On a very special Manga Connoisseur: “Triple Trouble: Imadoki!, Hollow Fields, Gakuen Alice.”
Here’s how it works: I read these three manga in a row without prior knowledge of their plots. Astonishingly, they turned out pretty similar. So I’m reviewing all three in this new installment. I’ll start with the similar themes, then go into a brief summary of each individual manga. I don’t normally do letter grades, but I think it makes sense here. Let’s get to it!
Imadoki!, Hollow Fields, and Gakuen Alice all fall into a common manga genre: Idiot of the School Savant. Basically, a new student comes to a school (almost always female) and despises the system. The students hate her, and she needs to prove herself in this dog-eat-dog environment. Thing is, it’s common to use this as a manga theme, but it’s not actually “good.” Try to think of an A-list title that falls into this narrative trope. I can’t. You might. It could exist. Whatever.
Imadoki! uses money and status as the divide for the protagonist, Tanpopo Yamazaki. Hollow Fields’ Lucy Snow came to a school filled with super-geniuses. While Mikan Sakura of Gakuen Alice is bullied by children with superpowers. See, that worked out pretty well, I think.
Oh, another common trope of Idiot of the School Savant: The Savant part. Tanpopo is able to charm the highest-standing students with friendship and an “aw shucks” mentality. Lucy has dumb luck, which escalates when she finds a discarded teacher willing to help her. Mikan has a power of her own, and it’s powerful but so low-key that she never noticed it.
This trope is not used so often for romance as it is for society. Later on, romance will come into play, but the other students are the biggest issue.
Oh, none of these three have parents in them. Tanpopo and Lucy talk about their parents, but they go unseen. Mikan lives with her grandfather. Well, it’s common in all manga genres, but here it’s stronger without parental support, focusing on the lone child’s need to adapt.
Well, let’s get into them.
“Imadoki!” or “Imadoki! Nowadays” or “Imadoki! Nowadays: Dandelion” is a title with an unclear title. This is an older Viz manga, evident from the art. Typical shoujo style, bland as a clean-shaven face. Although props to the cover for having both a male and a female character on the cover.
Tanpopo enrolls in a prestigious Tokyo school to prove herself to her small-town loved ones. She meets Koki, a boy who loves gardening. Actually, she crashes her bike into him! HA HA! She finds out Koki is the most beloved student in the school (beloved = he has money) who pretends not to know Tanpopo because of her low-standing and her insistence that Koki loves flowers, despite them being banned on campus. Can Tanpopo open Koki up?
My biggest problem: She wants to make something of herself in THE BIG CITY, right? Okay. Why Meio Academy? Why not a school for budding botanists? Even if she doesn’t want to become a botanist or florist, and there’s nothing to suggest that, she didn’t look into Meio enough to know about the fake plants? It’s not supposed to be a secret; the students and faculty seem in favor of them.
Tanpopo is the Pollyanna here. So while it’s nice she doesn’t wail “OH, I GIVE UP!” after one bad day, her high enthusiasm is unbelievable. Not annoying, mind you, but it gets on my nerves after some time. Tanpopo’s first friend in Tokyo pretends not to know her, essentially turning everyone against her. All of the students hate her and bully her, drawing on her desk and moving it to the back, tripping her and insulting her. The only student who is nice to her ruins her flowers right after Tanpopo got sick from planting them in the rain. But Tanpopo smiles through it all. I can’t hate her, but I will say she’s too dumb for me to enjoy.
I do like Koki, as he eventually comes around, but he’s too easily changed. Tanpopo’s fake friend is also changed quickly, but Koki’s personality becomes much looser. Also, his conflict of making sure no one knows he likes flowers is odd. His father can change school rules, so Koki has the flower-ban repealed. Why couldn’t he do that before? And it’s not like anyone thinks less of him.
All of the conflict is worthless, as it’s resolved in volume one, the only draw for volume to being some guy who writes nasty things about the main three characters. Who is he? What does it accomplish? I’m not drawn in by shrouded mystery and fake reveals. “Oh, this guy is… who?”
I don’t think “Imadoki!” is worth the trouble to hunt down. If this were the pH of soil, I’d give it a grade below 7, too acidic. The characters are biting to Tanpopo without enough support, and the conflict dissolves like nothing mattered. And, like the fake flowers, it doesn’t seem that anything will grow, no matter how long the characters are planted.
But this is a manga, not soil. Silly. Also, I’m doing letter grades.
