Reviewby Theron Martin, May 3rd 2008
First-year high school student Haruna Aizawa had to transfer from the preppy K Academy to a much more ordinary high school when her politician father got himself into trouble. She has long thought that high school social hierarchy resembled a zoo's monkey mountain, with monkeys in the same gang constantly fighting and getting back together again, and her new school seems no different; she even meets a boy named Masaru Yamashita (aka “Macharu”) who gives the striking impression of being a baby monkey! Despite that, his short height, and the attentions of the school's resident hunk, Haruna gradually finds herself being won over by Macharu's monkey magic, to the utter delight of their classmates, who treat their growing relationship as a spectator sport. Problems arise for the fledgling couple, however, when the studly ex-boyfriend Haruna left behind at K Academy comes back into the picture.
At first glance Monkey High! seems to offer nothing special beyond using an odd (but not entirely inaccurate) analogy for high school social structure and pecking order. Yeah, it introduces a goofy guy with a charming smile, but this being a shojo romance, the heroine Haruna will surely gradually be won over by the school's tall, lanky prince, who may be a bit of a womanizing jerk but must, of course, have a heart of gold to get by Haruna's defenses, right?
Not this time. Surprisingly, manga-ka Shouko Akira, who has previously done only a couple of one-shot stories, breaks the shojo teen romantic comedy Golden Rule, the one which states that the male lead love interest must be at least a full head taller than the female lead. Yes, this time it's the short (he is no taller than she is) guy who wins the heart of the pretty, preppy transfer student, and he does so without any cheap theatrics or grand gestures. All he needs is a charming, innocent smile and his high-spirited, naturally goofy disposition. A more cynical and analytical soul might point out that Haruna is merely falling for a boy who makes her feel comfortable at a time of great upheaval in her life, but she seems a little too well-grounded to descend into behavior like that. In fact, despite her stirring emotions she may be the most sensible character in the story. Thus her and Macharu's budding relationship has a sweetness to it that even thoroughly mundane developments like a school play, a school hiking trip, a Christmas party, and an ex as a potential love rival cannot completely drag down.
The supporting cast exists mostly to set the context for the scenes and provide a framing device for the development of Haruna and Macharu's relationship. The only one who has any individual personality at all is Macharu's best friend Atsu, the aforementioned studmuffin, who hits on Haruna for a while but ultimately proves to be not too much of a clueless jerk when it becomes apparent that Haruna is headed more in his friend's direction. (However, he is also responsible for the volume's most awkward scene, which involves him giving Macharu something that Haruna finds out about that is, shall we say, ill-timed. This is also probably the scene that bumps an otherwise-tame volume up to a Teen rating.) The rest of the bit players also provide much of the comedy relief in the series, especially in the inordinate glee with which they follow and watch the Haruna/Macharu hook-up and the outlandishly inappropriate choice of costume one has for the Christmas Party in the third of the three long chapters; let's just say that either Ms. Akira either doesn't know much about Christian holiday conventions or was deliberately trying to portray bad taste.
Ms. Akira's artistry actually looks best in the regular page drawings, as the more intensive shading of the first couple of pages and the color cover art tend to distort Haruna's eyes. Like typical shojo artistry, most of the character designs have decidedly long, lanky builds, even ones like Macharu who are supposed to be shorter, but Haruna and especially Macharu do, at least, have distinctive appearances within that style. Ms. Akira favors heavy use of starry and flowery highlights for key scenes and only details the background when needed, which isn't often but is even less frequently missed.
The actual story consists of 176 pages of regular material followed by an eight-page postscript which illustrates how the project came to be and makes some comments about its production. A page of explanations about cultural references used in the story and a bio page for Ms. Akira follow that.
The first volume of Monkey High! will not blow anyone away but does offer a satisfying degree of entertainment value for anyone who is normally a fan of shojo romances. Its willingness to let its heroine fall for a slightly unconventional (by shojo standards) love interest, and its definition of teen social dynamics in monkey terms, gives this otherwise-conventional title enough separation to slightly distinguish itself in a crowded field.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Surprisingly engaging, takes a road a bit less traveled.
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