospitalized Kobato. Kobato’s faceless brother forced him to leave when he put two and two together (THANK YOU), and Roger’s family moved away. Now he’s back to beat up Kobato some more! Then Roger says something to his classmates that is so obnoxious that it somehow turns into sound and penetrates my brain:

“I was fat and nobody liked me, so what? Does it make you happy that I used to be that way?! You are superficial fence sitters. Conformists! YOU are the ones too ugly to look at.”

I see. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more out there like you. They’re called cretins. No fence sitting there, pal.

So Kobato goes to cheer Roger up, but he tells her she can do what she wants. Hey, maybe Roger finally learned the difference between real love and Hollywood love.

Oh, um… Kobato is drawing chocolate around her mouth.

Hey, uh, Kobato, he let you leave. Be smart, Kobato.

NO KOBATO NO!

Well, now they’re together under a curtain, naked. Wonderful, just wonderful. It can’t get worse can it?

Oh. Last page. Um… It’s a “future vision”. Roger has a bundle and arrows, while Kobato is by the birdcage with eggs in her lap. THEY GOT MARRIED? Come on! How are these two fit for each other? Hollywood ending protest aside, she got abused by him during childhood and as a teenager, so you married him?

Wait. Why would either of them have condoms? Who knows if they even know how to apply…

OH GOD, THEY DON’T LOOK DIFFERENT IN THE FUTURE VISION. SHE DROPPED OUT AND BECAME A STAY-AT-HOME MOM WHILE ROGER WENT TO WORK.

It’s pandering sludge like this that fills heads with the wrong ideas. Granted, it’s only a bonus story, but Portrait of M & N isn’t exactly different. Only marginally better. But that’s still not good.

The caged bird sings for freedom, but that’s not why Kobato sang. She sang for imprisonment. She thought that she wanted to make her own decision, but why do that when men can do that so much better? No, clearly women should depend on the sanity of strange men.

See, we joke about Twilight because the notion of love is insane there, that any woman would want love that way. The problem is that it’s true. Oh, not that we should accept love from people who hurt and abuse us, no sir. But the fact is that many people think that the expression “you only hurt the ones you love” is true. That is even more false than “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. You should still go to the doctor, especially if he tells you that he wants to cut apples out of your diet.

And the truth is, the author said this about the reaction to her story:

“One of the most common comment was ‘I would love to be fiercely loved like Kobato was.'”

Damn.

And yes, like Twilight, the author is a woman. Do they really view love this way? Not women, I meant psychotic authors who should help the world instead of destroying it. Love is hard to describe for all people, but “he wants to hurt me” should never be the answer.

I know why the caged bird sings. And it makes me want to cry.

The Seven Deadly Sins

I know that a manga involving (well, about) the seven deadly sins seems like a knockoff of Full Metal Alchemist, but it’s not. The Seven Deadly Sins is a knockoff of Dragon Ball.

Let’s see, a boy who is more than he seems meets a girl who is looking for seven of something scattereacross the world. There’s a talking pig there for comic relief and the girl is put in suggestive positions. There’s also a chapter that crosses over with Dr. Slump. Nope, that last part is false.

Yeah, it’s a stretch, but face it: There’s not much else in here you could call original. Meliodas is a tavern owner with a pig. They meet Elizabeth, the king’s daughter who has been searching for the Seven Deadly Sins to save her kidnapped father. The Seven had been defeated years ago by the Holy Knights, who don’t even bother to hide how evil they are. Turns out Meliodas is one of the sins, so he, Elizabeth, Hawk (the pig) and his mother (a giant pig with the tavern on her back) search for the other six sins.

Meliodas is perverted and he cooks awful food, which he’s aware of, but charges them anyway. So naturally, Meliodas is Lust or Greed, right? No. He’s Wrath. Now, that doesn’t work! Diane, a giantess they meet later on, is Envy! And she goes into a rage when she sees Meliodas with Elizabeth, likely jealous that they’re the right size together! Meanwhile, Meliodas is generally level-headed, so why is he Wrath?

Back to Lust, here’s my issue with Elizabeth: She’s so complacent about Meliodas’ smarmy nature. He touches her butt, makes her turn him on to prove she’s the real one among shapeshifters, and goes along with her short skirt, navel-exposing shirt, and single sock. Yes, she wears one sock. Meliodas, you crazy.

I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for the fact that he’s taking advantage of her. She needs him, and all he does is use her for his needs. Oh, he also saves a village from the Holy Knights and almost stab one of them.

There’s another thing: The Holy Knights. Ooh, look at the irony! The good guys have an evil name and the evil guys have a good name! The Knights are just evil with no depth, so naturally all we care about is their defeat. You know Jessie, James, and Meowth? You know Mr. Burns? They aren’t only bad guys, they have motivation and a long history, life experiences. Reasons they can be viewed as humans, you know? Mr. Burns might steal candy from babies, but he lost his innocence long ago, so he no longer cares.

It’s not like anything else is enough to hold down the originality ground. I’ve never seen doppelgangers before, and certainly not defeated by the old “The real Bombette would never do that!” Oh, and a town screwed over by petty jerks? Like, pretty much every Fantasy World Manga ever does that. How about the realization that she’s a princess and he’s the one she’s been searching for? Spare me.

