Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Konnichiwa Sensei

Ok, this is going to be pretty unfair. I'm not a big fan of this kind of shojo manga, and I've only read the one volume from the series, so I can hardly be expected to make an informed opinion here. On the other hand, my main purpose isn't to review Konnichiwa Sensei, but rather to bring Hideko Mizuno to everyone's attention (if you don't already know about her).

Hideko was one of Osamu Tezuka's assistants at Tokiwa Manor, along with Shotaro Ishinomori and Fujio Fujiko, in the early 1950's. She went on to make a major name for herself as one of the most successful female manga artists of the 50's and 60's. "Fire!" won the Shogakukan Award in 1970, and "Honey Honey no Sutekina Boken" was adapted into a TV anime, known in the U.S. as "Honey Honey".

(Image from amazon, used for review purposes only.)

Her website has a reminiscence from her days at Tokiwa (in Japanese of course), and her manga is still being released. Her style is very easily recognizable, with the big glittering eyes, boyishly-good looking leading men, and big-haired girls. This is the embodiment of young Japanese girls stories.

(Cover reprinted here for review purposes.)

Konnichiwa Sensei, vol. 9, by Hideko Mizuno, Grade: B
If you're going to review just one book out of a full repertoire, you're faced with a dilemma. Should it be a collection of stand-alone stories that don't show the artist's storytelling abilities? Should it be something famous that's been reviewed before or a work that's obscure for a reason? The first volume of a series that you don't know how it will end, the last volume so you don't know how it started, or from the middle where there's at least a sense of ongoing adventure?

I picked volume 9 of "Konnichiwa Sensei" ("Hello, Doc") because that's the only book of Mizuno's available at the used bookstore. Just by coincidence, it happened to be the last volume of the series. Reprinted in 2004, it originally ran in Weekly Margaret magazine in 1964.

Our heroine is the inimitable Annie Ford, 18, granddaughter of the great oil baron Mr. Ford himself. Annie has been sent to the western town of Holdup, U.S.A., where she's expected to survive on her own under the alias "Jane", minus all of the minions and servants she's grown accustomed to, as a predecessor of the 1965 TV show "Green Acres". Holdup is a small town, occupied by the rambunctious sisters Rose and Mary, airheaded little Berry and the handsome young veterinarian Doc Holiday. Essentially a sitcom, the chapters follow a typical pattern where "Jane" fails to win Doc's attentions, or gets tired of being ignored by the backwards town people, and tries to do something secretly using her family's wealth only to have the plan backfire when one of the others don't react as expected.

One example situation takes place towards the end of the series, when Jane had dropped a diamond ring and word got out that Holdup might have a diamond mine. Berry is one of the kids that spread the rumor, and when prospectors descend on the town to dig for diamonds, Berry's misunderstanding is exposed and he gets spanked by his mother as punishment. Feeling guilty and wanting to make things up to Berry, "Jane" flies back to New York to tell her butler to buy up some statues and artwork from the museums and have them buried outside of town. Annie then sends a letter to Berry telling him to go out to the big tree on the outskirts of town and start digging. Berry sees Annie's trademark pistol stamp on the envelop and immediately thinks that she's buried a pistol there. When the Venus de Milo, a centaur statue and other things start coming up out of the ground, the townsfolk have no idea what they are and end up defacing the artwork. Berry's friends beat him up for not finding the promised pistol.

Meanwhile, Annie is on her way to the Riviera to get her grandmother's approval to marry Doc. Grandma, unfortunately, has agreed to marry the girl off to the wimpy Don Juan. And, while "Jane" is out of town, Rose makes a play for Doc. Things get really out of control when Doc flies to New York and realizes A) that "Jane" has been lying to him; and B) "Jane" comes from a really wealthy family and he hates that kind of wealth. To top it all off, when Annie does return to Holdup, she is just in time to hear the rumors that Doc is going to marry Rose, followed by Rose accidentally kissing Doc. It's enough to make a young, spoiled, head-strong girl run off to Mexico. Which she does. Actually, she only gets to the nearby town of Gunbelt, but that's good enough. Anyway, this is the last volume, so everything gets straightened out in the end and the two lovers get married on the last page. Annie gets her grandmother's approval, and she also makes Doc happy by donating her inheritance away so that the newlywed couple can remain quietly in Holdup.

(Cleopatra, the "uncatchable.)

It's a sappy story for young girls wishing to grow up to become princesses, filled with cute fish (the fish have eyelashes), cute dogs, cute men, and wardrobe upon wardrobe of disposable thousand-dollar dresses. It fits the definition of "shojo manga" to a "t".

Summary: Hideko Mizuno is a fixture in the shojo manga world, and "Konnichiwa Sensei" is what you'd expect from a 1960's young girl's artist - big sparkly eyes and silly romantic situations. Recommended for the historical value.

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