Manga Review: Princess Jellyfish Volume 1

Manga Review: Princess Jellyfish Volume 1 by Akiko Higashimura

Amamizukan is not your average apartment building.  For one thing, it’s a small, old-fashioned building of the type rarely seen these days.  More importantly, all the residents are fujoshi (“rotten women”) who for one reason or another have fallen outside the society-approved get job/get husband/have kids way of life for Japanese women.  These eccentric women fear the “fashionable”, and especially fashionable men, which is why Amamizukan is also know as the “Nunnery.”

Princess Jellyfish Volume 1

Tsukimi Kurashita is the newest resident, an aspiring illustrator with a penchant for jellyfish.  She knows all about these aquatic creatures, and is appalled to learn that the local pet shop has put two species together that will cause the death of one of them.  The shop assistant is a “fashionable”, which makes Tsukimi terrified of talking to him and thus unable to speak normally, and apathetic which makes him not care to the point he physically throws her out of the store.

At this point, a “princess” appears.  A stunning, fashion-forward beauty, she nevertheless listens to Tsukimi’s explanation and helps liberate “Clara” the endangered jellyfish from the store (with proper payment.)  It’s very late when they arrive at Amamizukan, so the princess, a very self-confident person, invites herself to sleep over.

In the morning, however, Tsukimi is shocked to learn that her princess is named Kuranosuke, and is in fact a young man.  How the heck is she going to keep the other “Amars” from finding out she’s got a boy in her room?

This josei (young women’s) manga has had a short animated adaptation (available from Funimation), and a live-action movie.  In the author notes, it’s revealed that the creator had an obsession with jellyfish for a few years in her teens, and she uses that in the story.  “Ama” is a word for a Buddhist nun, so “Amars” would be kind of equivalent to a women-only U.S. apartment building having residents who called themselves “Sistahs.”

One of the running themes of the manga is that everyone is eccentric in their own way, even the people who seem to function well in normal society.   The Amars are just more obvious about it.  Most of them are unconventional in appearance, and entered the job market just as it crashed after the bubble economy collapsed, so were unable to find steady jobs.  So they earn a marginal living as assistants to a manga creator (who never appears on panel, being a nocturnal shut-in) and supplement this with handouts from their parents.

Kuranosuke, as it turns out, is the second son of a bigwig politician, and indulges in his hobby of dressing in women’s clothing partially to create enough scandal that he’ll never be forced to go into the family business, partially because he’s so pretty that he looks smashing in the outfits, and partially for…other reasons.  He often clashes with his disapproving father, and to a lesser extent with his older and more dutiful half-brother Shuu, though the brothers do really care for each other.

A plotline comes in when it’s revealed that Amamizukan’s neighborhood is being redeveloped, and their beloved Nunnery is a target for acquisition and bulldozing.  With the Amars’ crippling lack of social skills, they aren’t going to make a good case against the developer’s fashionable and sexy spokesperson, Inari, who has set her eye on seducing (or if that fails blackmailing) Shuu to get his father behind the project.  Kuranosuke will not let this stand, and rallies the troops for some zany scheming.

Part of this is giving the Amars makeovers.  Tsukimi’s is played pretty straight, as she is much more attractive with a little makeup, no glasses and some nice clothes (which blows Shuu away, and introduces some romantic complications.)  The other Amars mostly just get “looks” that play to their strong points, and kimono aficionado Chieko is told that she doesn’t need a makeover at all, just the right context–put her with well-dressed people, and she looks like a woman of substance.  It’s not about making them “pretty”, it’s about donning “armor” to present strength to the world.

The art is good, and manages to convey who people are even when they change their appearance.

Content issues:  there’s some homophobia and transphobia, as well as both virgin-shaming and slut-shaming (by different characters.)  Inari drugs and disrobes Shuu to make it appear they had sex, and marital infidelity is in the backstory and is responsible for psychological issues for both Shuu and Kuranosuke.

For the most part, this plays out like one of those Eighties movies where a ragtag group of misfits must get it together to battle an evil rich person who wants to take away something important to them.  (Fittingly, Inari seems to have gotten her behavior patterns from Eighties “business woman” manga, and sometimes slips into ’80s slang.)  This book, which collects the first two Japanese volumes, only sets up the conflict, so there is still the possibility that later events will subvert the plotline.

Tsukimi is a protagonist it’s easy to root for, and Kuranosuke makes a good foil for her–though it looks like he won’t be hooking up with her in the end.  Most of the other characters are likable to some degree.

Recommended to people who liked the kind of Eighties movies I mentioned, and fans of innocent people falling in love.

Manga Review: Let’s Dance a Waltz

Manga Review: Let’s Dance a Waltz by Natsumi Ando

Tango Minami’s mother runs a ballroom dance school, where he helps out as a dance instructor (he’s tall for a junior high student.)  But due to a disastrous mistake in his childhood, Tango has decided never to take another full-time partner, and thus not qualify for ballrooom competitions.  Besides, these days he’s much more into hip-hop dancing, which he can perform solo and skill at which makes him popular at school.  Indeed, he hides his ballroom dancing from his schoolmates to avoid being seen as dorky.

Let's Dance a Waltz

Himé Makimura is a shy, withdrawn girl.  Despite her name meaning “princess”, Himé is plain, clumsy and rather pudgy.  Most of her classmates don’t notice her except to be mean, as when a boy notices her looking at him and delivers an excessively strident speech about how he could never be attracted to her.  It surprises our young woman when Ms. Minami spots that under her chubbiness, Himé has the right muscle and skeletal structure to be good at ballroom dancing.

Himé turns out to like dancing very much, especially with her instructor Tango–and everyone around can see that they’re excellent partners.  Except Tango.  While he notes that he finds her unattractive, that’s not the point for him.  He does not want a partner, especially one that goes to the same school as him and could expose his secret ballroom life.  Himé, meanwhile, is falling in love with Tango.

This is a shoujo (girls’) romance manga aimed at the junior high market, so the emphasis is on innocent emotions.  Tango is less meaning to be cruel, and more selfishly immature, and bad at asking for guidance.   His mother seems overbearing, but might be more supportive of his choices if he explained himself better.  There’s almost no dubious content aside from some fat-shaming by Himé’s classmates.

The creator spent time taking ballroom lessons herself to give some authenticity to the poses and training–she mentions that her instructor originally got into dancing to improve his posture.

Contrasting our main pair are the stars of the Minami school, Yuusei and Sumiré.  They’re excellent dancing partners, and good friends, but not a romantic couple.  Indeed, there are hints that Sumiré has feelings for Tango that she’s never acted on.  She’s a good sport, though, and is a consistent help to Himé on dance matters.  Yuusei is a serious sort and wants to be a rival to Tango on the dance floor–he’s the most set against Tango’s refusal to do competitive ballroom.

Late in the volume, Himé gets a makeover; the intensive exercise of dance practice has turned some of her fat to toned muscle, and extensive dolling up with Sumiré’s help for a competition has made our heroine look unrecognizably pretty.   (Presumably, she will still be dowdy at school.)  Tango may change his mind yet!  I know some of my readers are not keen on makeover sequences, but they are common to this sort of plotline.

There are translation notes in the back; perhaps the most important is that while “Tango” isn’t a common boy’s name in Japan, it’s a plausible one that wouldn’t be as much of a giveaway as it is in English.

This is a sweet story that should do well with its target audience; boys who are brave enough to get past all the pink on the cover would also enjoy it.

 

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