SP Baby, Vol. 1

SP Baby Volume 1 by Maki Enjoji

I’m a pretty big fan of Enjoji’s series Happy Marriage so I was excited when it was announced that Shojo Beat would be bringing out another series of hers. While Happy Marriage has an undercurrent of tension (spoiler alert! no one is getting married yet), the first volume of SP Baby is more of a comedic workplace romance.

Tamaki Hasegawa is struggling to find a full-time job. She needs to better support both herself and her little brother who is about to enter college. She has an ordinary life where one of the highlights is her helpless pining for her long-time friend Natsu who works in a flower shop. One day she sees one man chasing another on the street and jumps in to help by attempting a kick to the head of the threatening man. He promptly catches her ankle, leaving her at a loss on what to do next. After it becomes clear that the two men in question know each other, Tamaki apologizes for interrupting a lover’s quarrel and runs away. Her adventures are not over because the next day she’s shoved into a car carrying Kagetora Sugou, the man who she attempted to defend. He gives her a suit with a short skirt and announces that he’s going to interview her for the full-time job of being his bodyguard.

Kagetora is a nice contrast from Ryu in Everyone’s Getting Married. Kagetora is of course rich, but there’s an odd open-hearted innocence in his mannerisms and actions, like when he gives the people he works with nicknames that are usually reserved for cats. He alludes to having met Tamaki in the past, which is something that she has no memory of. Tamaki embarks on her new job, which necessitates dealing with some intense training in martial arts as well as finally getting her driver’s license. While it is obvious that her new boss is romantically interested in her, Tamaki keeps reminding herself of her so far one-sided affection for Natsu.

Enjoji’s art is always solid, and she easily captures the extreme emotions that Tamaki deals with as she ends up on an impromptu date with Kagetora or gives in to her lighting-fast violent reflexes. By the end of SP Baby, I was rooting for this very odd couple and wanting to see more of this story unfold. February is a long time to wait for the next volume! I recommend this title if you enjoy josei comedies with heroines who have a tendency to kick people in the head.

Full-Time Wife Escapist Vols 1 and 2

Full-Time Wife Escapist Volume 1 and 2 by Tsunami Umino

Kodansha seems to be putting out so many digital titles, I’m having a hard time keeping track of them all. I’m always curious to check out josei titles and Full-Time Wife Escapist is a unique title, as it isn’t as overtly focused on romance as some of the other josei titles that have been translated over here.

Mikuri is in a bind after attending graduate school in psychology. She’s having difficulty finding a full-time job, and makes ends meet as a temp. When her temp job ends, she’s caught in a difficult situation because her parents are moving to the country, where there will be even less work for her. She picks up some shifts here and there doing housework and meets a man named Tsuzaki, and she becomes his regular part-time housekeeper. They become closer when she takes care of him during an illness. Mikuri and Tsuzaki come up with the solution where Mikuri will move in as his platonic paid wife, taking over housekeeping duties, making him lunch and dinner, and generally making his bachelor apartment more comfortable.

Tsuzaki is a bit of a loner at work, and somewhat emotionally stunted and has a way of relating to other people that make them assume that he’s cranky, but it seems more like he just hasn’t developed his social skills very well. The transnational nature of the relationship is one of the aspects of this manga that makes it both interesting and refreshing. When Mikuri and Tsuzaki go to visit his parents, they set the terms of Mikuri’s overtime by negotiating back and forth. It is interesting to see tasks that would be unacknowledged emotional labor in a real relationship being assigned a dollar value in this one.

Mikuri’s background in psychology shows her observing other people as opposed to getting real insight on herself. She does have some amusing daydream sequences when her mind wanders and she projects herself into some dream tv interviews that offer some commentary on her life choices. Her aunt Yuri, an unmarried career woman, serves as a counterpoint to Mikuri’s more aimless lifestyle. I enjoy manga when it gets a little didatic, and there are some great asides in Full-Time Wife Escapist where the characters start discussing the economic conditions facing younger adults in Japan, providing some real world background and context to Mikuri’s unconventional lifestyle choice.

The first volume sets up the unique relationship situation in The Full-Time Wife Escapist fairly quickly, and the second volume shows some of the issues that happen when the couple continues to try to portray their relationship as real to friends and colleagues, who sense that something is a bit off in the way the couple relate to each other. At the same time, the close proximity of the fake couple is showing some awareness developing between them. This series has a nice slice-of life pace to the storytelling, as everyday activities like preparing dinner have a new slant due to the unique relationship. At the same time, there are some moments of pathos, as Tsuzaki reflects that if Mikuri ever decides to get married for real, he’s going to be alone for the rest of his life.

Tsuzaki’s friend Kazami starts appearing a bit more and more, and he and Mikuri have a few easy friendly conversations. Kazami starts envying the married lifestyle, but he’s not interested in settling down at all. Intriguing changes are signaled for the next few volumes. I enjoy a good josei romance series, but one of the things I appreciate about The Full-Time Wife Escapist is that it is focused more on transactions and slowly developing friendships than overt romance. It’ll also be interesting to see if Mikuri’s unconventional wife for hire lifestyle is sustainable over the long term.

Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 5

I still very much enjoy Everyone’s Getting Married, but this volume was a little bit of a letdown, mostly because I’m not terribly fond of the way the “suddenly a rival appears!” storyline is being executed.

At the end of the last volume Kamiya, a work colleague of Asuka’s decided that she would be his ideal wife. He was not put off by the fact that she’s dating Ryu, and Kamiya’s persistence was one of the most annoying things about this volume, even though he did bring up some good and rational points about Asuka and Ryu’s counterproductive relationship. Asuka is mostly reduced to a bargaining chip between the men, and her actions are a little bit too passive, although I suppose it is an accurate portrayal of where a woman might end up when she has been thoroughly socialized to be nice all the time. The volume opens with Ryu and Kamiya getting a drink together, and even though Ryu warns Kamiya to stop his pursuit of Asuka, Kamiya is undeterred, pointing out the futility of a relationship where one person wants to get married and the other is set against it. Kamiya is convinced that the couple will eventually break up, and when that happens he will be there, ready to scoop up Asuka and take advantage of her innate intelligence and competence to have the supportive live partner of his dreams.

Kamiya proceeds to both threaten and manipulate Asuka into spending time with him, and I started feeling very annoyed that Asuka was so passive that she got thrown into situations with Kamiya when she didn’t really want to spend time with him. Ryu and Asuka always do reaffirm their relationship, and a brief trip away with a break from work serves to smooth things over. One of the reasons why this manga is so interesting to read is the fact that either one of the main characters is going to have to fundamentally change, or they will have to break up, and that dramatic tension is intriguing. This volume felt like a bit more of a placeholder, and I hope there’s a more satisfying story in the next volume.

Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 3

Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 3 by Izumi Miyazono

Is everyone getting married? I see no evidence of it yet in this series where aspiring housewife Asuka and committed bachelor Ryu continue to fall in love with each other despite their utterly incompatible life goals. This manga manages to balance the twists and turns of a soap opera with some very touching moments as Ryu and Asuka continue to struggle with their feelings for each other, balance their demanding work schedules, and navigate their possibly doomed relationship.

One of the things I like about this series is how little it relies on conflict due to people not talking to each other. Sure it happens sometimes, but not talking about a problem isn’t stretched over multiple volumes as sometimes happens in romance manga. Even when some standard plot elements pop up in the form of Ryu’s Complicated Ex-Girlfriend and Asuka’s Flirty Co-Worker, this continues to lead the couple to reflect on their relationship.

Two events happen in fairly short succession that cause some strain. Yuko, a married actress who Ryu had a long-term affair with years ago is back in town. She’s touched by scandal due to her philandering husband, and Ryu is maneuvered by combative questions from the press into joking on tv that he’d dump his girlfriend for a chance to date her. In addition, Asuka gets news of a upcoming work transfer and is spending time with Kamiya, a colleague. They’re walking down the street together and they agree to do a “couple interview” as a joke, only Asuka is shocked when she sees that Ryu is interviewing her.

These additional people popping up near Asuka and Ryu cause them to confront some of the issues in their relationship. Asuka wonders if Yuko is the reason why Ryu is so set against marriage. Ryu is jealous of Kamiya, even though his relationship with Asuka is professional. But while the only person Asuka wants to marry is Ryu, she wonders what might happen if she takes Kamiya’s overtures seriously since it seems he does really want to get married.

As always the art is attractive and easy to follow, easily handling cute scenes of Ryu and Asuka supporting each other in addition to some tumultuous relationship drama. I wish Shojo Beat could bring out more series like this all at the same time, but I’ll be happy with what I can get.


Everyone’s Getting Married, Vol. 2

Everyone’s Getting Married, Volume 2 by Izumi Miyazono

I’m always a happy camper when Viz is putting out a josei title, and with two volumes so far in the Everyone’s Getting Married series, I’m very much enjoying a periodic escape into adult romance trials and tribulations as a nice contrast from all the shoujo I usually read.

One of the things I liked very much about the first volume was that the main couple Asuka and Ryu are so clearly attracted to each other and yet their respective goals of becoming a housewife and never getting married are clearly going to come into conflict. Even when they might have attempted to avoid each other, they find themselves getting closer and closer and in a relationship that is going to have a sudden expiration date if neither of them are going to change.

While Asuka and Ryu are more emotionally connected than ever, they find that their hectic work schedules prevents them from seeing each other very often, causing a bit of tension. Ryu also finds himself enjoying some of the extra homemaker type things that Asuka does a little too much, as she’s able to whip up dinner at short notice and do some extra things to help him through an extra demanding time with his news anchor job.

They manage to navigate their first big fight and end up stronger than ever, but one of the things that I enjoy about this manga is that both characters are sympathetic, their points of view about life are intrinsically opposed, and I’m left rooting for a solution but I can’t picture how they’re going to pull it off. This ends up amping up my curiosity about what is going to happen in the story quite a bit, so I’m eager to see how everything progresses.