DRAWN & QUARTERED
"Just My Luck" is blandly predictable.
There is a time and a place to read epic manga series that span dozens of volumes, clog up multiple shelves at bookstores and feature earth-shattering revelations and conflicts.
This ... is not one of those times.
Let's face it: We're still recovering from all that time we spent at Kawaii Kon last weekend. So we turned to something simpler for our tired minds to contemplate: single-volume manga, where stories can be introduced and resolved within a matter of pages. Tokyopop's such releases in recent years are a rather eclectic mix.
'Just My Luck'
Asahi is a student who has horrible luck. Readers are just going to have to have to take his word for it, though, because for a book called "Just My Luck," there aren't really any scenes that show his luck (or lack thereof) in everyday situations.
What can be discerned, though, is that Asahi is the lone member of the Divination Research Club, advised by a teacher, Rokujou. Rokujou has a rather unorthodox method of "purifying" Asahi and giving him the good luck he apparently lacks: kissing him. Lots and lots of kisses. Sometimes even in various states of undress.
And thus the flimsy plot gives way to the fundamental core of the genre known as yaoi manga: two hot guys in a hotter romance, with lots of blushing and someone inevitably saying something to the effect of, "Oh, I don't know if I should do this! ... But ehh, what the hey" and giving in to their carnal desires. Repeat this over three chapters, toss it into a book and collect a paycheck -- that's what it seems like author Temari Matsumoto did here.
Three other short stories round out this book, each with slightly more story development than the featured story. The most intriguing of these is about a recluse and the android his younger sister brings to him to keep him company. There's also a story about a teacher with a school uniform fetish, and one about two guys who work together on the student council.
Yet this is yaoi manga we're talking about here. The bland predictability of the feature story sets up the expectation that the rest of the stories will have more of the same -- and in that sense, the book doesn't disappoint.
But for those expecting more, it's best to keep in mind what the term "yaoi" was derived from: a three-word phrase that translates into "no climax, no conclusion, no meaning." "Just My Luck" epitomizes that, for good and for ill.
In the title story in this two-story anthology, quiet loner Ryo Aihara looks on with envy at the other girls in school, who have cell phones and friends to chat with endlessly. So in her mind she creates her perfect phone: sleek, white, with the theme song from her favorite movie as the ringtone -- "Calling You."
Ryo puts so much effort into her imaginary phone that it's almost real. Then she's shocked when it rings one day -- and on the other end is a boy, Shinya, who says he's calling from his own made-up phone. They run a test and discover that the other person does, in fact, exist, and that they are indeed somehow speaking through these cell phones in their minds.
The two get into long conversations that are carried out in their heads that no one else can hear, talking about everything from hobbies to school to family, and Shinya's friendship encourages Ryo to start using her real voice. They finally decide to meet in person, with him flying in from Hokkaido in the north -- a plan that ends in tragedy.
"Calling You" is the usual inspiring story of a person finding her voice, but the use of a cell phone is a clever unconventional device in this arena and brings the story into the 21st century while highlighting Ryo's plight in an age of instant communication. And several twists offer a few wrenching moments before the ending that tells us that, yes, Ryo will be all right.
The manga is based on short stories by author Otsuichi which were also translated into English by Tokyopop and collected under the same title of "Calling You." Some details differ from the manga versions, but the tales are even more beautifully bittersweet in pure prose and include a third story, "Flower Song," that was not made into illustrated form.
In "Flower Song" a deadly train accident puts a young newlywed in the hospital, stuck in a dreary room with two wretched men for company, grieving for a lost love and having to face estranged parents. But a curious flower with the face of a girl and humming a cheerful tune restores something deep within the three sad roommates. And finding out the haunting story behind the mysterious bloom gives the young, forlorn soul a new appreciation for life and for the mother who still loves her child.
"Flower Song" also has a couple of twists at the end, one of which makes the reader look back on the entire story in a completely different light.