Next up on my shoujo manga jukebox: the fist volume of Sand Chronicles…
…a series recommended to me by the lovely Katherine over at Yuri no Boke when I was bitching about how much I was craving some shoujo crap. Katherine knows me, so she was able to suggest something that was actually my wavelength, as opposed to, I don’t know, Oresama Teacher (vomit). Which is to say… I rather liked this volume of Sand Chronicles, which is pretty lucky considering I bought a bundle of the first four volumes!
Sand Chronicles starts off with twelve year old Ann and her mother moving back to her mother’s rural hometown, and in with her grandparents, in the wake of her parents’ divorce. We watch her meet and become friends with a few of the local chillens before tragedy strikes. Fast forward two years, and Ann is still getting over some of the after-affects of said tragedy, as well as coping with the fact that she has ~feelings~ for one of her two male friends.
This first volume alone deals with periods and suicide. It just barely stays this side of melodrama in addressing these two matters, which I’m pretty thankful for, as melodrama involving suicide just reminds me of Flowers in the Attic… which, ok, was an amusing book, but not what I really want out of Sand Chronicles. The sequence involving periods ends up being a bit silly, though, as its really exaggerated – boys think that Ann has a bad leg injury because there is blood gushing out of her pantleg and all over her leg, but, nope, she’s just getting her period! To any girls who read this and haven’t gotten their periods yet, or any guys who are reading this and just don’t know anything about periods… this isn’t how it works, so don’t go around envisioning that periods = massive hemorhagging. It really isn’t that traumatic.
Anyway, Ann hails from the feisty school of shoujo heroines; think Chihaya from Chihayafuru (I know, I know, that’s a josei, but that’s the closest I can think of), but less obtuse. She’s pretty likeable. The guys fall into the usual blonde hair = goofball, dark hair = solemn scheme, but they’re not annoying, so I’m willing to roll with it. The blonde, Daigo, also fully escapes the usual thick-headedness associated with his type, in a somewhat shocking move. Rounding out our primary cast is the dark haired Fuji’s younger sister, Shika, who is cute and a bane for her family’s staff, as she loves to get involved with things they don’t think are proper for her to be doing. Her part isn’t huge, but I really like Shika a lot.
It seems to me that Sand Chronicles will be as much a coming-of-age story as it is a romance, with Ann’s sudden uprooting to the countryside and having to overcome the aforementioned tragedy. Its very obvious that it continues to have some influence on her, and I don’t think we’ll see that disappear immediately.
So, I’ve mentioned all the stuff I do like, what about what I didn’t like?
Well, there was too much boob envy, if you ask me. Yes, yes, I know – some young women feel boob envy toward other young women, but given how common this has become as a shounen trope, I found its inclusion tiresome. I suppose that it seems to be that Ann’s puberty issues are related to mental issues stemming from the tragedy (I know I keep just calling it that, but I don’t want to spoil it!) should count in favor of me accepting it, but I still find this aspect boring.
My other issue is the way in which suicide is framed within the story as indicative of someone’s weakness. Red flag! 15 yards penalty, repeat second down! I get that its a kid who states this, and that the kid is trying to comfort someone else, but its never demonstrated in any way as the wrong attitude to have about it. Suicide isn’t something that happens because a person is too weak; it happens because a person is overwhelmed. Saying “weak” is blaming the victim for their mental illness, which is flat-out wrong, and extremely unhelpful for those who are struggling with suicidal feelings and depression. You don’t help these folks by telling them that they’re weak – they’re just going to clam up with that sort of message from you.
Actually, even in-text, this is really what happens, although, again, the text seems to support the notion that suicidal people are weak. The person who commits suicide is surrounded by people who tell them that they need to get their act together, that they need to work hard, that they need to stop being a slouch. Sure, one of these is a kid, but none of the adults stop and think, “Hmm, so-and-so seems really down and upset and depressed. Maybe I should ask them if they’re ok? Maybe they need someone to talk to?” I’m not saying that the other characters themselves are responsible for the person’s death, but neither are they helpful.
Phew. That was more than I expected to say about that – but I think its important to call these things out when we see them, because things like this can be harmful, particularly when its a younger audience reading it. So, if you have a friend who has seemed down and kind of upset lately, don’t tell them to just straighten their crap out and stop being a morose lump! Ask them if they’re ok, and if their problems seem really big and you’re feeling overwhelmed yourself, help them get help.
AHEM so, manga, yeah.
Despite these problem points, I really did enjoy Sand Chronicles, and I think its the sort of shoujo manga that an older audience can more readily appreciate as well. This isn’t solely classroom antics and melodrama, something which frightens away a lot of folks who read manga. Ann’s a spirited young woman, and I look forward to following her as she comes of age. Recommended.