Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Haruna and her monkey-boy beau Macharu have overcome heaps of obstacles, not the least of which are their own incompatible personalities, growing closer with each hurdle and more in love with each hardship. They've faced disapproving parents, interfering friends, and their disparate ambitions and have emerged an inseparable romantic unit—albeit an idiotic one, as their friends are fond of pointing out. So where to go from here? Well, sex is a good start, quickly followed by moving in together and getting engaged. While still in high school. There are, of course, extenuating circumstances. There always are where Haruna and Macharu are concerned. Arranged marriages and school festivals all factor in, as do icy fathers and run-of-the-mill teen insecurities. Barriers all, but also goads. And nothing that a little monkey love can't whip.
Can a mild twist on a conventional teen romance carry a series all the way through eight volumes to its conclusion? The short answer: Yes. Barely. The long answer? Read on.
Some series were obviously never intended to live as long as they did. They were meant to die modest, dignified deaths early in their runs, but somehow ended up croaking of old age while still hooked up to a blinking bank of narrative life-support machines. Monkey High! comes very close to being one of these. Its popularity obviously surprised its author, Shouko Akira, who comments frequently on her astonishment at its longevity. And there is no denying that the freshness of those first few volumes, when the idea of the aloof gorgeous girl falling for the goofy little guy with the bright outlook was still reinvigorating, has worn off. So too has the breezy humor and effervescent lightness of those early volumes steadily given way to a darker, more angsty and entirely more conventional tone as, of necessity, romantic complications and their attendant drama slowly supplant the series' once refreshingly uncomplicated romantic comedy.
But, while definitely overextended, Monkey High! isn't quite wasting away on life support. It can thank Haruna and Macharu for that. For an ice queen and a pet monkey, the two share some astonishing chemistry. They are an eminently cheerable couple, and when dealing with hoary rom-com standbys like severe father-figures and arranged marriages, the desire to see their weirdly uplifting bond persevere keeps the heart engaged even when the brain isn't. This final installation may not deliver the good-times goods, but in terms of heartening developments for its huggable central duo, it's a regular feast. Their relationship charges ahead at warp factor nine, bulldozing all manner of obstacles with their trademark one-two punch of frosty bluntness (Haruna) and warm optimism (Macharu), all while serving up enough gloriously unrepentant romantic mush to keep your inner teen girl fed for weeks.
As concentrated as the series' charm is in the hands of its characters, it won't unsaddle anyone to learn that Akira's art is heavily focused on her characters. Haruna is convincingly beautiful, Macharu's monkey-like touches are adorable, and the cast overall is attractive and distinctive (particularly around the eyes and lips) enough to elevate the series' artistry a notch or two above the norm. There's nothing particularly revolutionary or even unusual about the layouts, backgrounds (which, as per shojo tradition, are nearly nonexistent) or anything else Akira draws, but it gets the job done and without appearing shabby in the process. Akira's heart is clearly more in her comic compositions than her emotionally-charged ones, but without a visible enough disparity to have a noticeable effect.
Viz's presentation is similarly workmanlike. The book is standard Shojo Beat: unprepossessing cover, standardized spine, decent heft and print quality, and basically zilch for extras (a one-page collection of translation notes and an amusing postscript notwithstanding). Sound effects are all replaced with appropriate English translations, with an effort made to replicate their role in the artwork—an approach that will irk some more than others, but is unlikely to cause any uproars either way.
It really should have ended something like four volumes ago, but even so Monkey High! remains an enjoyable entry in its chosen genre, and certainly features one of the genre's more loveable couples. Contrived, overly dramatic, and sporting a sex scene that'll make some fans squirm, it's a flawed little conclusion to a flawed little series—but no less enjoyable for it.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B-
+ Loads of Haruna and Macharu goodness as the series draws to a highly romantic conclusion.