Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, Vol. 5

By Megumi Morino. Released in Japan as “Ohayou, Ibarahime” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Dessert. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.

I reviewed the first volume of this shoujo series, and then the next three were reviewed as Bookshelf Briefs. This is common for the majority of the series I follow – there just aren’t enough hours in the day, and usually I don’t have 500+ words to say about a title even if I am enjoying it. But sometimes a volume comes along that I just can’t stop thinking about, and this penultimate volume of Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty is certainly that. I actually put it off for quite some time because I had a sneaking suspicion that it was going to be too depressing and also driven by Shizu’s antagonistic father. I was wrong on both counts – Tetsu fleeing with Shizu actually turns out to work out for a while, and Daddy Dearest doesn’t get to do much until near the end, because first we have to repair Shizu’s relationship with her mother.

Speaking of mothers, Tatsu’s mom manages to be the star of the show this volume, which is all the more impressive given that she spends the entire book in a coma. This is actually a major plot point, as it’s been eight years, and the family has been sacrificing everything they have to keep her going. Is it time to give up and pull the plug? The family has a difficult decision to make. The reader is not helped in making this easier when we find out who one of the spirits possessing Shizu really is. I’m not entirely sure if the final volume will have Aki waking up or dying, but I did appreciate the backstory given to both her and Sanae, Shizu’s mother – honestly it feels very much like a shoujo manga of its own, and one I’d want to read. It also helps Sanae repair her relationship with Shizu, and come to accept her despite the spirits.

That still leaves her father, who is seemingly a tougher nut to crack. In reality, I suspect this is when the author was told “you need to wrap this up by the next volume”, as this is perhaps a very rushed resolution. That said, it is quite dramatic, and we get to see the past of Shizu’s father as well, showing why he’s such a seemingly emotionless hardass. When you are starving for love, it can be wonderful to find the right person in your life. But if you then have children, you have to accept that this love is not going to be entirely the same anymore, and that can be difficult for many people. Fortunately, despite a dramatic fall, this is not resolved via convenient plot death, and hopefully the family can work things out. This is especially true given that clearly the spirits in Shizu are all, one by one, getting ready to move on. The cliffhanger suggests this will be the thrust of the final volume.

I wasn’t expecting much of this series, but it’s rapidly become one of my favorite shoujo manga this year. Fans of the genre should absolutely be buying it.

Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, Vol. 1

By Megumi Morino. Released in Japan as “Ohayou, Ibarahime” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Dessert. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.

We’ve all seen the type of story where you meet someone, start to fall in love with them, and then find out that either a) they have a terrible secret that they’ve been hiding, or b) they actually turn out to be completely different from how you thought they were. And sometimes it’s both, as is the case with Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty, which actually has the guy as the viewpoint character for once, and the girl as the one around whom the plot revolves. It’s a good plot, one that draws on the supernatural but doesn’t overly drown in it, and the story is dramatic and serious without being too angsty. I would argue that the heroine suffers from something of a lack of presence… but given that’s almost the point, it seems churlish.

Our hero is Tetsu, a bright young lad who has some tragedy in his life that is driving him to earn money, over the objections of his father, who doesn’t think he’s mature enough to move right into the workforce. (Dad is right, but Tetsu’s the hero, so he’s going to get away with it.) Tetsu ends up becoming a housekeeper at a mansion owned by a rich family. They’re under orders not to go into the small house at the back of the garden, where the family’s reclusive daughter, Shizu, lives. So, what does Tetsu do within the first few pages? Goes out to the garden and meets Shizu, who at least seems nice. Sadly, he also loses his bankbook at some point, and desperately goes to search for it. Shizu has it, and turns out to be a lot less frail and willowy than she first appeared – in fact, she’s a bit of a hyperactive terror. Is there a reason for the difference? And will Tetsu be able to keep being friends with her once he finds out the truth?

It’s sort of hard to discuss the manga without discussing its gimmick, but I will do my best. Shizu’s nature means that she is very different at different times, and for the most part we follow Tetsu as he finds out about it, falls into a state of shock, recovers, tries to be friends with her anyway, has a disastrous outing, tries to distance himself, and finally returns to the “be friends” with greater resolve. He’s a good kid, and I like his family as well – thank goodness that he’s fighting with his father but it’s not the standard evil uncaring manga dad. (I also love one of the sisters, Ryo, but I admit she barely appears – she just fits a type I really like). The book balances out mystery, romance and pathos in equal doses, and the leads are nice – you want them to overcome their problems. Also, it’s only 6 volumes, so should not wear out its welcome. If you want to try a new shoujo series with a sweet male lead who’s working hard, Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty is a good choice.