By Akira Kawa. Released in Japan by Futabasha, serialized in the magazine Women’s Comic Jour. Released in the United States by Futabasha on the JManga website.
The second volume of Wonder! (which has just ended in Japan, by the way, and is 17 volumes total) continues the types of stories we saw in the first. It’s a story about what it means to be a family, in all the myriad ways: husbands and wives, parents and children, and the multi-generational aspect of everything. It also touches on childcare quite a deal, and might actually strike some as being a bit heavy-handed at times. I think the writing and characterization is so strong, though, that it overcomes any issues it might have.
The protagonist role continues to switch back and forth between forthright and emotional Kaori and her reserved and quiet adopted son, Kota. Having jumped forward about 9 years in the first volume, this one settles down into his final years of high school, as the manga seems to have been picked up as a series fully by now. Kota’s future is not so certain, though. He doesn’t really want to go to college, and is content to simply start working full time at the snack bar he’s been with. Everyone seems to wonder if this is really the right choice for him, though… especially as he seems to brim with unfulfilled potential. As the volume goes on, a new possibility makes itself known: Kota is really fantastic with kids, and it’s brought up that he may want to look into being a caregiver of some sort. Whether he takes this up or not is another matter. Kota is not quite as hard to read as his father, Taiyo, but it’s clear he’s at that age where he doesn’t want to burden his family but also doesn’t ant to leave.
As for Kaori, if she seems angrier than usual here, it’s mostly because her mother has moved in with them temporarily, after getting divorced from what appears to be her fifth husband. It’s lampshaded right away that Kaori and her mother are far too similar for their own good, though Kaori certainly comes off better when we compare; her mother is written as deliberately antagonistic most of the time, and picks fights constantly. Just as much as this series is about family, it also seems to be about communication, and how hard it is to really get anything across even when you *do* mean well. Kaori has always been upset with her mother for ruining her second marriage (the first, which led to Kaori, ended with her father’s death from illness). And after a long series of arguments, her mother finally reveals the real reason that marriage fell apart. Kaori is stunned, and rightly so, but… you also feel sympathy for her mother, as really, how do you begin to bring that up with a child?
It can be argued that Kori and Taiyo’s family is a bit too perfect, especially compared to the other family we get to know in this volume, which involves both spousal and parental abuse. There’s an interesting discussion of disciplining a child – Kaori is adamant about hot hitting her child, partly due to the real reasons that it’s not a good thing to do, but also because of her own memories of being hit as a kid. When the abused young child of a different family comes to live with them for a short period, Kaori is frustrated that he’s acting up and lashing out – the child even attacks Wonder, the titular dog! Kaori is stunned to realize that at one point she wanted to strike the boy, and her mother cynically notes, “Did you think that you were perfect?” Well, she may have – her own child, Miya, is adorable, well-mannered and behaves, she and her husband have resolved the whole ‘open marriage’ thing from last volume and seem to have bonded. It’s easy to be judgmental towards someone whose problems you’ve never dealt with.
As with Volume 1, this volume ends with a one-shot story about an unrelated couple. This one has a bit of a fantasy aspect – a young wife who’s feeling stressed out and uncertain about her marriage, especially as her husband is ten years older than she is, finds that an older couple have moved in next door to him – and not only are they eerily similar, but there even seem to be future echoes of the fights that she and her husband have. The revelation here was more obvious than I’d have liked – anyone who’s read speculative fiction will get it right away – but I still enjoyed it, especially as it examinees the fact that choosing to live with someone the rest of your life can be a scary and terrifying thing to do… but is ultimately really sweet.
In case you’re wondering, Wonder does appear throughout, and still appears to have that ‘empathy’ superpower and ability to always find a person in trouble that he had previously. In fact, Kota may share the same ability – the parallels between Kota and Wonder are numerous. As for Volume 3, I’m definitely awaiting more, despite a cliffhanger ending (was it a cliffhanger?) to Chapter 9 that made my jaw drop – let’s just say that the most serious part of the manga was dragged uncomfortably back and given a light, almost offhand touch. I’m not certain how morally dissonant it was meant to be, honestly, and to say more would be to spoil. But for anyone wanting a josei manga about family and raising children, Wonder! is a fantastic choice.