Beauty is the Beast

Beauty is the Beast Volumes 1-5 by Tomo Matsumoto

This series was one of the earlier titles released under the Shojo Beat imprint and judging by amazon availability some volumes are getting hard to find, which is a shame because this slice-of-life manga features an unconventional heroine, hero, and a romance which refreshingly different from what one usually finds in the shoujo genre. Eimi Yamashita moves into a dorm at her school when her parents relocate due to work. The girls’ dorm at her school is a run-down wooden structure, while the boys’ dorm is filled with modern conveniences. Eimi’s dormmates have plenty of personality, spending a good deal of time playing cards and mah jong, as well as running out in the middle of the night for snacks . Eimi’s new roommate Misao has plastered the room with posters of female dancers because looking at female bodies relaxes her. Eimi is asked to sneak into the boys’ dorm and steal a room number as part of an initiation test.

While planning her approach at school, Eimi runs into a strange tall boy hiding his face in his sweatshirt hood. Wanibuchi is viewed as a hoodlum by his fellow students because of his height, laconic personality, and the fact that he lived overseas for many years before returning to Japan. Eimi’s dormmates expect her to fail in her task, and are amazed when she casually hops a high fence and heads into enemy territory. Eimi ducks into Wanibuchi’s room to hide and meets him and his roommate Inui. A shirtless Wanibuchi ends up hiding Eimi by dangling her out the window, and then he tells her how to escape the boys’ dorm. Eimi decides to give both Wanibuchi and Inui pet names, and everyone else is stunned that she can be so casual with them.

Eimi keeps running into Wanibuchi, and they develop an odd friendship. She finds out that he has a part-time job in a bar, and is amazed at how mature he looks when he takes care of customers. Eimi is bluntly naive, and somewhat animalistic in the way she takes care of her own needs. When Eimi’s stuck over break in the girls dorm without access to a shower, she invites herself over to use Wanibuchi’s. Dorm life continues, and the romantic foibles of Eimi’s friends keep the book from being overly focused on the main characters. Eimi and Wanibuchi’s friendship develops gradually and naturally. Even though many of the common shoujo high school plot devices are used (school festival, a rival for Eimi’s affection, homesickness) the pace of the book is slow and realistic, giving the reader a feeling for what school life is like complete with issues like broken tvs and bug extermination.

While the other students act intimidated by Wanibuchi’s tough guy exterior, he actually has a lot of hidden depth and insight into human nature. He’s been drilled in correct manners by his grandfather, and even though his personality is self-contained, he knows how to lead his fellow students even if he uses their dislike of him in order to bring them together as a group. While a more typical shoujo series would have either Eimi or Wanibuchi pushing their relationship to the next level, they seem content to sit back and observe each other for a long time.

The art gives most of the characters a slightly androgynous look. The dorm setting offers plenty of opportunities to explore the foibles of the supporting cast, so the Eimi-Wanibuchi relationship doesn’t suffer from overexposure. While Beauty is the Beast doesn’t have the extreme emotional ups and downs found in dramatic shoujo series, the focus of the daily life of the dorm residents combined with character-based humor makes for a series that is a rewarding, if a bit low-key. This is well worth checking out if you can track down the volumes, I ended up checking the series out of my local library a few weeks ago.