Love Song by Keiko Nishi
Love Song is an early manga published by Viz from the days when manga was flipped and a definition of shojo was printed on the back cover. This masterful collection of short stories has been influenced by a variety of genres like fantasy, horror, and science fiction, but the first story delves into the mind of a psychologically damaged woman. In “Love Song” Saki has sworn off men. She fell in love with a female classmate in high school, but their friendship was forbidden. In college Saki’s total indifference to men has made her the object of their crushes. She goes out on a group date and meets a boy named Kazuhiko. Saki refuses to categorize Kazuhiko as her boyfriend and treats him with contempt. She tells him to buy a car he can’t afford, berates him, and physically attacks him. Kazuhiko is sorry that she doesn’t know how to love someone. When he disappears for a couple months, Saki is frantic with worry but refuses to come to terms with her emotions. This story contained one of the most harrowing and dysfunctional relationships I’ve seen portrayed in manga.
“Jewels of the Seaside” is a detour into a horror story with the ever so proper characters of two English sisters who summer in their family’s vacation home. The sisters take in a lost traveler and tell him a story about three sisters fighting due to jealousy revolving around their handsome cousin Daniel. There’s a third sister missing, where could she be? The sisters’ account of their bickering resolves in a horrible dinner involving poison, switched plates, an axe, and mysterious noises coming from behind the basement door.
“The Signal Goes Blink Blink” is the story of a young boy named Yoshio Yamada who is bullied at school. He thinks that his life has no meaning, but one day he rescues an abandoned puppy with an injured leg. A cynical tour guide named Kudoh witnesses this event and decides to promote Yoshio as a healer. A fake faith healer views Yoshio’s real powers as a threat, and starts to take action to discredit him. Yoshio has a hard time dealing with his lingering feelings of insecurity as he becomes a celebrity healer. The supernatural aspect of Yoshio’s healing powers really fades into the background, as the emphasis is on Yoshio’s journey after being bullied.
The last story in the collection is more of a mood piece than a story with a strong plot. “The Skin of Her Heart” shows the life of a factory worker on a space colony who knows that her life would be different if she could travel to earth. This story left me with a wistful feeling.
Nishi uses a thin, light line in her drawings. She’s particularly effective at capturing facial expressions. Saki’s anger turns her into a caricature of rage. Sparkling oversized eyes in the three sisters’ expressions look incredibly creepy, as a shojo visual convention turns to horror. Sometimes short story collections leave me with the feeling that there’s something incomplete, and I wish the stories were more fully developed, but Love Song was a satisfying read. It is worth picking up if you are curious about Viz’s early publishing history and enjoy some classic manga. The stories in this collection seemed to be designed for an older audience than the typical shojo reader, and I’m wondering if they originally ran in a josei magazine or if older shojo stories were simply more sophisticated.