Review by: Sophie Stevens
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat Manga)
Author: Hinako Ashihara
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shojo)
MSRP: $8.99 US
Release Date: Now Available
Mama Gump was wrong.
Life isn’t like a box of chocolates … it’s actually more like an hourglass filled with sand. When things are in motion, the sand – much like time – slips away quickly so we all we can really do is enjoy the precious moments when life is full. Life has a beginning, a middle and an end but it is the things that happen in-between that really matter. This is the life lesson we learn in the first volume of Hinako Ashihara’s Sand Chronicles.
In the beginning of this drama-filled shojo manga, we find the main protagonist, Ann Uekusa, is not a young girl but rather an older woman who is in the middle of packing with her young daughter. It seems that they are off to live with her future husband overseas – a man we don’t purposely see or know. It isn’t until Ann’s little girl discovers a box filled with mementos such as a small hourglass that Ann begins to remember her youth and the story takes off.
Ann, at age 12, finds herself moving out of Tokyo and back to her mother’s home town in Shimane. This is unfortunate for both of them but Ann’s mother really had no choice seeing as her husband left them both after mismanaging their business and getting into debt. Ann isn’t particularly crazy about living in the rural town with her grumpy grandmother nor does she like the fact that the place is so small that there’s nothing really to do in town. Worst yet is that everyone seems particularly nosy … which is apparently rude to Ann.
Yet they have bunnies, which Ann happily finds out after rushing off into the snowy confines of the nearby woods. She was about to try to catch said bunny when a warada (used to catch rabbits) hits her over the head. The thrower is young boy her age named Daigo Kitamura who is rough young village boy who fails to be courteous enough to give Ann the bunny they catch together and ends up getting a thrashing from Ann. It’s not exactly a very romantic beginning but then again young Ann is far more interesting than most shojo main characters.
Still, a friendship does form between Ann and Daigo a bit later and Ann’s mother becomes ill it is Ann who decides to work hard for both of them. Both the young pair even get a job by helping the town’s wealthiest family prepare for a festival dinner. It is here that the two youths meet the family’s eldest daughter named Shika and her older brother Fuji. The four quickly become close friends and after a photo is taken of the young quartet it becomes apparent to Ann that she has finally found her rightful place. That is, until tragedy strikes.
I won’t be giving much away by revealing that the misfortune comes in the form of her mother who takes her own life. Ann’s grandmother blames herself for being hard on her only daughter but Ann assures her that her mother was a weak woman. Ann is more like her grandmother in that she’s strong willed and not easily shaken. The only thing that keeps her from suffering depression is Fuji and Shika who come visit her while Daigo stays away. Angrily, Ann confronts him for not being there for her and, yes, its quite obvious that she is in love with the young man.
The story switches gears midway in that it jumps a year and a half later when the characters are now 14-years old. Daigo convinces Ann, Shika and Fuji to enroll in their High school’s summer camp away from the village. It seemed like a good idea at the time, of course, but Daigo’s life has become a tad more busy now that he became involved in a martial arts club. There’s even a girl named Ayumu who Ann sees as a rival for Daigo’s heart and tries to one up poor Ann with her ample bosoms that she feels will win Daigo over.
Ayumu is also the center of a harrowing moment that had Ann searching for a replacement hourglass Daigo gave Ann after her mother’s death. In the darkness during a storm, Ann nearly falls off a cliff but is saved by a flat surface not far from the edge. Fuji and Daigo manage to rescue her after Daigo gives Ayumu a good tongue-lashing. On the train ride back home, Ann finally reveals her true feelings fro Daigo and he does the same. Oh, but Fuji notices the pair’s first awkward kiss with something akin to disappointment. Does Fuji like Ann? Yes, indeed. Does Ann like Fuji? Ah, that is the question that remains to be seen … most likely in the next volume.
I rather liked Sand Chronicles, it manages to be warm and there are humorous parts aplenty that mix in with the serious drama that makes up the rest of the book. At times, things do get very dramatic in the volume whether it’s the suicide or the reason Fuji seems so very distant (thus earning the Teen Plus rating). We like our drama quite juicy but not to an overly dramatic extent, thank you very much. Hinako Ashihara is a very decent storyteller and her art is really good (albeit very familiar).
In the end, Sand Chronicles first volume can be heavy on the drama but it’s good to see that it doesn’t lose itself in the process. The story picks up nicely and does an admirable job of sinking home the feeling that you’re peeking into somebody’s best and worst memories. I’m actually looking forward to the next volume for this very reason alone, although the characters do play a role in the reason I liked it. Make room in your collection for this one, you won’t be sorry.
The manga has a sweet romance that seems to blossom nicely with each chapter even when the drama gets way too heavy. Still, it’s good to see Ashihara place some lighthearted moments that seem quite genuine and fitting of a story of this nature.
We’ve seen art like this before in other shojo manga and we liked it so it’s bearable enough here. This is not a complaint, of course, but we like our shojo art to be different from each another (see our current love, Honey and Clover).
The first volume is often the best indicator of how good the series is since it doesn’t reveal too much but enough to give us a peek at the many possibilities. Sand Chronicles shows its cards way too early but it has the potential to surprise you. Overly dramatic in some points, lighthearted in others and very sweet throughout, this is a series that has promising possibilities.