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Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Hana Suzuki's top three priorities in life are sleeping, eating, and baths, in that order. So important is sleep to her that she passed demanding entrance exams just so she could attend a high school only a couple hundred meters from her home, thus allowing her a few minutes of extra sleep in the mornings. Her routines gets disrupted, however, when an accident leads to her being tricked into joining her school's otherwise all-boy field hockey club, which actually functions more as a travel club since they have difficulty getting any matches to go off. Though the club's population of hot guys, including rich bishonen Izumi, make her the envy of her female classmates, Hana sees participation more as an annoying interruption of her sleep patterns except when food and baths are involved.
Everyone who can remember their teenage years (or is still in them) probably knew at least one person like Hana, a friend or classmate who could never seem to get enough sleep. Comical exaggeration of such a trait usually involves some degree of narcolepsy, but manga-ka Ai Morinaga has taken it in a more ordinary direction and exploited it to the max: this is a character who not only looks for novel new places to sleep, but gains phenomenal physical ability while asleep. Sometimes this proves funny, other times it gets taken to annoying extremes, but it and the sports club that never actually plays matches are the only two traits that significantly distinguish My Heavenly Hockey Club from any of a number of other shojo titles out there focused on a standoffish girl amongst a cluster of barely-distinguishable pretty boys.
As one might expect, the male characters fall into predictable patterns. Izumi is the impulsive rich kid who only knows how to solve problems by throwing money at them, sulks when he doesn't get his way, and just may be falling for Hana despite her barely-endowed body. He's the only one of the five in the club who gets significant face time, as the others fall into common supporting roles defined by limited traits: two are cheery twins, one is a stern glasses-wearing type, and the other sports girlish features and pleasantness. They all, of course, are collectively only good at looking pretty and have little practical skill of any kind. Hana's characterization does not fare much better, as she has little personality beyond her sleep obsession and general orneriness, but at least she has a personality.
The romantic potential never gets more than hinted at in this first volume, but that is actually not a problem since the series has yet to lay a sufficient foundation to justify romantic complications. The ample humor makes the series readable, and is the component most likely to entice a reader to come back for a second volume. When the gags involving the humans prove to be insufficient, it resorts to the time-honored manga tradition of bringing animals into the picture. While the monkey ultimately proves to be a waste, some of the jokes concerning the bear should provoke at least a few laughs.
All of the male hockey club members have the stereotypical shojo bishonen look, with their lanky builds and mop of hair; only the girlish-looking Natsuki visually stands out. Contrarily, Hana's short hair and lack of a feminine figure contribute to an atypically boyish look for a heroine. When she wears something other than a school uniform (which is most of the time in this volume), her eyes are often the only thing which give her away as a girl - assuming we can actually see them wide open, of course. Both character designs and background art reflect a somewhat lazy style, one which employs thin lines, lots of caricatures, and only as much cleanliness and detail as necessary to convey the scene. The color cover art looks much better, although Hana has a much sterner look in color than she ever has in black-and-white. One scene late in the volume does contain a couple of panels of nudity, but otherwise no fan service can be found here.
Del Rey's production of this volume includes notes on common Japanese honorifics at the beginning and extensive translation notes at the end. It also includes a six-page preview of volume 2. Sound effects remain in original Japanese form with small, innocuous translations usually included. Paper quality is equivalent to recycled newsprint, but it does use nicely-colored glossy cover art.
A reverse harem story done in traditional shojo style, the first volume of this tale of a girl who gets drawn into an otherwise all-guy hockey club won't dazzle you with its quality but may be enough to amuse.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C+
+ Sometimes quite funny.
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