This is a post for the Moyoco Anno Manga Moveable Feast.
Some series I take to right away, and other manga series end up being second chance reads. Happy Mania is one of those series that is better the second time around for me. I read the first couple volumes several years ago and didn’t really get into it because I found the main character incredibly annoying. Since then I’ve read several other manga by Moyoco Anno and have long suspected that I needed to give Happy Mania a second shot. I’ve pieced together the out of print series from paperbackswap.com and some good bargain manga outlets. I was hoping to read the entire series for the Manga Moveable Feast, but I wasn’t able to start reading it until much later than I planned. I was able to read a decent chunk of it though!
The heroine as a ditsy, hopeless woman who decides to “live for love” is quite the stereotype in shoujo and josei manga. Her life gets romanticized and she ends up getting saved by her ideal man. Anno’s approach is to show just how horrible a life someone like this would actually lead. Shigeta is a young woman who works in a bookstore. Her career’s nonexistent, but she’s fixated on the idea of meeting a man who will save her from the drudgery of her daily life. Unfortunately Shigeta’s main method of dealing with men is to fixate on someone totally unsuitable, sleep with him extremely quickly, and then wonder why he’s suddenly not interested in her. While she chases bad boys, her hapless co-worker Takahashi is pining for her. He is usually drawn with tears streaming down his face, sighing Shigeta’s name.
Shigeta goes through jobs and men in quick succession, hooking up with a womanizing younger DJ, the son of a cult leader who rapidly turns psychotic, a stoic ceramics artist, and a married man. Whenever Shigeta’s in crisis, Takahashi is there for her, and even though he goes overseas to study their relationship gradually progresses into a semi-dysfunctional engagement. If Shigeta exhibited absolutely no personal growth through these volumes the series would be a bit tedious, but she does gradually realize that her goals and behavior are not making her happy. This isn’t really enough to prevent her from seeking her self worth in the knowledge that a man might be interested in her, but she isn’t entirely without self awareness. When she pauses to think about a couple of the men pursuing her, she thinks “What’s wrong with these guys? If they like me that much…there must be something wrong with them!”
Shigeta is always pursuing the next unattainable man. Being stuck in a behavioral pattern like Shigeta’s seems refreshingly realistic for a manga heroine, and Anno certainly doesn’t shy away from the more sordid aspects of her life. Happy Mania isn’t romanticized at all.
Anno’s art is distinct and fluid. She has a unique ability to draw characters that are simultaneously attractive and slightly grotesque. Shigeta looks like a limpid-eyed, slightly crazed goblin half of the time. Takahashi shifts from being slight and nerdy to being more attractive as Shigeta’s view of him changes. There always seems to be a metatextual element to Anno’s manga. Happy Mania might be a manga about a love-starved twentysomething woman, but it is also a cynical commentary about manga about love-starved twentysomething women at the same time.
I’m glad that I gave this series a second chance. Shigeta’s antics didn’t really sit very well with me the first time I tried this series, but in the intervening years I’ve read a bunch more manga, and right now I find a manga about a woman finding unhappiness through her pursuit of men much more interesting than a more typical manga that is going to head towards a happy ending after a series of wacky misunderstandings.