Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 15th 2008
Satsuki Kurokawa is anything but the average girl—she talks with an attitude, gets into fights, and doesn't show much interest in boys. But that's exactly why she's caught the attention of Aya Sendo, a guy who also happens to have a history of violence. Aya would like to think that he's got a chance with Satsuki: she lets him hold hands, she invites him to hang out at a school festival, and they even end up together as emergency substitutes for the school cheer squad. But every time Aya tries to admit his feelings for Satsuki, she seems blithely oblivious, marching to the beat of her own drummer. Will Satsuki and Aya ever get together for real?
There are many ways to make a school romance work—whether it's light and sweet, or emotionally turbulent, or wild and fun, or any of the shades in between. With so many formulae for success, one would think that Short Sunzen! would at least get something right, but no, it manages to fail at just about everything. Even when it tries to roll out basic plot concepts like Boy Meets Girl or Let's Go On A Date, this first volume loses itself in a morass of bad pacing, bad drawing and bad storytelling. Events chain to other events for no reason. Streams of dialogue get hopelessly derailed. Basic facial expressions are hideously skewed. There are many ways to make a romance work, but this is not one of them.
Right from the start, this volume does its utmost to confuse and disinterest the reader. Normally, jumping right into the action would be a good move for a story, but here it means having no idea who the characters are, no context about the situation they're in, and five pages later we're wondering why Satsuki is switching uniforms with some rich girl from a prestigious school (who is never heard from again after Chapter 1). And this just keeps happening throughout the rest of the book: events take place, but with hardly any logic or motivation to them. Even something as basic as the chapter where Satsuki and Aya first meet is a pointless mess of classroom fights and conversations. Where's the romantic pull between them? How are we supposed to care about the story if there's no impetus to find out what happens next?
In fact, the Satsuki/Aya dynamic raises another issue: deciding on the main character. Satsuki may be the lead character by default (she's a girl in a shoujo series), but half the time it's Aya who's monologuing and pining for love. This just adds to the confusion of trying to figure out where the story is going: is it supposed to focus on the tough girl who softens up, or on the emotionally awkward guy trying to win her heart? Does anyone care? Honestly, the only entertainment value to be had in this volume is in the bizarre situations that Satsuki and Aya end up in, like doing emergency duty for the ouendan (cheer squad—you know, like in that popular import video game) and shaking things up at a rival school's prim-and-proper cultural festival. But a smattering of sitcom humor can't make up for the gaping flaws of poor story logic, poor characterization, and such a lack of content that they have to tack on an unrelated one-shot at the end with equally lousy characters and plotting.
Reading this nightmare would almost be bearable if there were some cute and fluffy artwork, but no such luck. Draftsmanship hits an all-time low here with horrible fundamental errors like misaligned faces, awkward poses and freakishly huge hands. This would be understandable if it were a losing entry in a first-time manga contest, but seriously, what kind of editor lets this stuff in? Compounding the ugliness is a sense of layout that makes an already directionless story even more confusing—panels are squeezed in wherever they can fit, and trying to follow the dialogue becomes a game of guesswork. (That is, if you can squint your eyes enough to read the ridiculously tiny off-to-the-side chatter.) But wait, the parade of mediocrity wouldn't be complete without some classic visual clichés, like fancy screentone patterns and flowery backgrounds that do more to clutter the images than to enhance them.
With so many flaws and so little logic in the story, it's a wonder that any translator would want to work on the script—but it's a job that must be done, and this one even comes with a short glossary of various Japanese terms that come up in the text. Aside from that, however, the writing doesn't do much to save the story: the tone starts out a little dry with a couple of typos, and even the more easygoing dialogue in the later chapters doesn't change the fact that this series is flawed at a much deeper level. On the print side, some of the more heavily inked and toned pages come out a little grainy, but that's hardly a major concern when there are worse things to worry about in this book.
Add up all those terrible things that one has to worry about, and it's clear that Short Sunzen! is the kind of school romance that should not be read by anyone, ever. It's a sloppy, headache-inducing mess that tries to do the whole "kickass girl gets involved with a lovesick guy" thing and falls flat on its poorly-drawn face. Substandard art and cluttered layouts guarantee instant eyestrain, while the poor character chemistry and aimless plot are sure to kill the brain. And really, the last thing we need in this world is people getting themselves hurt because of manga. So avoid this title if you value your health, because this one is even worse than junk food—it's almost pure garbage.
Overall : F
Story : D-
Art : F
+ A couple of oddly funny moments, like the cheer squad and the school festival.
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