The Seven Deadly Sins is well named, because I feel like I’ve committed them just by reading them. Okay, that was harsh and untrue. It’s an okay manga, but nothing I’d recommend. Unless you really want a manga with a giantess. Even then, prepare for disappointment.

Just A Girl

Here’s another Tomoko Taniguchi, author of “Aquarium” and “Let’s Stay Together Forever”. Thing is, the plot of “Just A Girl” spoke to me. No, not because the protagonist, Erica, has a ton of plushies. It’s because somehow, the plot gained sentience and literally spoke to me. “IT’S BEEN A MONTH SINCE YOU READ VOLUME ONE OF ME! READ MY OTHER HALF NOW! DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW IF ERICA REMAINS… JUST A GIRL???”

So I read it. And… eh. This manga will remain just mediocre. Dang. I should have saved that line for the end. Let’s get started.

Erica decides to move in a girls’ dorm so she can stay at school and not move with her parents. She befriends a not-even-slightly mean girl that lives next door, Rena. Erica also has her childhood friend, who isn’t worth mentioning because he virtually disappears from the plot when he rejects Erica. There’s also Sophie, a foreign girl who’s also nice considering she’s French, and the French hate everyone. Oh, and some guy named Rocky or something, whatever.

The stuffed animals serve a few purposes in the manga. They illustrate Erica’s childishness, even though it’s acceptable for a woman to have plushies, they get stolen by some obnoxious girls to haze Erica, they help Erica and Rena bond, and they create tension between Erica and Rocky. So basically, they do nothing.

I kid, of course, but the manga isn’t about┬áthe plush toys. Remember Nui? Of course not. But that was about plush dolls, so it fits well. At the very least, Just A Girl doesn’t force Erica to give up her toys. Rocky does. Erica wants Rocky, but he’s moving, so he asks for her prized plush to test her faith in him that he’ll return. She gives him the plush. WHY??? You really are Just A Girl, Erica! I’d like to mention that the dog plush was a memento from her grandmother. Anyone would say it’s normal to hold onto it!

Of course, Rocky gives the dog back in the morning, and the contrived romance blooms. That’s my biggest issue. Rena and whatsisface get together because it fits the plot, not because they’re good together. Heck, we never see them do anything like date, so how do we know they’re dating? Same thing, Erica is just a girl. She falls for Rocky because “he’s nice”. That’s what some women say about men who kidnap them after the fact. She never lets herself be single, just rushing into the arms of any man who seems nice. The romance has no room to develop, so no, Erica, you don’t know that Rocky’s nice.

One thing I love is Taniguchi’s obsession with American culture. The characters go to see a film. There’s posters of Home Alone and Edward Scissorhands, complete with a little Culkin and Depp! Oh, here’s the list of films they were looking to watch:

“What do you want to see?”
“What about something with Jodie Foster?”
“Little Mermaid sounds fun.”
“I want to see the Michael J. Fox film.”
“What about The Doors?”

Okay, these movies weren’t in the same year, but it’s justified because it doesn’t make sense to release films that bombed in America, at least back when we weren’t a globally-based community. My problem is that they chose The Doors. I have no problem with the band, just… I assume the Foster film involves mute sheep, while the J. Fox film returns to the future. So they pick The Doors, which wasn’t panned, but seems like a poor decision considering everything else available.

But what do I know? Rocky is enraptured, so I guess I’m just clueless! Enjoy Meg Ryan!

I just noticed, but in the first volume, there’s a character profile section with Erica, Rena, and the childhood friend. Forget the fact that a first volume generally shouldn’t tell us about the characters we haven’t met. The thing is, volume two has only Erica and Rena. Forgettable Jones isn’t even worth mentioning. And I guess the manga reflects that. It really places emphasis of becoming an adult on the wrong part, like so many other manga. It’s a decent manga, but I wouldn’t go out of my way looking for it.

There’s two bonus stories. In volume one, a girl has dreams about her friend and her friend’s boyfriend, which allows the girl to solve her romantic squabbles. Meh.

Then there’s the second volume bonus. I have no idea what to make of it. A father and daughter bicker all the time, which leads to the father getting sucked into his daughter’s photo of her and her crush. The father is now in the garden of his daughter’s heart, according to the fairies. Um. Hmm. Well, this is a nice change of pace, actually. An older character as the focus? Way to step out of your element, Taniguchi!

Oh. Okay. He’s “too old” to understand, so ┬áthe fairies make him young for a while. I believed in you, Taniguchi!

I don’t even know what the problem is. He goes missing, and that makes his daughter concerned. So… all he had to do was go missing? Kind of a mixed message. However, it has a happy ending, for the dad at least. The daughter gives her boyfriend a chocolate valentine that says “Stupid Dad!”, which means that the father got one that says “I love you–Shiori”. He weeps with joy at this. Basically, best story yet.

Thing is, Just A Girl is the most linear of Tomoko Taniguchi’s works I’ve read. I’m disappointed that it wasn’t on the same level as her anthology volumes, especially since this was, ironically, pretty disjointed.

So in the end, this manga will remain Just A Mediocre Manga. Dangit.