Small Pink Mouse in the comments asked me about the manga I bought t' other week. Mostly, it was a lot of fourth and third volumes of this and that, but the two series I bought in their full current extent was Girl Got Game and Red River, two lesser shoujo titles. I got interested in both because of Big Dave - Girl Got Game because he had some Power! scanslations sitting around, and Red River because he was bugging me about the Viz edition.
Girl Got Game is TokyoPop's horribly clammy re-titling of a gender-farce originally called Power!, presumably in reference to the quickly-abandoned rivalry between our protagonist, Aizawa Kyo, and her romantic interest/dorm roommate, Eniwa Chiharu, over the position of power forward in their high-school basketball club. Kyo's deranged father decided he wanted his child to join the NBA, so he forged her paperwork to get her on one of the best high school male basketball teams in the country.
The premise is ludicrous, so thankfully the mangaka doesn't dwell on the subject too heavily, preferring a broad sex-farce tone instead. Despite the basketball team setting, this isn't a sports manga, and that's one of the few really good "tells" that this isn't shounen. I can't imagine that someone writing for a shounen publication would have been able to resist the easy drama of team competition. Instead, the basketball is portrayed as a physical activity, as athleticism abstracted.
The focus is on gender games. Kyo wanted to have a normal girly high school life, but she easily settles in to the grunting masculinity of high school dorm life. There's romance, in the form of roommate Eniwa and "dark" romantic interest Yuna, but as Kyo laments at one point, she was looking for a boyfriend and instead found herself "one half of a gay couple", at least in the sovereign opinion of school and club rumor. Generally, the manga keeps to a fairly light, broad, physically humorous tone, but the mangaka runs off the tracks in volume 6, and for a brief while we find ourselves in Mars territory, which is far too serious and violent for the subject matter. The series feels like it's gonna wrap up in the tenth volume, which is due Any Day Now.
Red River, published in Japan as Sky by the Red River: Anatolia Story, was the other series. It's a action-romance with fantastic overtones, in the general spirit of Fushigi Yuugi or Twelve Kingdoms, except the setting isn't generic-Imperial-Chinese, but rather the Middle East in the 16th century BCE, among the Hittites and their neighbors.
The protagonist, Yuri, is your typical Japanese high school girl, unless you count being stalked by phantosmorphic water-spirits which keep attacking her. Eventually an attack succeeds, and we find out that her tormenter is the queen of Hattusa, who wants Yuri for a human sacrifice, part of a black magic plot against the potential rivals to her infant son. Yuri escapes, is saved by one of those potential rivals, Prince Kail, and the intrigue is on.
It's fairly sexualized for this sort of thing - Yuri becomes Kail's concubine and is constantly getting raped away (in the old Roman, "Rape of the Sabines" sense of the word) - but it generally stays on the near side of the divide. There's probably more sex in Mars, although for that you have to accept that none of Yuri's many amorous abductors ever actually does anything. It's a bit of a stretch, admittedly.
The entertaining sections are the war-chapters, and there's a remarkable lot of them for a shoujo manga. Kail tells his armies that Yuri was sent through the sacred springs as an avatar of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, and she gets a good deal of butchery and derring-do in between the kidnappings and the intrigue. There's a lot of attention paid to how to reduce fortified cities, and the introduction of iron is shown to have been important not because of the superior weapons worked iron allowed, but rather that it made possible chariots sturdy enough to hold three warriors.
I rather like Red River, despite it's somewhat hackneyed romance-book instincts (there's actually a Bluebeard subplot!). It's good that I'm somewhat committed at this point, as I discovered on that trip to the used manga shop in Edgewater, NJ that it ran at least twenty-eight volumes in Japan. Oh, well. Something to look forward to, I suppose.