An eagerly anticipated manga has finally made it to the U.S.!
Okay, so I've wanted to do a review on my blog for a while, but haven't found the right opportunity until now. Not only do I love to write, but I love to read everything from thick fantasies to light novels like mine, American comics and manga. I figure if I share my thoughts on the stuff I read, not only can you get to know me better, but I can also share where a lot of my inspiration comes from. And let me just say, I've got quite the exciting pick for my first review!
SHY is a manga series by Bukimi Miki about a timid, fledgling superhero trying to live up to the expectations thrust upon her. It began serialization in 2019, and just recently got an English translation here in the U.S. through Yen Press. The owner of my local anime store has literally been hyping it up for years, and imports the Japanese comics just to keep up with the series. He hyped it up so much I was actually nervous that it wouldn't live up to those expectations. But I can gladly say, it did not disappoint!
From the back cover:
"In an age when superpowered defenders from each country have brought peace to the world, Japan's representative is a timid young girl known as "Shy." She may be embarrassed by the mere thought of slipping into spandex, but she'll prove that despite it all, she has the heart of a hero!"
A Shy Girl with a Hero's Heart
SPOILER WARNING: Scroll below if you'd like to skip straight to the review
When the manga opens, we're immediately introduced to mighty heroes like the American hero Century, the perpetually-drunk Russian hero Spirit, and British rock star/hero Stardust. Yes, rock star. Then the manga turns to 14-year-old Teru Momijiyama, the Japanese hero Shy, as she struggles to introduce herself on stage to a crowd.
The reader doesn't know just how long Shy has been a hero, or how/why she was chosen, but we get the sense she hasn't been a hero long. She's unsure of herself, and like any other socially anxious introvert, has trouble grappling with society's expectations of her. In the first arc, she's at an amusement park when a rollercoaster gets stuck upside down. She's able to save almost everyone, except one young girl who gets injured during the rescue. And the ensuing negative comments online cause her to take "hang up the cowl," so-to-speak.
Not only is she afraid to get back out there, she literally can't. We learn a hero's ability to transform is linked to their heart. And her heart just isn't in it.
That is until, a later scene, when the young brother of the girl she "failed" to rescue (who was also on the roller coaster) rushes towards an apartment fire, and demands firefighters let him pass because, "Shy rescued me! Now it's my turn to go and rescue everyone." You've seen the scene: an explosion happens, a ruble falls and threatens to crush the boy but Teru dives in and pushes him away from danger. She remembers being a hero doesn't mean you aren't afraid, it just means being determined to overcome those fears.
Cue transformation, her powers have returned! And we get a bad ass, full-page spread.
She rushes into the fire, and when things seem grim, her friend Spirit, the Russian hero, appears to help her out. Together they finish rescuing everyone, and the little brother thanks Shy for once again saving him. He assures her his sister has already been discharged from the hospital, and will be returning to school soon.
That's when we enter our second act. As it happens, the boy's sister, 14-year-old Iko Koishikawa, ends up transferring schools to be closer to home due to her leg injury. And where else does she end up but the classroom of none other than our protagonist? She's pretty, cheerful and despite her cast, immediately draws the attention of her peers.
If the "transfer student" sounds like a familiar trope, it's because it is. Teru even thinks to herself, "A transfer student? It's like some sort of manga..." Pretty meta lol.
Teru later stumbles upon Iko crying in the hallways over her hurt leg, and she rushes her to the nurse's office. The two bond, and Iko remarks that Teru looks a little like Shy. Teru asks Iko if she holds anything against Shy for failing to rescue her properly, and of course, Iko says that's ridiculous.
Remember, manga are read right to left!
Unfortunately, the tender moment doesn't last long. Our (first?) major antagonist appears, and corrupts Iko's heart. He gives her a black ring that draws out the shame, frustration and rage buried deep within her. She has a transformation of her own, turning into some kind of crystal demon as the ring feeds off her hate. She tells Teru her parents died rescuing her from a fire, that she was always in need of saving. "It would have been better if I'd died!"
Teru transforms, and there's a brief fight. Shy asks her mysterious shrimp-companion to teleport them somewhere without people. Whether or not every hero gets a superpowered animal sidekick, or if this is unique to Shy, is unclear. Shy tells Iko there's nothing wrong with asking for help, and the two connect over Shy's own memories of her grandfather, who told her "people can't survive all alone." She tells Iko:
"People who live for others live on in the hearts and minds of other people."
