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Penguin Brothers
Synopsis | Review

Penguin Brothers is one of those manga with great eye candy in terms of outfits. You know how sometimes you would note how cute the characters' uniforms are? Because of the storyline, Tokiwa Secondary Academy has two types of uniforms, which are both great. And Hina and Koshiba, who don't wear uniforms, always look kawaii. Clothing is actually an integral part of the story. For the Tokiwa students, their clothes show submission or defiance.

Sometimes, the graphics themselves are just so darn kawaii (which is more kawaii than just saying kawaii), with characters caught in these adorable poses with adorable facial expressions. If it sounds too cutesy, it's not. I guess even though the storyline matters a lot and graphics are only an added bonus, the latter do make reading manga a lot easier on the eyes :D There's a handful of bishies here too. It's just too bad Hina didn't end up with the hottest of them all. Actually, come to think of it...

Ah, I'm getting ahead of myself again. Penguin Brothers is a five-volume series from Shiina Ayumi. Yeah, the name's weird, but it makes sense, actually. At first I thought it's a shounen series with lots of action, violence, and fanservice (in other words, not something I'll immediately read). If I didn't see Penguin Brothers described as a romantic shoujo manga, I probably wouldn't have looked at it. Thank goodness for those manga series blurbs that force reviewers to indicate the titles' genres.

Synopsis
By the time Mishima Hina got to eighth grade, she already changed schools eight times. She stays with her uncle, Kyouichi, a famous young artist who has wanderlust and likes to move a lot. Despite her experience with a lot of different schools, something about her new school seems different. There are no uniforms, but students wear either a white blazer or a black uniform. She bumps into the student council president, who stared at her a lot and called her by her name. When she walked around campus, she noticed how the people in black stay away from people in white, and vice versa.

The last straw is when Hina gets accosted by some guy who immediately became very familiar with her. After she puts some distance between them, he explained to her that the school is composed of two people, namely the blacks and the whites. These two groups fight all the time.

Hina notices that the guy is wearing normal clothes. He explained that he's a gray, someone who chooses neither group. He then introduced himself as Koshiba and kissed Hina, which got him an uppercut. She had to wash her face in a nearby sink >.< Then the student council president appeared again. He solemnly told her that his name is Isshiki Shoui. Then he said his name again. And again. Then he got mad. It appears that she's supposed to know him >.<

Poor Hina had no idea what Isshiki was talking about. While mulling this, Koshiba appeared again and asked what her business is with Isshiki ^_^ A swift kick to his face didn't deter him, and he informed her that Isshiki is the leader of the whites and that she should stay away from him. Just then, they noticed a guy in black uniform beating up someone in white. Hina had to intervene. It turns out that the guy in black, Nishizaki, is the leader of the blacks. He was so obnoxious that Hina told him off and announced that she'll be a gray.

When school started (all those events happened while she was just finalizing her transfer @_@), Hina realized what being gray meant. Everybody tormented her. It turns out that anybody who decides to be gray get chased out of school in a matter of days. People like Koshiba are left alone because they are either so extraordinary (he's the smartest kid in the country) and/or they don't go to school too much @_@ And even though Koshiba declared that he will stand by Hina's side (she's not exactly thrilled by the idea), things didn't get any better for her.

The mystery around Isshiki only intensified. When they're alone, he gets really sad and asks her if she really doesn't remember anything about him (she doesn't). But when they're with other people, he pretends he doesn't know her at all >.< Nishizaki catches wind that Isshiki seems attached to Hina, so he torments Hina to get to his enemy :D Even curiouser, Isshiki is ready to do anything to save Hina. Problems just kept escalating until finally, Hina decided that the only way to deal is to get rid of the whole black-and-white system. She announced that she will get most of the students into the gray camp by graduation day >.<

So the fun begins. Despite herself, Hina found herself drawn towards Isshiki and Nishizaki (and Koshiba never fails to harass her), and she learned more about them and also about the mysterious grays who chose not to get involved with school. Around the same time, she realizes that there is a gap in her memory, where her past with Isshiki used to be.

Review
This is one of those manga that just gets better the more you re-read it >.< It definitely doesn't hurt that the artwork is really kawaii, as I've harped earlier. For instance, Koshiba isn't actually that cute, but he became so because of how he was drawn ^_~ And of course, Isshiki's cute, but Nishizaki's a bishounen. Too bad he and Hina didn't end up together >.<

The storyline includes a couple of cliche manga staples: a vindinctive rival for the guy's affections and amnesia. They're forgivable. Everything else is pretty good and unique, I thought, from the dynamics between Hina and Koshiba to her relationship with Isshiki. Naturally, the occasional comic relief is appreciated. Either Hina's team or their opponents are always up to some scheme that sometimes backfires, which makes things interesting :D And at unexpected moments, Hina finds herself at the clutches of Isshiki, Nishiziki, or Koshiba, which also make things interesting >.< The story goes through a few arcs. There's Hina's adjustment to Tokiwa, her war against the grays, remembering her past, and the issue between Isshiki and Nishizaki. The ending is actually pretty unexpected, but it's something I can live with >.<

Hina is a pretty likable charater. Sure, she gets her nose into other people's businesses and, in the process, get herself into trouble. Typical heroine. Nevertheless, she's a strong character who doesn't easily get weak in the knees, and it's always nice to read about those types of people. It's refreshing to hear about a main character who wants to make a difference in her environment and has a quest that doesn't involve getting a man >.< The characters of Isshiki, Nishizaki, and Koshiba are also well-developed. You might find yourself rooting for your favorite Penguin guy @_@

This isn't really a manga for children, but that's because there's some mild violence and not because some of the characters get hot and heavy :D Although this series is described as a romantic shoujo manga, there's not really a lot of romance here. Some affection, maybe. And sure, there's considerable attachment. At most, it's about childhood sweethearts, with a lot of "awww" and "kyaaa!" moments between Hina and the three guys (fine, bishounen if you must). There are also some "bwahahaha" moments, which are always good :D So don't count too much on this for romance. Lack of romance can actually be a good thing. There's not a lot of sappy dialogue and sappy scenes to put up with. The awkward moments are more interesting than embarrassing. And the ending leaves a lot of possibilities >.< So yeah, Penguin Brothers is a good read. Go check it out.

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