By Io Sakisaka. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Viz.
As many readers of this blog know, give me a choice between a new series that’s daring, bold, experimental and avant-garde and a new series that’s more of the same as all the other series except with different bits, and I will go for the latter every time. I appreciate the value of alt-manga, but am far more happy reading Vol. 97 of Shoujo Girl X. Usually because every time I do, even if it seems like it’s going to be more of the same, there’s always something that ends up drawing me in. These series all have to compete in Japan with 7,000 other high-school romances. There needs to be something that stood out enough to have it be a success there and get licensed here. Which brings me to Strobe Edge.
The cover really says it all – it’s hard to look at and not feel ‘well, it’s a bit overly sweet, isn’t it?’ without even reading the content. And the first half of the book doesn’t seemingly do much to change that opinion. Ninako is naive and a bit flighty, but not overly ditzy. She’s got a group of close female friends (who so far have stayed her friends, yay!) as well as a male childhood friend that everyone assumes she is in love with, mostly as he is clearly in love with her and that’s how these things go. Ninako, however, isn’t sure what she feels for Daiki is love. And she has *no idea* what these feelings she has are when she runs into Ren, the school heartthrob and all-around mysterious guy.
As I said, so far so normal. If I told you Daiki was blond and Ren had black hair, I assume you’d be totally unsurprised. But gradually I started to realize that more thought was being put into the plot than I suspected. Ninako may seem flighty, but she thinks hard about everything, and once she realizes that what she’s feeling for Ren is love, all sorts of extra problems come up. As for Daiki, he is obviously the ‘unlucky childhood friend’ who is there to provide the love triangle, but this does not make his crush on Ninako any less weighty, especially as we see its origins. He’s a nice guy, as Ninako herself says, and we feel for him even as we root for Ninako to get together with Ren, because that’s how these things go.
The second half of this volume really picks things up, and I was quite startled a few times. Ren, for one, is not really the aloof loner type he presents… or at least not around Ninako, which is a good sign. Of course, things aren’t as simple as ‘if I just worked up my courage to confess, we’d be together’. Ren’s own life intertwines with Daiki’s in very unexpected ways, and as Ninako herself notes, when you fall in love with someone the feelings don’t merely vanish just because you get rejected. I suspect the plot of much of Strobe Edge will deal with that, given the large number of unrequited relationships we bring out here.
Strobe Edge begins with its heroine thinking about what it means to be in love, and I suspect that’s what the whole series is going to be about. It’s working with stock shoujo manga types, but what it’s doing with them is interesting. Which, as I said before, is exactly what I look for in ‘normal’ shoujo manga.