Manga-ka: Keiko Honda
Publisher: Central Park Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: January 2005
Synopsis: “A modern masterpiece of romantic storytelling! Arou and Keita are two clueless lawyers whose law office serves all manner of zany characters with way-out problems. Things get even crazier when they meet Key, a young woman with amnesia. Can the good-hearted heroes help Key retrieve her lost memories… and does she want them to?”
Central Park Media was an early shojo pioneer, releasing some charming works by bilingual manga-ka Tomoko Taniguchi. Towards the end of their manga output, they released two one-shot graphic novels by Keiko Honda in an attempt to build another stable of works around an obscure but charming artist. Thinking the first of these, Over the Rainbow, might be similar to Taniguchi’s output, I picked up this collection, hoping to find something similarly sweet and simple.
Initially, Over the Rainbow exhibits some good shojo charm with a whimsical opening as two lawyers befriending an amnesiac they met after riding a roller coaster together. Striking panels simulate the experience well. Key’s amnesia is the sort you often find in fiction, a deus ex machina that conveniently sets up a sense of mystery, something I forgive a little as the story later adds a more realism by having her visit therapists. The usual angst-filled “Who I am?” blathering is replaced by a chipper demeanour, as Key tackles her problem head-on, and takes on a normal life as Bouya and Daigo‘s assistant. In a later chapter, an empty apartment makes for a nice metaphoric moment, as despite Key‘s acceptance of her condition, she‘s still uncertain about her place in life. Scenes like this make her then romantic relationship with Bouya more realistic, as he attempts to help her come to terms with her lack of a past.
While it serves to add a recurring plot to an otherwise episodic series, it’s still handled somewhat clumsily despite the fresh approach. The later chapter where Key’s amnesia and past are seemingly revealed is quickly reversed as implanted memories, leaving the reader confused, though resolving the romance plotline with Bouya. This chapter proved a sloppy aspect to an otherwise decent work. One’s eyebrows may raise slightly as sweetie-pie Key apparently works as a prostitute (what’s up with that?) and Arou witnesses a one page murder that is just sort of left hanging so he can go off and propose to Key. You‘d think with two lawyers as the main characters there‘d be more detective work involved. Don’t come into this tale expecting an in-depth examination of the Japanese legal system, manga readers.
The stronger aspects of this work are the different social issues each chapter tackles. Nothing ever gets too deep, keeping the tone light, but it’s not often you encounter stories about ADD, divorce and dementia in your normal manga intake. I wouldn’t have minded more of Daigo’s story, as he has to deal with raising his son, and his ex-wife’s race car driving career. This chapter, where Ms. Daigo is hospitalized after a horrific crash, was my overall favourite, as Daigo gets mixed up with another hospital visitor, a Yakuza watching over his chronically ill daughter. Nothing goes with shojo manga better than gangsters! Keita’s personal life quickly moves to the background of the story, however it does continue with some other rewarding stories. A subsequent story, with a sweet focus on the life of a single mom raising her ADD-diagnosed son taking on a songwriter who apparently stole lyrics from the boy, ends in a charming way. A somewhat illogical ending occurs, due to Bouya’s conflict of interest in knowing the songwriter, but this is shojo manga afterall.
However, the final chapter left me slightly creeped out, as an overly pushy mom picks meaningless fights with her neighbours, like taking Key’s “inappropriate” panties off her drying rack, lest they distract her son from studying. Further randomness is encountered as an elderly neighbor with dementia relieves himself on her doorstep. It’s all happy flowers and weepy smiles by the end of the story mind you, as like the other tales it works its way out before going to court. This all leaves one to wonder how Daigo and Bouya ever manage to get paid.
In terms of art style, Honda’s work is fairly generic 90’s shojo style, though the range of ages of the supporting character allows some diversity, with some sweetly drawn old people, small children, and the assorted gangsters. The opening shot of the core cast drawn by Daigo’s son sent as a fax establishes a fun style that holds things together well.
Eventually, I realized that many of the odder aspects of the story [older protagonists, random sex scene (not quite 13+ there, CPM), important social issues for women] were due to the fact that this is actually josei manga, and not shojo manga. Most of the issues it examines are important to women with aging parents, young children and marriages, all handled at a pace meant to fit into a short break in the chaos of adult life. I’m guessing CPM wasn’t entirely sure how to market that aspect, but it does. While the story is very light, its josei origins give some insight to its shorter, single volume format, and cheesy “Office Lady“ manga aspects. In fact, if you check the copyright info, it was published by Ohzora in Japan, who a few years after this was published would attempt to start their own josei company in North America, Aurora Press. Aurora’s primary focus was on josei manga, though this work seems a bit lighter then their RediComi publications.
I would recommend this work primarily to those looking to add more diversity to their manga collection given the scarcity of josei manga available domestically. It’s not the best example of the genre, but it does give you a taste of the diversity of manga in Japan.
Note: Over The Rainbow is currently out of print but can still be found both new and used through comic retail and online sales.