Sensual Phrase Vol. 1

By Mayu Shinjo
192 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Maybe it’s just me, but a lot of shjo books imported from Japan seem to be awfully similar. It’s the trappings of romance-influenced stories, I guess, always rising to the surface. A couple meets each other, there’s a strong connection, but there’s always something keeping them apart. What initially impressed me so much about Sensual Phrase, I think, is the fact that creator Mayu Shinjo was not only able to make the typical barriers preventing an immediate happy ending (and very short story) logical, but that this had one of the most realistic depictions of attraction I’d read in comics for a while.

Aine’s a high school student who’s just written song lyrics for part of a competition. When she almost gets hit by a car on the way to mail them, her life gets turned upside down when the driver turns out to be Sakuya, lead singer for the band Lucifer. Suddenly Aine’s lyrics are being used in Lucifer’s songs, and Sakuya wants Aine around him all the time—but is Sakuya’s interest romantic as well? Or is he manipulating the emotions of the emotionally virginal Aine for purely professional reasons?

I have to admit, I was really impressed with how Shinjo keeps the drama levels high in her story. It’s funny, because every time I kept thinking, “Now wait just a minute, this shouldn’t be happening this way” Shinjo would quickly prove me wrong in a perfectly logical way. There are obstacles all through Aine’s path in Sensual Phrase, but they make sense. Likewise, the evolution of Aine’s character had me nodding throughout the volume. I liked the fact that the rest of the band and management for Lucifer is a little wary of Aine being brought on board, and that Aine has to prove herself to everyone. Watching her experiences craft her new song lyrics could come across as terribly cheesy, but thanks to both the situations Shinjo places her in as well as the lyrics themselves, it comes across very mature.

Shinjo’s art reminds me a lot of Fushigi Ygi and Alice 19th creator Y Watase’s work. That’s a good thing; both of these creators draw some of the best hair in comics! It’s more than just good hair, though. Like Watase, Shinjo draws characters’s expressions perfectly, from Aine’s bewilderment to Sakuya’s flirty pout. Sensual Phrase is a book that relies on you believing that all of this really could happen, and Shinjo’s realistic-looking characters go a long way towards that. What’s interesting is that Shinjo loves to make your focus move in on Aine no matter what else is happening on the page. Shinjo’s favorite pose seems to be to put Aine at a 45 degree angel to the rest of the page and outline her character to frame her from the rest of the action. By placing her off-kilter and pushing her up front, it’s like having a camera tightly zoom in on her, while still letting us see everything else that’s happening around her.

Many people consider shjo manga to be aimed at teenagers, but Sensual Phrase Vol. 1 proves that’s not always the case. Adult, crafty, and intriguing, Sensual Phrase is my new comic addiction. Heck, if the vocals and tunes are as good as the lyrics, I’d probably buy a Lucifer CD. It’d be a nice way to make the wait between installments feel a little shorter. Here’s to volume 2!

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