Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, January 31, 2010
      ( 1/31/2010 07:37:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“IT SOUNDS MORE POWERFUL WHEN KOGUMA SAYS IT.” Though the frame of this shojo series reads rather rickety – physically “unbalanced” boy and girl find each other through a mutual love of kimonos(!) -- Miku Sakamoto’s Stolen Hearts (CMX) proves an engaging comic romance, in large part due to its central couple. Seventeen-year-old schoolgirl Shinobu Okuma strikes up a relationship with the scariest teen in school, Miharu Koguma, after she accidently spills milk on a kimono from the shop of Koguma’s feisty grandmother. A towering figure, Koguma has the reputation in school for being dangerous, in large part because his height prevents his fellow students from being able to look at him on an eye-to-eye basis.

Once she gets to more closely know him, however, Shinobu makes it her mission to get her classmates to see the nice guy Koguma truly is. “I want to show them his charms so badly, I can’t stand it,” she tells the reader at one point, but her new boyfriend is so accustomed to folks seeing him as a hulking bruiser that he doesn’t make things easy for her. He frightens off small children when he kneels down to be friendly to ‘em; his size and strength prove an irresistible lure to local bullies, who at one point kidnap Shinobu to lure him out to fight 'em.

Our girl’s desire to reveal her beau’s cuddly side leads to a series of comic incidents, largely revolving around the workings of the entrepreneurial grandma’s kimono shop. We learn a lot about kimono fashions and accessories in the process, but the meat of the story lies in the Sakamoto’s high school update on Beauty and the Beast. Regularly throughout the book, we get panels of the six-foot-plus boy walking hand-in-hand with the four-foot-ten Shinobu: the incongruity is meant to be sweetly comic, and so it is.

As an artist, Sakamoto clearly luxuriates in the design and rendering of kimono fashion. She gets such an obvious kick out of it, you half expect to see some cut-out doll pages appended to the story -- much like American comics for girls used to do back in their commercial heyday. Instead, the first volume in this charming teen-rated romance series concludes with four Coloring Pages for Young Maidens, all featuring the lead characters in kimonos, of course. Perhaps some paper dolls for volume two?


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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