Monday, April 05, 2010

Animal Academy, Volume 2 by Moyamu Fujino

Neko Fukada is a human girl who was such a bad student that she had to find a new school to take her in. And when she did find one, she found out it was a school for the children of magical animals who could change into human form. But to stay there, she had to sign a pledge of secrecy. She isn't the only human in the school, but not only can't they talk about the school to anyone in the human world, they have to pretend to be animals, like the other students.

So when Kotaro loses something, the other students in Neko's class go to help him look for it, even though they don't know exactly what it is that he lost, since he's unable to say the word. But when they find a portal to the outside world, what will they find on the other side? Will they come face to face with more humans? And will they be discovered for who and what they are? Or will they get in trouble back at the school for what they have done?

Next, Neko is summoned with another human boy named Yuichi to see the teacher, Watanuki, who knows their secret. It's not for anything bad, although both of them apologize profusely for whatever it is they may have done, but because they have grabbed the top two spots in grades among their class. Neko explains that this is because they are teaching things she learned in first grade, even though she's now in the third grade, And the other students are way behind what humans are taught. But when a schoolmate named Miko loses her hair clip- without which she can't transform back into a human, can Neko and her friends help her find it?

Then, Neko needs to find a club to belong to, and she's unusure of what to go for. Add to that a manual that she was given on the school seems to have a staggering amount of information on the student body- and updates itself with new information on everyone. As Neko wanders through the school, looking at the clubs and trying to decide which one is right for her, she meets a boy who seems more interested in the book than in her. But what do he- and his twin brother, really want?

Then, it is Golden week, when students normally leave school to have a week's vacation. But this school doesn't offer that. Many students don't have a family to go home to. So when one of her classmates tells her about a place that has access to a phone with an outside line, can she resist going there to speak to her family? And what will her classmate want in exchange for the information?

Lastly, Neko and her roommate have joined the Ninja Club. But when their summons comes to the club, they are surprised to find it only has two other members. But will they be able to get the information the club wants them to compile on the other students at school and keep their activities quiet, to boot?

This was cute, and it seems that, along with the other volume I read, that the handbook that Neko was given seems to be something important. Does it have some kind of magical powers, that it tracks so much information about the students? It's hard to tell exactly what will be important, because so much (and so little of import) happens.

The art and style of the book echo a lot of Hayao Miyazaki's stuff, with a gentle, warm feeling that has a lot in common with Manga and Anime like Fruits Basket. But this is less Shoujo and aimed specifically at younger readers, in the eight to ten year old range. How startling to discover, that the characters, who also look about the same age as the intended audience, are actually supposed to be in high school! The art makes you less inclined to believe it. Of course. I suppose that's to up the number of readers who can put themselves in Neko's shoes.

This book is a combination of (very) light romance and magical high school drama. Characters may declare that they love someone, but there's no kissing or hand-holding, it's all shorn of any actual angst or deep feeling, rather like the fantasies of the 8 to 10 year olds. It would be very hard for anyone older to believe that these characters are their supposed actual age. It just boggles the mind.

I'd recommend this book for 8 to 10 year olds, definitely, but anyone older is going to have a hard time believing the characters are the age they are claimed to be or that this is happening in a high school. Willing suspension of disbelief gets shot out the window when you realize how old the characters are supposed to be as opposed to how they are actually portrayed. Still. the light, gentle story will appeal to many people, especially those who like animals. Recommended, but with significant caveats.

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