Beauty is the Beast Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Julie Rosato
Review Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, November 08, 2005



Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Tomo Matsumoto
Translated by:Tomo Kimura
Adapted by:

What They Say
When bubbly eleventh-grader Eimi Yamashita finds out that her parents must relocate for work, she strikes out on her own and moves into a dormitory for girls. Little does Eimi suspect the exciting romantic adventures that await her there!

Eimi's fellow residents are a little bit crazy but a lot of fun. They've got a secret mission planned for Eimi's initiation as a new resident... and it has something to do with sneaking into the boys' dormitory and returning with a special keepsake! Can Eimi pull it off without getting caught by one of the handsomest (and cruelest) boys in the dorm?

The Review
If Greenwood was a girls' dorm, Sumire of Seikei Academy would be it.

Packaging:
VIZ uses the original cover art featuring Eimi in a layered cowgirl-style outfit and maintains the square design scheme. I'm a big advocate for original covers, but this one came out rather ugly. For what used to be gray yellow is used instead, as a border and logo accent, and it clashes horribly with the rest. Even the title logo is unoriginal and uninspiring. A much better picture of Eimi in festival garb (from the chapter 3 illustration) adorns the back cover.

Inside, the author's freetalks are present and there are several pages of bonus material at the end, with character art, profiles and other interesting tidbits. Closing up the book is a color ad for the Socrates in Love properties, as well as ads for other Shojo Beat titles, a Shojo Beat subscription card, and VIZ's standard reader survey. As per usual for this line, color plates are not included.

Artwork:
The artwork is pretty typical for shoujo works, with nothing particularly outstanding about it. There are not a lot of fine details and it isn't as "pretty" as other newer series have been. I was distracted by the overly sharp noses drawn in profile and the indistinguishable character designs for background (dorm) characters. Even among the main players, clothing was sometimes the only way I could tell the difference between them, Suzu and Inui for example. The linework is quite thin, and occasionally uneven. Eimi's "relaxed" face had some moments of comedic genius though, even if it was somewhat overused. Backgrounds consist mostly of lots of white space and tone in various designs, although there is at least some focus on the architecture, which is fitting as the story takes place mostly around school grounds or inside a dorm. The printing and art reproduction is on par with other titles of this line.

SFX/Text:
SFX and panel/background text have been translated and overlaid in the manner of all books in this line, making use of several different fonts, and overall look pretty good. The translation appears to be well-adapted and reads quite smoothly.

Contents:(please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The story begins when Eimi Yamashita applies to live in Sumire, a girls' dormitory at Seikei Academy. She is immediately introduced to a dubious dorm superintendent and her future roommate " a girl with decidedly odd tastes. She's also informed that on her first night in the dorm she will have to prove herself in an initiation rite. Dorm life is definitely not going to be what Eimi expected!

Her task is to retrieve the name plates from a particular room in the boys' dormitory. With help from her new friends " roommate Misao and pal Suzu " Eimi successfully manages to infiltrate the dorm and comes upon her target " a room inhabited by two guys named Inui and Wanibuchi. Naturally, Wanibuchi is the guy with the worst reputation in school. Eimi is caught red-handed but Inui and Wanibuchi help her out and her mission is a success. Eimi is definitely not what the dorm inhabitants expected!

Next we learn a bit about the mysterious and beautiful Misao. On the verge of leaving Seikei Academy due to his family's transfer, an underclassman named Fujita asks Misao out on a whim. However, Misao only cares about his perfectly proportioned (though slightly underdeveloped) body, much to the chagrin of her friends. It's only after Fujita does a good deed for her does she truly notice him and she is surprised to discover she would like to return the favor (to Fujita's shock as well). When Eimi learns of his imminent move, she convinces Fujita to stand up to his parents and stay at the school, so as not to let Misao down. Misao learns a bit about herself and Fujita gets to be the envy of all the guys, talk about a win-win!

