Manga-ka: Mayu Fujitaka
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: March 2010
Synopsis: “Souka and her recently divorced mother move to a new place to start over. In looking for a school to enroll in, Souka decides to leave her preppy, private high school behind and transfers into a technical high school. To her surprise, she’s the only girl student in the entire school! The first day of school is nothing like she ever imagined — boys crashing through the window, fighting for all they are worth. One day, the school’s current “Bancho” (a term for a gang leader) ambushes Souka. What Souka didn’t know was that when someone takes down the class’ leader, you became the leader of that class. This wasn’t a role she was expecting for herself, but will she be able to relinquish it?”
After all the recent goings on regarding CMX, namely its demise, reviewing this volume was a little sad. However, while the series might go unfinished, My Darling! Miss Bancho’s first volume still has a lot to offer its readers. A decidedly off beat take on the generic Cinderella “guys transform plain girl into campus princess” genre, Souka finds herself the unwanted leader of an entire school of goofy, unrefined young men.
As Souka barely survives her first day at a new school, Mayu Fujitaka introduces us to a fun, independent heroine. Her mother newly divorced, she makes the best of her situation and decides to take the practical route with a technical school to hopefully get a good job once she‘s graduated. I really enjoyed that Souka stood up for her friends, seeking to stop the previous Bancho when he was attacking Yu, and subsequently made the best of a daunting situation.
The manga quickly went from a standard story of a plucky heroine to a hilarious, more realistic take on what it would be like to have a legion of boys at your command. It was a bit of a treat to have a shojo manga where the lead wasn’t a pushover, and the boys aren’t either cheesy romantic leads or menacing examples of why you shouldn’t use shojo manga as a guide to life (like say, any manga involving vampires). While the budding romance plotline with Yu is fairly standard, it’s handled well, and much of the humour is rooted in the absurdity of Souka’s situation. Most of the students are gleeful fans of Miss Bancho, hovering about like overprotective Moms, a strange visual considering the tough guy atmosphere. As Souka takes on would-be usurpers, campus fairs and field trips that become turf battles with other schools, the reactions of her minions offer lots of comedy and heart. Fujitaka seems to have a great understanding of the many forms of stupidity, from goofy to occasionally violent, that occupy high schools that a mostly male population won’t help.
Indeed, the minions make for much of the fun. The bancho aspect of the series had me doing a lot of flashbacks to early 90’s and late 80’s anime, where the school gangs were a common theme, and idealistic thugs headlined series like YuYu Hakusho. While some of the series reflects current shojo manga trends, the old-style basic black uniforms, pompadours, and shaved heads give the series a nice middle ground feel between shonen and shojo, and the accuracy of the setting adds another interesting aspect to the series.
This volumes’ author notes go into Fujitaka’s personal experiences, as her brother attended one of those schools which seem to function similarly to community colleges in North America. It offers a different look at the Japanese educational system. Even the silly aspect of Souka being the only girl at school seems less fantastical after the author reveals that her brother went to high school with 800 boys and 15 girls(!). It seems too often manga are set in extremely decadent schools for the elite gunning for Tokyo University, while this series gives us a heroine on a blue-collar level of training.
The creator admits that this is an early work, and it’s interesting to view things from that perspective. The self-contained nature of the initial chapters reflects the nature of manga anthologies, wherein short stories are a regular feature, and if well received, will see more stories commissioned from the author and expand the story into a series. As such, the first chapter mostly stands on its own, while subsequent chapters are self-contained and build upon the initial wacky theme. Her artwork can occasionally be clunky (mostly in the first chapter), but nonetheless pleasant, and the strong characterizations and strange premise make up for it. It’s interesting to encounter an early work of an artist, rather then the ultra-polished fare of most manga published here, adding another charming aspect to Miss Bancho. The side-notes in different spots of the book also offer a fun glimpse into the challenges and nature of a manga author‘s initial work in the Japanese industry, revealing that Bancho‘s was initially published in another magazine, with it‘s 2nd chapter debuting in the more mainstream Lala.
CMX’s presentation follows their usual standards. Clean, crisp printing on paper that’s a little lighter then other publishers but still a nice quality, which Yen Press looks to have started using on some titles like Kobato. They opted to showcase the artwork and avoid making the cover overly busy, and replace translate sound effects completely (or overlay them with a translation in a similar font), making for a natural read. I’ll miss that attention to detail, as some publishers seem to just slap on a subtitle in basic text, which can be visually distracting for some titles.
DC’s dumping of CMX was one of many recent manga publishing downfalls, but was in many ways the saddest. An imprint of a large, successful publisher, CMX seemed to be an often overlooked stepchild, a division of Wildstorm independent from DC’s primary operations that after an awkward start had become one of the more solid manga publishers, with a strong focus on quality and a diverse range of titles. Ignored by a fandom that perpetuated falsehoods about its editing standards, and by a publisher who consistently ignored the imprint, it still kept going and brought a lot of good books to the market. Some people at DC apparently were not fans of manga, and shuttered the line at last notice, with more volumes of Miss Bancho already solicited and numerous other series cut short. I hope more readers continue to discover their titles and appreciate what’s now gone and what remains. CMX has published a number of great series over the past 5 years, so be sure to check out their numerous completed series before they’re out of print.
My Darling! Miss Bancho is a great read I can easily recommend to any manga reader. The setting will be a nostalgic throwback to older manga fans, like a kinder, gentler Cromartie High School, and the light hearted nature will appeal to new shojo manga fans as well. It has a lot of crossover appeal, and even though its release has been cut short, the origins of the series in a short stories makes it easier to recommend as everything is fairly self-contained. It’s a great example of the fun, unusual titles CMX specialized in bringing to the market.