Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Shuriken and Pleats
Mikage Kirio is one of the ninjas who have continued to exist in the shadows in the modern world. Living in England as the bodyguard to a widower named Mr. Ron, she is devoted to her mission of keeping the man whose seeds could put an end to world hunger until an assassin takes him out. Riddled with guilt, she follows Mr. Ron's wishes and returns to Japan to live as a normal high school girl, but a chance encounter with a dying young man who is being attacked by other ninjas gives her new purpose. Is she betraying her former master if she helps this new one? And will remaining a ninja really bring her happiness?
In the middle of writing her previous series, Vampire Knight, Matsuri Hino reports thinking to herself that she wouldn't write another manga series. Instead (and luckily for her fans), she wrote Shuriken and Pleats, a two-volume ninja tale that, while not as immediately engaging as Vampire Knight, still has the mark of its storyteller. This first book actually feels as if it doesn't really need a second, or rather as if she wasn't planning on writing any more – almost all of the plot threads are gathered up, the heroine undergoes the development that she needs to in order to move forward with her life, and there's just a sense of finality about it. For those leery of getting into another lengthy shoujo, this should be a relief and while there's still enough for Hino to get a second good volume out of the story, you could also just read this book and be satisfied.
The title of the book, Shuriken and Pleats, is a reference to the two worlds protagonist Mikage Kirio is torn between. Mikage is a ninja operating behind the scenes as a bodyguard in the modern world, ninjas having popularly been assumed to have gone out with the Meiji period. She works for a kindly British man named Mr. Ron, who has devoted his life to creating seeds that can put an end to world hunger. Because some people are evil, his life is in constant danger due to his work, and his wife and daughter have already been killed. Mikage's job is to help protect him, something she takes very seriously. He, however, sees her more as a daughter, and he wants her to stop being a ninja and just be happy, something Mikage can't quite understand. Essentially he wants her to exchange her shuriken (throwing knives) for a pleated skirt, such as Japanese high school girls wear, and in the first chapter he tries very hard to convince her. As it turns out, her protection isn't quite enough, and Mr. Ron is killed. Feeling guilty and obliged to her late master (who left her a lifetime's wages in his will), Mikage packs up and moves to Japan to live the life he wanted her to. At this point we might assume that Shuriken and Pleats would turn into a wacky school comedy about a ninja trying to be a regular schoolgirl, and there are maybe about three scenes of that all told, but Mikage almost immediately runs into a young man being chased by ninjas in Tokyo, with the result that she finds herself pledging to help save him.
Hino can't quite seem to decide what kind of story she wants to write, which may be why this volume gets taken up by the ninja aspect with the strong implication that volume two will focus on school. Mikage does, in fact, enroll in school as per Mr. Ron's wishes; she quickly becomes enamored of a quiet, nerdy boy whom she rescues from bullies, struck by what she sees as his sparkling beauty. That's largely left alone, however, so that there can be more focus on Mahito Wakashimatsu, the young man she saves, and the weird machinations of his family. While this story does wrap up and make sense, it also feels a little lacking in terms of explanation. Mahito apparently was somehow allied with Mr. Ron, against his family's wishes, although that largely turns out to be part of an intricate revenge plot spanning five hundred years that we learn very little about. The reason for this lack of knowledge is that Mikage herself simply doesn't want to know – she can only assuage her guilt about working for someone who is not Mr. Ron by learning as little as possible about the situation. While this does work for the character, it also feels like lazy writing on Hino's part, one of the tricks authors use when they want to get around having to pen extra pages of backstory and explanation. We do get enough information to make the story feel complete, but thinking about it afterwards, it simply doesn't sit right.
In that sense, Shuriken and Pleats' first book is one best read quickly without thinking about it too much. Upon closer examination, the story is lacking, but in the moment, it is enjoyable and very entertaining. Mikage's seriousness and the strange gaps in it (such as not wanting to know what's going on or her devotion to cute erasers) keep things relatively light despite some heavy subject matter, and there's always something fun about a ninja story anyway. Hino's art is, as always, more than up to the task of keeping our eyes on the page. Despite some distinct resemblances to previous characters, her people are beautiful and appealing with delicately depicted facial expressions that change with just a single line drawn on the brow. Mikage's ninja moves are breathtaking, and there's a real sense that every single movement she makes is deliberate and tightly controlled. You can feel the power of her muscles when she jumps. Pages and panels actually flow rather better than they did in Vampire Knight, and the chapters feel more organic than in some of her other works, where things can end abruptly.
If you're a fan of Matsuri Hino, you probably already know that you want to read this book. And it is worth reading, even if you haven't read any of her previous works. The story is a bit glib upon reflection, but it doesn't feel that way in the moment and her artwork really is exquisite. There are some master/slave themes that may not work for everyone (although nowhere near the level of her series Captive Hearts), but if you're just looking for a good read with no obligation to pick up volume two, Shuriken and Pleats is just that – and if you do want more, don't worry; volume two is coming.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Gorgeous art, fun story on the whole. Movement is especially well done, and Mikage has enough little quirks to make her more than just another stoic character.
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