SOS, Volume 1 by Hinako Ashihara amazon
I liked the first volume of Sand Chronicles so much, I decided to check out this book of short stories by Ashihara. “SOS” is a longer work with a couple chapters. Yu is a popular girl but she always seems to fall into the trap of becoming platonic friends with the boys she has a crush on – to the point of helping them get together with other girls. She’s noticed by Raku, an upperclassman who thinks that she’d be the perfect go-between for his high school dating agency, which operates out of the abandoned library club room. Yu and Raku are joined by Nono, a beautiful girl who is determined to use the cash from the dating agency job to open her own business because she doesn’t ever want to be dependent on a man. Since this is an Ashihara manga, it has the heightened, more serious melodrama that sets it apart from the typical shoujo title.
Raku and Nono are old friends and Raku has a crush on her, but Nono hasn’t recovered from an assault attempt from a man when she was younger. Yu starts getting more and more invested in the lives of her dating agency clients in an attempt to escape her own problems – giving an underconfident girl a makeover and encouraging her to date a guy who ends up being a total sleezebag. When the students’ history teacher finds out about the agency, he threatens to expose them if they don’t find a man to distract the woman who’s stalking him. Yu desperately tries to help but her involvement in her client’s lives doesn’t turn out well. Despite herself, Yu finds herself more and more attracted to Raku, even knowing that she’s trapped in her typical pattern of falling in love with a guy she thinks is unattainable. The “S.O.S.” in the title of the story refers to Yu’s silent call of distress as she wishes to connect with someone.
“Sweet Organ Song” is a sentimental story about lost love set in the backdrop of the Kobe earthquakes in 1995 and 1922. “The Easy Life” details a relationship that isn’t the type of happily ever after scenario often found in shoujo manga. Mami is going out with Yohei, who she’s always had a crush on. Mami finds out that since Yohei’s been totally spoiled by his mother, he treats his girlfriend like a servant. Gradually Mami begins to stand up for herself, but it might be too late to salvage her relationship.
Ashihara’s expressive, polished art effectively dramatizes the emotions of her characters. While some one-shot manga seem incomplete, with stories that were canceled before they had a chance to fully resolve, SOS is a great self-contained book of short stories. SOS is definitely worth checking out if you’re going through withdrawal while waiting for the next volume of Sand Chronicles to come out.