The next chapter, which conveniently takes place in a blossoming romance-friendly festival setting, firmly establishes the story's lead romance -- as the bad-boy loner and innocent girl and how they accidentally fall in love. One night while sneaking out to gather goodies from the convenience store, Eimi spots Wanibuchi. She decides to follow him and finds him meeting up with a dark-skinned foreigner. Her not-so-clever cover is blown and Wanibuchi introduces her to Carlos, an old friend from Mexico City, where Wanibuchi used to live. Enticed by some fireworks shooting off in the distance, the three of them head off toward a street festival. The festival is full of the usual things -- games, food, goldfish scooping, fireworks, even a run-in with a drunken thug " and things unfold as one would expect. Wanibuchi gets a couple of (typical) heroic moments, but the end result is actually pretty cute. Beneath the fireworks their easy companionship blossoms into something a bit more.

The book then moves along to the tomboyish Suzu, who is immensely popular with the other girls. She harbors a secret obsession with cute and fancy panties and has been ashamed to admit it to her dorm mates. She accidentally confides in Inui, who surprises her by giving some good advice. Shortly after, while caught gazing fondly at someone's underwear in the laundry room, Suzu decides to share her secret with the dorm and is shocked to learn everyone already knew and didn't care. It's just as Inui had said--you can't keep secrets from the people you live with. Before she can absorb this though, a reported underwear thief shows up outside the girls' dorm! Outraged, Suzu gets to show off her karate skills and even Inui and Wanibuchi get to play the heroes once again. But now poor Suzu must endure receiving entirely new kinds of gifts from her adoring fans.

The final chapter picks up the romance tendril from the festival story and advances it ever so slightly. The term has ended and Eimi, the last to leave for home, finds herself alone in the dorm. With the bathroom out of commission due to a plumbing problem, Eimi heads over to Wanibuchi's room. But while she's out with him, Eimi gets locked out of her dorm and winds up staying over. There Wanibuchi tells her a bit about his family and she catches a glimpse of him that few others probably see. However, what she learns later is that his family is gone and that he's staying at the dorm for the holiday because he has no where else to go. The news is shocking to Eimi and may be what actually makes her realize her feelings for him. They part ways at the airport, sharing a goodbye scene that was both awkward and cute.

Comments
My first thought upon reading this book was how similar it is to another school-dorm comedy, Here is Greenwood. But while it shares with Greenwood plenty of quirky characters and a quiet, nearly sneaky wit, it so far lacks the same charm. The characters are indeed funny but somehow lack verve. I also can't quite tell if the focus of this story is supposed to be on the various (and sometimes romantic) adventures of the wacky dorm-mates or if it will be on the painfully clumsy love developing between Eimi and Wanibuchi. And to be honest I'm not sure which I'd prefer -- both have been done better before.

So what's wrong? Well, despite the premise, title, even the many scenes intended to make the reader swoon, the romance between Eimi and Wanibuchi is actually fairly understated (at least with this first volume) -- it unfolds so quietly you could miss it if you didn't make it to the last pages. Often the "quirky personalities" bent completely overshadows the relationships and the result leaves them feeling somewhat lifeless. In addition, this book pulls out several shoujo clich�s: There's a misunderstood bad boy with a tragic past, a "simple" heroine, the tomboy all the other girls love, a mysterious beauty and even an underwear thief, to name just a few.

But some things hit just right though, and they had me cackling -- Wanibuchi as a bargain buy (or worse, a chief of a nomadic tribe!), Misao's inner thoughts, Eimi's habit of nicknaming everything, and the precious few scenes in which Inui (Nuinui - ha!) and Wanibuchi interact with each other. And at least Eimi's moving to the beat of her own drum, which many shoujo heroines think they are doing, but really they aren't. Perhaps what saved Eimi's character for me is her honest naivete and innocence which made her more endearing than annoying, but for some readers she'll likely cross the very fine line between this and unappealingly clueless.

This is probably a series that readers will either like or loathe. It actually took a second reading for me to appreciate this book at all, but the more times I read it, the more I get out of it. I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to invest time in a book that doesn't get the job done in the first reading, but for me, a second look definitely changed my opinion. The first chapter and beyond didn't quite capture my interest at first; it just seemed like another romantic school comedy and the art took a little getting used to, but by the end I found the book quite funny (the wit is remarkably underwritten and is clever disguised as obvious) and the character interactions just fun enough to make me check out the next volume. Hopefully I'll find some more laughs along the way and I'll try rooting for Eimi and Wanibuchi, but I'm not completely won over by the series yet.



Mania Grade: B
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
MSRP: 8.99
Pages: 184
ISBN: 1-4215-0289-5
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left