Full Moon o Sagashite, Full Moon for short, by Arina Tanemura has regularly been noted as being “a story about a little girl dying from cancer!!!!” (yes, lots of exclamation marks). But it really is so much more than that. Originally released from 2002-2004, it spans seven volumes. Viz Manga licensed it for their Shojo Beat line the following year and has released all seven volumes.
Before delving into more on the manga, I will note that Full Moon is one of the only Tanemura series to have an anime adaptation. The anime spanned 52 episodes and takes a very different spin on the story. Viz Anime licensed but while Viz Manga is awesome with shojo stuff, their anime division sucks wad so they never finished releasing it to DVD and they pulled the digital episodes from Hulu last year for reasons unexplained. Fortunately I caught wind they were going to and managed to show it to my sweetie before hand, but I hate that I now have no legal way to rewatch it.
[I could insert my long rant about Viz Anime’s cruddy treatment of shojo and why I cry when they license stuff while praising how awesome the manga division is with it here…but let’s get on to talking about Full Moon :)]
Full Moon is indeed the story of 12-year-old Mitsuki, the orphaned daughter of musicians who also dreams of being a singer, a dream ruined by her having a tumor in her throat. An operation could save her, but she refuses to do it as she’d lose her voice. One morning two shinigami, Takuto and Meroko, appear before her and tell her that she has only one year left to live. Knowing the end is coming spurs Mitsuki to risk it all to achieve her dream of becoming an idol, hoping to reach her childhood sweetheart Eichi, who’d been adopted and taken to America years ago.
Touched by her earnest desire and not wanting her to die with regrets, Takuto and Meroko agree to help her. Takuto uses his power to give her the ability to transfer into a sixteen-year-old girl, with a completely healthy body. Under the stage name Full Moon, Mitsuki uses this new form to successfully pass an audition. With her new career underway under the management of former idol singer turned manager Ōshige, Mitsuki heads full steam for her dreams, but is it really what she wants?
Though Mitsuki is young, she’s been dealt some heavy blows in her life. She lost her parents when she was young and was in an orphanage a few years, which is where she met Eichi. Though her grandmother came and took her in, she has always treated her coldly, barely speaking to her other than to rebuke her, making her live in a separate side house, and banning her from singing, She has throat cancer and because of her regular absences has no friends at school.
Despite all this, she projects a cheerful, can do attitude, but it soon becomes apparent that it is an all an act. Her harsh life has taught her to hide her true nature and thoughts from everyone, even those closest to her, and to keep the loneliness and despair inside her tightly locked away. Despite the darkness around her, Mitsuki is a compassionate child, particularly with regard to the shinigami that have come into her life. Though they are there to take her life at the end, she befriends them and helps them come to terms with the mistakes they made in their lives that led to them being punished by becoming shinigami.
Arina Tanemura is well-known for her signature artistic style: characters with huge eyes and clear eyelashes, men who are not well muscled, and characters with beautiful flowing hair. She seems to have a basic set of stock character designs that she reuses and tweaks for each series. Fans will often note that you can go from series to series and find each character from one in the other. However it’s easy to forgive her for the reuse of these character designs and while her artistic style has some weaknesses, on the whole it’s light, flowing, and an overall joy to behold.
It is also easy to overlook a lack of diversity in designs because Tanemura is a positive genius, in my humble opinion, at storytelling. Almost all of her works fall into the magical girl area and they feature incredibly deep and richly designed emotional upheaval. Not a single character in any of her works is perfect and I suspect most readers can readily identify with many of the flaws these characters exhibit. Her characters have a lot of sides to them and are well nuanced, making them that much more realistic.
For example, while the anime version made Ōshige more “perfect” other than drinking too much, the manga shows her as a woman who is a good person and comes to care deeply for Mitsuki, but is also doing things in her personal like that are making her unhappy and disappointed in herself (which gives a much better explanation for her drinking). Mitsuki’s doctor Wakaōji, who was friends with her father, is a man who is devoted to saving the child of his late friends, but who also carries tremendous guilt for what happened to another loved on in the past in similar circumstances. When you look back on it later, you realize those events also likely kept him from being pushy with Mitsuki about the surgery, out of fear the same thing would happen to her.
It’s really an amazing thing that she’s able to put so much story into a relatively short series while also giving such a detailed background history of the primary characters. She does not waste panels, utilizing even seemingly small moments to slip in little nuggets of information! It also makes me cry every time I reread it because of the emotional pulls and being able to all too easily identify with the loneliness Mitsuki feels.
This is certainly a great way to get introduced to Tanemura’s works, just have the tissues handy!
Full Moon o Sagashite is available in paperback and eBook forms.