Friday, January 17, 2003

Salad Days

Genre: Romance
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: Inokuma Shinobu (mangaka). Shonen Sunday.

Currently unavailable online.
Tsumenki's Description:
Salad Days, tagged as the 'brand new standard of love stories' is a combination of one-shots and short story arcs about young love in Tohka High School. Told from different points of view and featuring a variety of characters and storylines, the manga manages to touch on the many aspects of romance -- from hilarious situations to bittersweet endings to tender triumphs. Perhaps the 'main' characters of the series are Kawamura Futaba and Kamiyama Yuuki (first appearance: A New Life), whose unspoken affections for each other unfold in a recurring storyline spread throughout Salad Days' volumes.

(18 tankubons or manga volumes)

'Brand New Standard' uses tried and tested methods >>> by tsumenki
I'll be the first to admit that it's not perfect. Not even close. But there's just something about Salad Days that begs for a second look, and I'd say it would be worth your time.

While the art is satisfactory, I have a problem with the fact that most of the characters are indistinguishable from one another. When I first read Volume I, I didn't even realize that the characters had changed by the second chapter. The girls, as cute as they may be, share the same generic look -- and the guys are no different from each other either. No matter if they're the school's golden boy or the resident dropout -- they all sport similar features. Perhaps the only exception is Hanayama Yoshi (first appearance: Yoshi-kun's Love), whose thick lips, droopy eyes, and large frame make him stand out among the faces on the page.

Okay, so maybe the characters are not memorable per se. But you're sure to relate to their struggles with identity and insecurity. On the whole, they can come alive in the few pages that you encounter each one, by the sheer force of their familiarity to your own teenage drama. Inokuma Shinobu knows the right strings to pull.

And the generic look is forgiven once you get hooked with the stories. With each volume, you are treated to six to seven chapters of unadulterated teenage mush. While most of the situations are fairly normal tales of schoolyard romances, others have rather imaginative storylines. A particular favorite is about a guy who was once humiliated by his preschool crush, only to find that the girl has transferred to his high school and continues to embarrass him by turning him into her personal slave. It starts out with a comic vein, but continues with a rather heavy mood.

I must confess that after a while, the other storylines can get repetitive. After all, how many times can you honestly go through a boy-loves-girl-loves-his-best-friend scenario in one sitting? But because of the different treatments of such plots, you'll discover that there are some gems in this manga -- and that not every love story ends happily ever after.

Salad Days can be read in no particular order, except perhaps for the Yuuki-Futaba stories, but even those can stand as one-shots. Maybe in that sense, the manga is introducing a brand new standard -- something new for everyone. But at the core of it all, Salad Days employs a very traditional formula: boy meets girl. With its quiet appeal, the manga reaches out and reminds you of the magic of falling in love.

Individual Rating: Art 7; Story 8; Characters 8

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