Up next, Seven Seas’ “Hollow Fields!” An American manga, the art is… mixed. No one has a nose, which bugs me. I mean, a stranger has a nose in the beginning, but the children and faculty don’t. Ick.
So, nitpick out of the way: I have no idea what the historical setting is. Maybe it’s just anachronistic. Lucy gets off a boat in a town filled with people in cloaks holding lanterns on poles. She talks about fires as sources of heat and villages. Then again, her whole school uses super-advanced technology. The obvious answer is “steampunk,” but it feels like a divide, not a combination. Like Tokyo and the countryside.
Lucy Snow gets lost on the way to school and accidentally finds the school Hollow Fields, whose maid mistakes Lucy for a new student. Enamored by the lack of a fee, compelling technology and self-justifications, Lucy signs up without reading her contract. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and at Lucy’s free dinner she discovers that the student with the worst grades at the end of the week goes to “Detention,” and are never seen again. It turns out that Hollow Fields is a school for budding super-villains, and Lucy lacks the assets to survive! Will she survive?
I mean yeah. It’s only volume one. This one focuses less on conflict from students as it does faculty. They’re patched up from countless deaths and fairly non-human. The students are out-of-focus, with one girl picking on Lucy because of snobbishness, and one boy because Lucy’s nature bugs him. I mean, friends count less when you could die any time.
Lucy is recognized as a mistaken student, but the principal keeps her because she might have latent abilities…
Lucy’s classes include stitching animals together, grave-robbing (She found a hand! Lucky!), and building killer robots, which is taught by the principal herself. Lucy is inept, being born into a family of dentists, but she finds a box with a teacher inside who instructs her how to build a killer robot and escape detention.
The plot is genuinely intriguing, as it builds up tension and doesn’t get insultingly sidetracked in doing so. The boy who dislikes her appears to be important for later, and the mysterious “Detention” is a huge draw. I really want to read the rest.
I feel that Lucy is too childish, however. She’s nine-and-a-half and she carries around a plush dinosaur. Granted, the snooty girl does too, but she has a boxing glove in hers. I don’t know, it’s more than that. Like saying she’s “nine-and-a-half.” I guess I did stuff like that, but I never held a plush when grave-robbing. It’d get dirty. It’s better than being too mature, as it’s not believable, but there’s a reason children are written more developed.
I found myself adoring “Hollow Fields,” despite noselessness and the immaturity of the lead. It has goals and direction, which is better than drifting. I think I’m going to pick up the rest.
“Gakuen Alice” by Tachibana Higuchi, whose “Portrait of M & N” I’ve taken a look at. I say this was way better. A Tokyopop release, “Gakuen Alice” uses a cliched premise but a great delivery.
Mikan’s best friend, Hotaru, is accepted into Alice Academy and moves away from her small town. Mikan follows her, but is attacked by a boy in a mask who can control fire. A teacher stops him and tells Mikan she can take the entrance exam. However, Mikan quickly learns what Alice Academy is: A school for super-powered humans! And Hotaru can create amazing technology! Why did the teacher allow Mikan to enroll? Will she pass the exam?
The art, while Higuchi’s typical unusual throwback to the older shoujo style, is better than in “Portrait of M & N.” I mean, this is from 2003, so it’ll look outdated either way. I prefer this art because it has less blood. I mean, it’s a fair reason. There’s something… wavy about Portrait that Alice ignores. Also, given the subject matter, there’s much more room to breathe. Giant chicks, evil teddy bears, not to mention the school hosts students from K to college. Artistic and narrative possibilities are boundless!
Apparently so, as there were 31 volumes (North American got 14 volumes. Dang.) The whole series ran for a decade. Nothing to sneeze at! So it won’t be much of a spoiler if I reveal that Mikan’s power is subduing other powers, but not all of them (yet). So useful, yet so circumstantial.
The characters all have different molds. Mikan’s like the other two, friendly and out of her element, although she’s aggressive with it. The determination is endearing, rather than overkill. Hotaru is distant, but she can’t betray Mikan for long. Also, her powers only serve to benefit her, which leads to some funny moments. Oh, one character can use animal pheromones. Which leads to this.
So much romance.
The other students oppose Mikan because she has no apparent powers, but some are on her side. Which is fair; a school that has super-humans is bound to have heroes and villains, rather than one mold. They do all bully their teachers, however.
I have to recommend this manga. It’s fun, it has a large collection, the characters are engaging, and I’d be interested in seeing the different powers. The art, while not a deal-breaker, feels out of place, but maybe it improved over the decade it ran. Well done, Higuchi.