Saint Tail

Author: Megumi Tachikawa
Copyright Date: 1995-1996 (original), 2001-2002 (English text)
Number of Volumes: 7

I don't read enough manga to really warrant a separate Flame Bait heading, so I'm listing it here under books.

I was first introduced to Saint Tail via the anime series when I saw it fansubbed with my anime club in college. It didn't strike a spark with me though. I guess I thought it felt too kiddie, too much like Sailor Moon villain-of-the-episode, Saint Tail didn't have special attacks with names, and I wasn't really sure if Saint Tail was using real magic or just illusions like a real world magician.

Sometime after college graduation though, translated manga was beginning to take off, and I decided I really should read a shoujo (girls) manga sometime, since up until then anything I got a hold of had been shonen (boys) or seinen (young men). I didn't want to read Sailor Moon and I had at least heard of Saint Tail, so I got that one. Surprisingly, I discovered I liked it a lot. I don't know if it's that I become more receptive to Saint Tail as I got older, or that the manga just works for me on a different level from the anime.

Saint Tail is about a fourteen-year-old girl named Meimi Haneoka who becomes the mysterious thief Saint Tail by night to help people who have no one else to turn to. She's best friends with a girl named Seira, who is a nun-in-training. Because of Seira's circumstances, she's often in the school church when she isn't in class (Meimi and Seira go to a Catholic school) so she gets the chance to hear the worries and confessions of the people who come to the church to pray. If Saint Tail can help them in any way, Seira lets Meimi know about it and she springs into action.

The kind of thefts Saint Tail performs are never for herself (with the exception of her final "theft" which I'll get to later). They are things like retrieving a doll from an amusement park that the amusement park staff say it would be too much of a bother to rescue, or a stealing back a wedding dress design that a rival student stole from an honest competitor for a fashion pageant.

With few exceptions, all of her thefts are simple affairs she can handle on her own and are wrapped up in a single chapter of the story. Though she is shot at in the first volume, generally the amount of danger to her is minimal. Her "magic" (it's not real magic) is skillful enough that she can do almost anything and generally her opponents are nothing more than an incompetant police force and her classmate wannabe amateur detective Asuka Jr. Volumes 5 and 6 feature multi-chapter story arcs with higher stakes, but by far the biggest "danger" she faces is the threat of exposure.

Meimi isn't magically unrecognizable when she's in her Saint Tail get-up (no magic Clark Kent glasses for her), so she has to be careful to hide her identity. If she ever gets caught her days as Saint Tail will be over. Also, despite the fact that Saint Tail only steals for good, there are some who feel a thief is a thief no matter what. (Despite the fact that Seira and Meimi nearly always pray to God for protection, and Meimi's transformation sequence even begins "Lord, forgive me for the tricks up my sleeve..." I have to wonder how most Christians would feel about a virtuous thief who steals to help people and believes she can do so because she has God's protection.) She develops a rivalry with Asuka Jr. almost immediately, and starting with the second chapter of the first volume, she leaves calling cards challenging him, giving him the location of where she'll be and what the object is she's stealing roughly a few hours to a day before she'll commit the theft. Because of Asuka Jr.'s driving desire to capture Saint Tail, she has to watch out every time she steals something, but at the time same, Meimi begins to develop a reluctant crush on him, which creates something of a conflict within her. She doesn't want to be caught, and she enjoys this game she's playing with him, but at the same time, if anyone's going to catch her, she wants it to be him. Later in the story as her becomes closer to Asuka Jr. as Meimi, she begins to fear that he will reject her if he discovers that she's Saint Tail.

As the volumes go, more characters are introduced, complicating the in-school relationship between Asuka Jr. and Meimi, and Asuka Jr. gets closer and closer to seeing that Saint Tail is really Meimi. It's a little disappointing that he doesn't quite make it on his own, but I suppose it's understandable since he begins to develop feelings for Meimi and he probably doesn't want to complicate it by forcing the persona of Saint Tail on to her. Or, it may be that he's afraid that they aren't the same person since he wouldn't be able to chase after both of them.

It's rather sweet seeing poor Asuka Jr. try to deal with the fact he developing a crush on Meimi, though when he finally confesses that he loves her it feels rather sudden and out of nowhere. At first I thought it was because he had finally figured out that she was Saint Tail and was approaching Meimi in the way he couldn't her alter ego, but it's actually just Asuka confessing to just Meimi and he still doesn't know they're the same person, even though he's had suspicions for a long while.

