Monday 25 February 2013

Manga review: Starry Sky volume 1

Starry Sky (Suta Suka for short) is a series of otome games and associated dramas from Honeybee. The original games stand out even in the crowded Japanese marketplace due to Kazuaki's unusual art style, and I must confess that I've always wanted to give them a closer look. However, since it's a school series and Japanese-only, Starry Sky has always dropped down my priority list. Fortunately Digital Manga Publishing have come to the rescue, releasing one of the spin-off manga adaptations in English back in May 2012 to give fans a taste of what they're missing. The English release seems to have paused for the time being as a result of DMP's shift to online-only distribution for much of 2013, after which I imagine it's going to resume.

The plot of Starry Sky doesn't attempt to be realistic. Yahisa Tsukiko is a kind young girl attending a specialist educational facility for astronomy students - where she's the only female in the entire school. Naturally she attracts the attention of quite a few of the young men she's studying with, though they're all very gentlemanly about it and nobody seems to bother her (admittedly, anyone who did would be lynched by the rest of the students within seconds). The story is told as a series of flashbacks from a slightly older Tsukiko looking back fondly at how she spent her school years with these strange, space-obsessed boys. The first volume of the manga contains three chapters, each of which focuses on one of the potential suitors with two short bonus chapters at the end which cram in a few more characters for a few pages. Although mangaka Minagawa Hal notes that she'd love to feature the entire cast eventually, for now fans of the guys who don't star in their own chapters have to make do with a few cameos.

I'm not usually keen on high school settings for romantic stories since nothing ever really happens, and indeed that's no different here. Still, the guys are very cute when their feelings for Tsukiko are in danger of being exposed, and seeing them ruffled or being teased with confessions which end up going nowhere is the series' bread and butter.

After some early reservations (the first chapter did nothing for me), I gradually found myself enjoying watching Tsukiko's heart-warming interactions with the guys around her. I still have some quibbles; it's cheesy that almost everyone seems to have a celestially-themed name, and the core premise of the series is thoroughly silly. However, Starry Sky grew on me as I met more of the characters. The third story about the stoic vice captain of the archery club was my favourite and I could quite happily have read a much longer manga series solely devoted to him romancing the main character.

One of the problems with the adaptation is that the Starry Sky universe contains a lot of characters differentiated mostly by their hair, and since most of them wear matching school uniforms it's quite difficult to tell people apart in this black and white manga. I expect that fans already familiar with the cast from the games have no such trouble, but when you're being introduced to more than a dozen characters (some more fleetingly than others) over the course of a single manga volume, it can get difficult to follow. An introduction or list of characters at the start would have made things less confusing for a complete newcomer.

In terms of the English version, the translation is good, if a little disjointed at times - this could well be the case in the original text too. I didn't notice any distracting mistakes and they also included a few bonus pages of notes from the creators, so Digital Manga Publishing's version of this book is a solid offering. The cover also proudly boasts about the original games, so hopefully Honeybee will consider making them available overseas one day if this release is a success.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and will be purchasing the next volume, if it ever appears. In the meantime I'll keep my fingers crossed that someone will pick up the PSP games for a western release. I want to see more of the Starry Sky world!

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