Hino Matsuri, the mind behind the popular shoujo series Vampire Knight, returns to the page with her latest work, Shuriken and Pleats. A two-volume series originally published in Hakusensha’s monthly Lala magazine, the series comes to us under Viz’s Shoujo Beat label. Katherine Schilling, known for her work on shoujo titles such as Earthian and Junjo Romantica, provides the translation.
The story of Kirio Mikage, a member of the Shadow Village company and an elite ninja trained from a young age, begins in London with her contract to protect a benevolent entrepreneur, James G Rod. James seeks to use his wealth to develop seeds that can help combat world hunger, but his work has earned him numerous enemies and cost him the life of his daughter and wife. In his loneliness, James looks to Mikage as if she were his own daughter, even offering to adopt her and move to Japan. The rules of Mikage’s contract and company require that she keep her distance, yet in a moment of emotional turmoil her guard slips and James’s life is lost as well.
It just so happens that prior to his death, James arranged for Mikage to be paid a lifetime’s salary so that she could strike out on a new life of her own, attending high school like a normal girl. Seeking to fulfill her master’s dying wish, Mikage leaves for Japan immediately, only to find herself at odds with the local ninja clan when she saves a stranger’s life from their attack. Although the stranger, one Wakashimatsu Mahito, implores Mikage to serve him, Mikage resists at first, wishing only to live out her life as a normal high school girl, but when the local ninja clan turn their sights on her, it seems that she’ll have no choice but to accept Mahito’s offer and attempt to strike a balance between her life as a ninja and her life as a student.
As the first of only two volumes, it’s incredibly apparent that Shuriken and Pleats is not a series with a long game in plan, and the story suffers for it. Hino’s pacing moves at a breakneck speed, quickly jumping from one plot point to the next, without any time to take a breath and establish the characters that make up the story. As a result, they get swept away with each successive twist to the plot, leaving it difficult for the reader to find an entry point or a reason to invest in the story. Part of this seems to be because Hino can’t decide on what sort of story she wants to tell.
While the first chapter sets us up for an arc that follows Mikage and her attempts to adapt to a normal high school life, that story is immediately discarded when she’s embroiled in the conflict of Mahito and his family. Despite the “pleats” designated in the title, we only actually see Mikage attend school for a scant 10 pages near the tail end of the volume in two scenes which feel completely detached from the overarching plot. Not helping Hino’s case is the fact that every conflict the story raises resolves neatly within a matter of pages. The characters are rarely challenged in the events they face, making them feel like bland and two-dimensional cut outs standing in just to fill a necessary role for the plot.
Perhaps the only praise that can be given for the series is that, despite its publication in a shoujo magazine, there are no heavily romantic overtones in Mikage’s interactions with any of the men in the volume. What’s more, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the death of a male character used to motivate a woman into action instead of the other way around, but these few examples of breaking the mold don’t do much to hold up the way that Hino’s story and characters leave the reader wanting.
Although Schilling holds a reasonable amount of experience in the field, her translation doesn’t assist the story either. The dialogue comes out flat at best, with stilted lines such as “I’ll send to hell anyone who targets my master” and “this is no time to be assigning blame.” For a story that hinges upon aspects of Japanese culture and history, the lack of any translation notes at the end of the volume is also particularly glaring. While it’s safe to assume that most people know what ninja are, other cultural references such as a scene with flowing somen noodles–a summertime tradition where noodles flow down a bamboo pipe filled with cold water and diners must catch them with their chopsticks–goes completely unexplained.
While the series only has one more volume before its completion, the lackluster presentation that Hino Matsuri has given us with volume one of Shuriken and Pleats doesn’t inspire much confidence. The confused plotlines, muddled pacing, and flat characters leave both shuriken and pleats feeling dull and disorderly.