The manga continues its episodic nature pretty much until the sixth volume, just after Asuka Jr. has made his confession and he and Meimi start dating (to which their long suffering classmates say "about time!"). At that point Saint Tail deviates from its standard modus operandi and a figure resembling a central villain emerges and the tone of the story changes. For the first time Saint Tail meets an opponent who is every bit her equal, if not stronger, and the last three chapters of her story are essentially all connected (though she continues to perform "thefts of the chapter"). Saint Tail becomes increasingly desperate and the battle scenes in the final chapter are incredibly intense as the reader feels for the first time that Meimi is in way over her head. Nothing she's previously experienced even comes close to this.

Also, in the final chapter, Meimi performs the first theft for herself instead of for someone else. She's always sent Asuka Jr. her calling cards to let him know what she's about to steal and where. This time, Asuka Jr. is captured by the old rival of Meimi's mother (Meimi's mother used to be a daring thief as well, though a less benevolent one), but her card still manages to reach him and he reads "Tonight I will come for Asuka Jr. at the Monestary." It's a bit syrupy, but for the age group this is intended for, it's incredibly sweet that her final theft is stealing the boy she loves.

And to Meimi's joy, even though he knows now that she's Saint Tail, he doesn't reject her. Even Rosemary, her mother's rival, is touched by the fact that Asuka Jr. still cares about Meimi (she tried driving them apart by revealing Saint Tail's identity to Asuka Jr.) and decides to depart and ply her trade in another city, ending the main story.

There is then a short four page epilogue explaining how since that day Saint Tail was never seen again. She was finally caught at last. (Literally. Asuka Jr. catches her when she falls in the final action scene of the chapter.) And then it goes on to show everybody eight years later. Asuka Jr. is finally a full-fledge detective, Seira's a nun, Lina's a policewoman, and Sawatari is a press photographer. We don't know what Meimi is, but Asuka comes in the nearby chapel and gives a short-haired Meimi an engagement ring, and that ends the story.

According to the manga-ka, the short hair is to show how Meimi will never become Saint Tail ("tail" coming from her ponytail) again.

Though all this happens in volume 6, there is a seventh volume that has three additional Saint Tail chapters. The first is the origin of Saint Tail, which is a bit dry. It basically shows how Meimi met both Seira and Asuka Jr. and put a date on when she started becoming Saint Tail. Seira is extremely conniving for a virtuous nun-in-training (though I do love that dichotomy in her!) and manages to shoehorn Meimi into being the savior of the Lord's lost lambs and thus we have the reason for Saint Tail's existence.

The other story chapters are shorts taking place the first Christmas after Saint Tail has been captured. One focuses on Meimi and Asuka Jr.'s relationship, largely Meimi's insecurities over whether Asuka Jr. likes her for being herself or because she's Saint Tail. Asuka Jr. on the other hand can't see why that makes a difference since she's both people.

The last story is about Seira and Sawatari, one of the supporting classmates, and takes place at roughly the same time as the Meimi and Asuka Jr. one. In the later volumes it becomes apparent that Sawatari is developing a thing for Seira, and this story wraps up what wasn't finished in the main story. But the problem is Seira's dedicated herself to God, and how can a guy compete with that? It's a very sweet story that I really enjoyed.

Additionally, volumes 1, 6, and 7 have more of Megumi Tachikawa's work tucked in the back, so readers of Saint Tail get treated to six her short stories as well as the main course. It's surprising to see how much her art style has changed between Saint Tail and her older work (her older work has a much flatter look to it and the characters' hair tends to look mussed up), but the story-telling is much the same--just working on a shorter scale. All of the shorts are firmly shoujo in nature, usually featuring an insecure teenage heroine of some sort and her romantic interest, but most of them are firmly grounded in the real world with no magic or pseudo magic (in the vein of Saint Tail) in them.

My favorite would probably be the The 16-Year-Old Tiara, which is about a good-natured introvert called Minami who is always being taken advantage of but doesn't do anything about it--things like her friends splash muddy water on her and then call her clumsy, or she lends someone her homework but that person forgets to bring it back so now she has to shovel snow for punishment for not turning in the assignment--that sort of thing. But she has a rather scary guardian angel in the form of a boy at school named Nitta who always yells at her for not taking better care of herself. When she catches a fever from the snow-shoveling punishment, Nitta gives her what she calls his scariest face yet, but at the same time it's plain that he's always looking out for her. The end of the story is a little abstract (in a dreamy shoujo way), but Minami confesses that she loves Nitta, and in return he says that the crown she always wanted (symbolically being a boy's center of attention) she actually received a year ago when he first met her. He doesn't actually say that, but it shows up in rounded bubbles that are neither speech nor thought, which is why it's a little abstract. It's like he's just thinking it and it's not clear that she hears these thoughts so much as the reader is reading them in his mind.