Graphic Novels & Manga

Valentine’s Day Reading: Missions of Love, vol. 1 by Ema Toyama


Valentine’s Day Reading: Missions of Love, vol. 1 by Ema Toyama

In need of a little romance this Valentine’s? Check out Kodansha’s newest shojo love story, Missions of Love. The second volume was released in January 2013.

Story: 3.5 out of 5
Art: 4 out of 5
Translation: 4.5 out of 5
Lettering: 5 out of 5
Memorable Lines?: Yes
Genre: High School Shojo Romance With a Twist
Target Demographic: Pre-teen and teen
Overall Score (target demographic): 4.5 out of 5
Overall Score (adult audience): 4 out of 5

Synopsis

A twist on the classic high school love story, the plot follows class outcast, Yukina, who doubles as a cell phone novelist. Her titles are on the best seller list, and although her classmates talk of the newest edition, they exclude her from their lives. It’s the plight of a writer for sure, but what to do when the audience demands love stories, and you haven’t ever been in love? Why, get experience of course, and if it’s from the most popular player in school, a two-faced bishi you detest more than anyone, all the better.

Thoughts

What makes the story fun is its one-upmanship in line with the best chick-flick: boy vs. girl; popular vs. have-not; pretty vs. plain; even glasses vs. no-glasses. Teens, the target demographic, will find a lot to relate to here. For most adults, the plot is a bit thin, but there are other elements that make it worth reading. For instance, where Missions really shines as a unique work is in its depiction of the trials and tribulations of a young writer finding her way.

Yukina’s superpower is also her kryptonite: she is emotionally distant from others specifically because she has an extreme awareness of their wants and motivations. This allows her to write about them, but gives her no help when it’s time to be a friend. This is the dilemma of many writers: to know drama for what it is, and stand above it — but then, because of that, be excluded from the lives of regular people, who are full of drama.

What makes Yukina so refreshingly charming — and so real — is that, instead of moping, she uses her strong will to barge right into the situation and say, “I need this experience to write more. You. Let’s play this game.” My hope is that in later volumes this thread of realism will stay, and we see Yukina deal with unexpected emotional fallout from her getting close to others in ways she’s not used to — but dealt with in that kick-butt shojo-heroine way.

Some of this begins in volume one, and will probably only compound, if the book follows through. Yukina’s male counterpart — the popular boy she chooses for her experimentation — is just as pathological as she is when it comes to being distant, though it manifests differently. Though his withdrawal from emotion comes from dissimilar sources, I look forward to seeing his character fleshed out. The chameleon and the writer: a game of cat-and-mouse, or self-reflective Whack-a-Mole?

Deeper Critique

The book grows on you, and there are some great lines, especially Yukina’s writing in her head. Missions accurately illustrates the life of a writer (in high school) and what the creative process is like for the determined — in that way it’s acknowledging, rewarding, and unique. However, the reception between teens and adults will most likely apply to your reading throughout the book. The art is solid, but not unique. Yukina shines brightly, but her foil seems thin as a character so far, so some of the impact of their dynamic is threatened.

The storytelling style is customary for shojo, and though the “twist” is well done, the fact that there is a twist feels slightly stereotypical. Furthermore, the story moves incredibly quickly in the first volume, so I’m not sure where the rest of the series will focus. It’s the later volumes that will determine the lasting impact of this tale, but in those volumes, the story could bloom into anything. But these aren’t necessarily bad things: you get a lot of story per volume, and Vampire Knight follows the same storytelling pattern, yet is one of the best selling manga of last year.

A last thing to note is a technical issue on the translation of Yukina’s moniker, something that will only matter to manga snobs. “Yuki” in her name can be translated as “snow;” in line with a “chilly personality,” she has cold hands, and a cold gaze, and so is called “a snow woman.” This comes from a literal translation of yuki-onna, but I would prefer the name tweaked into “Ice Queen.” Since “snow woman” has little personality in English and refers to snow demons (think Yukina in Yu Yu Hakusho), that level of ostracism, predatory power, and demonization is not reflected in “snow woman,” where it would be in “Ice Queen.” But if that’s my only standing negative critique, things are going good.

A combination of current popular culture, the modern woman, and a writer’s life, Missions is a fun read for adults, and a meaningful one for teens. Go ahead and read it on the train like I did — with the Chinese grandmother looking over your shoulder at the full page kissing spreads.

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers!


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