Though Iko continues to lash out as the crystallization spreads across her body, Teru opens her heart up to Iko and is able to get through to her - promising to shoulder all of her hatred. With that, she's able to get the ring off Iko voluntarily, which we'll later learn hasn't been possible in the two other times this mysterious villain appeared.
In the final act, Iko and Teru are able to become friends. Iko takes her shopping as a thank you for saving her, though it takes quite a lot out of the introverted Teru. Iko is happy to be the only one to know Teru's secret identity, and after helping a young boy find his lost parents, the two are invited back to the hero's secret headquarters - a space station watching over the planet. So Justice League, so, so good.
The other heroes want to know more about Iko, and how Shy was able to remove the black ring without violence. The hero coordinator called Unilord, who kind of plays the role of Martian Manhunter at the Watchtower, prepares everyone a homecooked meal while donned in an apron, and we even get to meet the British hero Stardust. We also get literally the best gag in the entire volume:
A photo booth at this super secret hero hideout?! Absolutely hilarious.
We learn just like a bracelet uses the heart as an "energy source," allowing heroes to transform, the ominous ring works the same exact way - just with negative psyche. We get a villain name for the boy who gave Iko the ring, Stigma, and learn when Stardust encountered him, he had to cut off his friend's finger to remove the ring.
With the stakes set, we set up the second volume: Unilord asks Stardust to fight Shy. Unilord is worried she isn't strong enough to encounter Stigma again, and wants Stardust to help bring out Shy's full power. Though her friends tell Shy she doesn't have to go through with it, she doesn't want to back down. Stardust agrees to the fight too, but on one condition:
"Then tell me this, if you lose... are you prepared to give up on being a hero?"
A Heartwarming Story: Emphasis on Heart
I'll be honest. I'm a huge sucker for these kinds of stories. Not necessarily "superheroes." I mean, between the transfer student, magical bracelet, and animal companion... it reads more like something from the mahou shoujo (magical girl) genre. (Not that I'm complaining!)
No, I mean stories about empathy. Teru has all these super powers, but when she faces off with the "enemy," she opens her heart to connect with her opponent's pain. And resolves the conflict peacefully.
That's not to say you don't have your classic superhero tropes here. Ignoring your own fears and doubts to do the right thing, it's the kind of theme that resonates with everyone. It's inspiring, and the payoff is so satisfying when you see it happen for our timid protagonist. It's not super original, but what story is at this point? Shy is a compelling character, and you just want to root for her to succeed.
I love the costume designs of our heroes, and I'm eager to meet more. There are plenty of cute moments and funny quips that I think any superhero/anime fan would appreciate. But Miki also shows how intense being a hero can be, and sets up the stakes early. His gorgeous full-page spreads really drum up critical moments, and drew me into this interesting world. Not to mention, the heroic dialogue:
"It's clear to me now. I've heard it. Your cry for help... You can take all the hatred inside of you, and throw it at me! Because... I'll respond with all my heart!"
Does every country get a hero, or just the major ones? How are heroes chosen? Who was the hero before Shy? There are many questions left at the end of volume one, and I'm eager to learn more! I love that Shy has a cheerful confidante, the perfect mirror to her character, and I want to see how that relationship plays out in the future.
And speaking of mirrors, if the antagonist is using negative emotions as a parallel to our heroes, it's clear that this story will be a story about love, and accepting yourself. This is a message I can get behind, and if the series is anything like the first volume, then I fully expect a wholesome, heartwarming tale as Shy reaches her full potential as a hero.
This story might not be for everyone. If you've got superhero fatigue, or find that kind of dialogue as read above a little campy, then you may want to look for another title. As for me? Inject it right into my veins. This is a feel-good underdog story, where not only good triumphs over evil. But where empathy and emotion are critical not just for heroes, but for the entire human experience. In Shy's world, it seems everyone can be a hero. And I love that.
I hope you enjoyed my first official review! Does this sound like something you want to read? If you give it a chance, be sure to share your thoughts with me below! Or let me know if you walked away with any other takes.
Until next time, thanks for reading!
I almost forgot to mention, but SHY is getting an anime adaption! Studio 8Bit will be handling the project, and you can watch the teaser trailer here. An air date hasn't been announced yet, however.