St. Cross Gakuen Stories, Volume 1 – Welcome to the Mysteries Club! (聖クロス女学院物語 ようこそ、神秘倶楽部へ！) ends up a little like Maria-sama ga Miteru meets Scooby-Doo. But the path it takes to get there is a rambling one.
Back in the 1930s, the beginnings of girls’s culture was born and bred in the hothouse environment of girls magazines. These spread the idea that girls’ schools were a place where older girls chose and mentored younger girls, all in the name of becoming fine upstanding young women. This ideal was rewritten, redrawn, rethought, twisted, knotted and unraveled for the next 100 years as creators took “girls culture” and reimagined it for themselves and their audience.
In the early 2000s, this ideal was once again established for popular culture with the Maria-sama ga Miteru light novel series. And, once again, the same ideal was remolded into a hundred new copies, each with their own specific focus. And somehow the ideal has remained intact, mostly. Sort of. ^_^
Here at St. Cross Gakuin, a Catholic school, Hana and her best friend Nana are planning on joining the Fine Art Club. They have been together since they were children and have exchanged Mary medals as a symbol of their eternal friendship. When Hana loses her medal, she is extremely upset. Thinking she lost it in the art museum, she runs back, but starts to cry when she can’t find it. The beautiful and kind Student Council President, Shiori-sama, offers her comfort and Hana hopes that Shiori-sama is her onee-sama.
At St. Cross, we learn at the beginning of the book, underclassmen are taken under the wing of a secret onee-sama, who can only be communicated with by letter that must be posted to the secret post box on campus. It moves every year and must be found first. With diligence, one of Hana’s classmates, the eyepatch-wearing Kanon finds it up a tree.
So, we have the secret onee-sama, the lost medal, Shiori-sama, and plenty of stuff for a plot, so instead of any of that, the story digresses into the creation of a new club. The Mysteries Club, run by Kanon, will investigate the paranormal. Hana is strong armed into becoming a member and wackiness ensues. I don’t want to spoil the end, but you’ll have to trust me that everything works out and it’s really quite adorable.
There were some very interesting things to note about this book. Firstly, while the concept of Catholicism in books like this contains some of the more obscure ritual trappings of Catholicism, the one nun who has even the remotest grasp of doctrine is the antagonist. ^_^
The girls sometimes talk like actual girls their age might actually do, which is surprising and refreshing. I found it amusing that the concept that private school girls say “Gokigenyou” as a greeting is mentioned, only to be dismissed as an urban legend or “Sometimes we say it, as a joke.”
Hana and Nana’s “eternal friendship” is never mocked, nor presumed to be fantasy. This book is from 2014, we don’t marry girls off after school anymore, otaku fantasy notwithstanding. They can be friends forever.
There was a teeny bit of Yuri service when Student Council VP Mitsuki-sama is embraced by Shiroi-sama in a shockingly intimate way. (They hugged!)
This book is an easy read, an interesting many-times-filtered Catholic Girls’ School adventure; it’s cute and a little goofy. The series is on Bookwalker Global, so you can enjoy it for about $5/book. I also found a page of reviews on Kadokawa’s Tsubasa Bunko site, which warmed my heart, as the average age of readers appears to be 11-12 year old girls. And me. ^_^ After all, who doesn’t want to read a paranormal mystery series at a Japanese Catholic Girls’ School, with a club run by an eyepatch-wearing 12 year old who had had a near-death experience? ^_^
Art – 8 Cute and fun
Story – 8 Random, unfocused and fun
Characters – 8 Fun and odd
Yuri – 3 Teeniest little bit of service for fun
Service – Nope
Overall – 8 Fun enough that I’ll read the next one. Me and all the 12 year olds. ^_^
Oh, before I forget, my favorite utterly random line describes Kanon as having “a smile like a marshmallow.” What?