Monkey High! Vol. 1 – Manga Review

 Monkey High Vol.1 Cover

Review by: Karma del Valle

Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat Manga)
Author: Shouko Akira
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Rating: T+
Release Date: March 4, 2008

Haruna is right.

Most high schools are like a mountain filled with wild monkeys. It is where cliques are formed, rivalries are made, romance blossoms (and then evaporate) and it is where we learn to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. You see, gorgeous Haruna Aizawa was use to a more sophisticated High school but – thanks to a political scandal that involved Haruna’s father – she decided to transfer away from the accusing stares of her old school.

Of course, to her this school is no different from her own and it isn’t until she is introduced to a boy nicknamed Macharu who – to her and most of her new classmates – reminds her of a baby monkey thanks to his round face and cute monkey-like ears. Macharu is the type of boy who is quick with a smile and his jovial nature vexes the cold and distant Haruna. There’s almost a child-like innocence in Macharu that makes Haruna drop her guard gradually.

Interestingly enough, her first day in a new class has Haruna grudgingly accepting a role in a class play of “Snow White” and she’s also coldly brushing away the advances of Macharu’s closest friend, Atsu (who also happens to be the cutest guy in the Class 2). Because of his rather small stature, Macharu is given the roll of one of the dwarves and Haruna is in charge of costumes. It is here that the cute baby monkey begins to fascinate and annoy her. He even goes as far as giving her his umbrella after school and walks away cheerfully in the rain.

During the play, however, Macharu is weak from a horrible cold he got from walking home in the rain. Haruna feels responsible for his illness and, as a favor, puts on his dwarf costume and takes over for him. This, of course, starts her classmates to spread wild rumors that she’s in love with Macharu. When visiting the boy in the infirmary, Haruna is annoyed that her classmates are spectators to a tender moment between the two. In an outright cry of denial, Haruna tells them she has no feeling for him whatsoever.

The second story arc tests the growing relationship between Haruna and Macharu as the class goes on a camping field trip. Despite the annoyance of her fellow classmates that seem to want to push them together, Haruna finds out that Macharu once had feeling for another girl and this somewhat makes her jealous. There’s also an uncomfortable moment between her and Atsu who seems to resent the pairing of his friend and the beautiful new transfer student.

Yet it is in this camping trip that the young girl discovers that Macharu is willing to go to great lengths to please her and he even gives her his hat after hers fell in the lake. It isn’t until they are physically pushed together by their nosy classmates that the Haruna explodes and tells them he doesn’t see Macharu in the romantic sense.

Oh really?

It is Haruna that races out of the school bus to find Macharu to give him his hat back after he forgot it on the bus. In a tender moment, the pair stand together wondering what these new feelings mean and why Haruna just can’t seem to shake him off her mind. And then she realizes that her family’s problems are becoming less painful because of Macharu.

The final story arc shows the real dramatic element of Monkey High! We are introduced to Haruna’s ex-boyfriend who visits her in her new school to invite her to a Christmas party. He even invites all her classmates in hope that she would go. Haruna reluctantly accepts mainly because Macharu felt it was better for her to go and close the chapter of that part of her life.

In the party, however, things don’t go as smoothly as Haruna thinks because her ex still has feeling for her. Even when she tells him that she has a new boyfriend, her old beau laughs at the thought that somebody as lovely as her could date monkey boy. The story ends with a Christmas kiss. Sorry, I won’t spoil things by telling you who Haruna picks at the end. You have to read it for yourself.

We’ve read good high school-themed shojo manga before but what makes Monkey High! so special and endearing is the way these characters connect in ways that will, no doubt, make you identify with them. It’s a universal theme to be sure and that’s what makes it so charming. Haven’t we all felt the awkwardness of meeting a boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents for the first time? What also makes this such a good manga is the fact that Akira has a wonderful sense of humor (just read the extra feature at the end) that plays out nicely throughout the volume. Even Akira’s artwork is brilliant.

The first volume of Monkey High! is a wonderfully delightful and thoroughly enjoyable good tale that will surely be a new fan favorite. The series is ripe with possibilities and you can practically taste the juicy drama that is sure to unfold (toss in Haruna’s ex and the strong possibility that Atsu will be Macharu’s other rival) in future volumes. Oh yeah, it’s that good and believe me when I say that you will seriously be anticipating the next one like a monkey waiting for feeding time.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: A+
Our baby monkey of a male protagonist is who you will remember most and the reason the seemingly ice heart that belongs to Haruna melts right before our eyes. The three main story arcs come together nicely but it’s the final story arc that shows the series’ true potential and the reason you will fall in love with it.

ART: A+
There’s a lot to love about the art in Monkey High! but it’s the characters and flashy backgrounds that makes this one really come to life. There’s just something about Akira’s work that makes her characters seem to really stand out.

OVERALL: A+
I haven’t had this much fun reading a Shojo Beat Manga since the recent release of High School Debut. Monkey High! is one of those manga that stays with you long after you finished the last page and you’ll be hoping/waiting/demanding the next one to come out after the last panel ends. In short, this charming volume will make a fan out of you.

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