Friday, 16 April 2010

Review: Strawberry Marshmallow

Dear Blog,
I'm currently reading The Carbon Diaries 2017 by Saci Lloyd, and I'll write a review when I've finished.  But for now I'll review (at least what I've read of) the Japanese manga series Ichigo Mashimaro, or Strawberry Marshmallow to the English-speaking world.  Personally I like calling it Ichigo Mashimaro.  It sounds better.  Anyway.
I first came across them by way of Amazon.  I thought they looked pretty similar to Azumanga Daioh by Kiyohiko Azuma, a.k.a the first manga I read.  And probably still my favourite (Actually, I like Ichigo just as much).  Anyway, seeing as like Azumanga Daioh  it was the seemingly ordinary (but hilarious) escapades of a group of girls, I decided to give it a go.

Author: Barasui (a nom-de-plume it seems).
Volumes so far (in English): 5
Publisher: Tokyopop
Rating: 13+

Summary: Volume 1 starts with sixteen-year-old high school freshman Nobue Ito (also occasionally romanised as Itou or Itoh) introducing herself and her twelve-year-old sister Chika (who, according to Nobue, "specialises in being totally generic").  She introduces Chika's friends, the energetic drama-queen Miu (age twelve also) and crybaby Matsuri (age eleven, pictured on the bottom right) In volume two they're  joined by Ana Copolla, an English girl who's lived in Japan so long she's forgotten how to speak proper English. 
 The books follow their many adventures about the extraordinary behind the everyday. Among other things they run a doctor's surgery, pretend to be Ninjas, hilariously re-tell Cinderella, go to the beach, hold a bet to see if Nobue can quit smoking, visit a bath house, etc. etc.  There's no real plot as such.

Review: first things first (lol, that seems to be my reviewing catchphrase)- it is the cutest, fluffiest, funniest, silliest manga in the history of the world.  That is exactly why I love it.  *lists other manga read* Azumanga Daioh, Yotsubato, Tori Koro...As well as other shoujo manga with more plot like Fruits Basket and Translucent, you can see a sort of similarity between them.  That's why Ichigo is right up my street.
Some people don't like it because, well, it's plotless.  That's the point!  It is a slice-of-life manga.  Unless you're in a soap opera, life has no particular plot, does it?
Another thing some people dislike is that Nobue is a chain smoker and that sets a bad example to others.  Um, excuse me, but what teenager would read it and think, "Nobue smokes. Cool.  Now I want to!"  We all know the dangers of smoking, don't we?!  And there is yang to this yin (or yin to this yang) as she never has any money because of it, and Chika comments now and again that she'll get cancer.   An unhappy review on says it was suggested for her eight-year-old daughter *tut tut tut* and, "boy am I glad I did [decide to screen it]".  As one commenter pointed out (and I agree), "just because it cute makes it for kids?"  The answer is NO.  However: if you are 13 or over and liked Tori Koro or Azumanga Daioh, you will throw these two comments aside and enjoy it.  Preferably on a dark night on a comfy chair and a mug of hot chocolate.

Ichigo was originally published in a Shonen magazine, but I think that Shojo fans will enjoy it as much as Shonen readers (Shojo-aimed at girls.  Shonen-aimed at boys). Though I imagine boys reading it if it was serialised in their magazine, I can't imagine them buying the books.  The covers, I imagine, would appeal more to girls *shrugs*.  Either way.
Since I care not about Nobue smoking and the lack of plot, my only (slight) complaint is that in the first few chapters of volume 1 some of the charachers undergo lots of changes: Chika and Miu look almost identical, and Nobue's hair is blonde and much longer.  It's strange because in the opening few pages, when Nobue is introducing herself and the girls, her hair is as it is for much of the series (short and black).  But then as the story itself begins, it switches to its long blondeness until a few chapters in.  Very strange.
My favourite of the 3 I've read* is probably volume two, when it really gets going and Ana joins the gang.  It's particularly laughable when they go to the bath house and try running a doctor's surgery.  Volume 3 isn't my favourite if only because Miu seems to hog the spotlight a bit.  I know that's because of her personality but I think Chika's total word count for volume 3 is about 50.  Oh well.  
My favourite characters are probably Ana and Nobue.  And Matsuri.  And Chika and Miu.  They're all wonderful!  Such wonderful, unique, fully-formed, three-dimensional characters.
I also love the humour; sarcastic, quick-witted and dry.  Timed perfectly to boot.  I don't know why but some of it reminds be of Chandler's one-liners in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.  It's the same style of hilarity I guess. 
Summary: read it!  read it!  Ichigo is guaranteed to make you smile.  Nay, it will make you cry with laughter.  Moe has never been so cute nor so funny.

*I'm going to order volumes 4 and 5 after ordering some more Dear America/Dear Canada books from the US.  I truly live by the Erasmus quote "when I get a little money I buy books; and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes".After buying one lot of books I start saving up for another *sigh*.  Oh well. 

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