Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Hoshi wa Utau (The Stars Sing*) is the current series by Natsuki Takaya, the creator of Fruits Basket, which finished its run in Japan a bit over a year ago. About a month ago, I bought the first collected volume (in Japanese) of Hoshi wa Utau hot off the presses. Anyone who picks this up expecting a replay of Fruits Basket will be disappointed. There's no immediate hook like in Fruits Basket. In fact, there's no fantasy in it at all so far. There's also a lot less humor, and what there is so far isn't nearly as inspired as the best stuff from Fruits Basket.

Sakuya, the protagonist, is a high school senior. She's a lot like Tohru: cheerful, hard working, grateful for small favors, and not too bright. Unlike Tohru, her parents are alive; but for reasons not revealed in this volume she lives with Kanade, a young man whom her parents have hired to take care of her. Kanade acts gruff and indifferent, but actually cares about Sakuya.

The series opens on the morning of Sakuya's birthday. Kanade says that tonight's dinner will be a celebration of her birthday. To Sakuya, this is a big deal, since apparently Kanade never noticed her birthday before. When she gets home that evening, in addition to Kanade there's a boy her age waiting for her, named Chihiro. He's completely unfamiliar to her, but she assumes he's a friend of Kanade's. Chihiro gives her a present, and at the end of the evening he tells her that she's "great." But it turns out that Kanade had thought Chihiro was Sakuya's boyfriend, and had never met him before.

Despite knowing nothing about Chihiro (apart from his having visited under false pretenses), Sakuya feels strangely drawn to him, and searches for him. When she does find him again by chance, though, he's completely different: he says he hates everything, including her, and tells her not to speak to him again. Naturally, she's devastated by this -- even more so because she now realizes that she loves him -- although she hides it under a show of cheerfulness. All the above is interspersed with scenes of Sakuya with her schoolfriends Hijiri (who is a lot like Arisu) and Yuuri (who is a lot like Kakeru), who all share a love of stargazing, and have even formed a "club," of which they are the only members, to engage in it.

One volume is too little to go on to evaluate the series as a whole, even tentatively: recall how unrepresentative the first volume of Fruits Basket turned out to be of the whole series. But considered on its own as a reading experience, it must be admitted that this volume is rather unsatisfying. Not much happens; the plot summary above covers most of the events of significance. Nor do we learn much about the characters, not even Sakuya, from whose point of view the book is told. Frankly, the book feels padded. The scenes with Sakuya's schoolfriends, in particular, seem unneccessary. If you didn't like the student council scenes in Fruits Basket, you probably won't like these.

The art in Hoshi wa Utau is like the art in the later volumes of Fruits Basket. Like Tohru, Sakuya has giant eyes which can be disconcerting at first. Actually, Sakuya looks very much like Tohru, except for the hair. But then, the art isn't the main attraction with Takaya anyway.

Hoshi wa Utau vol. 1 is published by Hakusensha, and costs 390 yen. Its ISBN is 978-4-592-18601-4. If you're looking for it on the shelves of a Japanese bookstore, its line is "Hana to Yume Comics." The logo of the line is a stylized picture of a girl with wavy hair, but probably the easiest way to locate it is that it's in the same line as Fruits Basket.

*The official English title is "Twinkle Stars Like Singing a Song"; but what's so sacred about these "official" titles, anyway? If we gave our movies nonsensical "official" French titles, would the French pay any attention to them?

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