By Tsunami Umino. Released in Japan as “Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Kiss. Released in North America digitally by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Rose Padgett.
It is a rare series that can immediately win me over within the first five pages. In fact, I’ve long been an advocate of giving series a chance beyond one volume, especially if they are of the “horrible person is changed by the plotline of the manga” type stories. But sometimes I start a manga and I know immediately I’m going to fall in love with it. This is that sort of manga – when I saw Mikuri being “interviewed” about the difficulties she’s having with her life, and realized that she was imagining this in her head, I grinned. And when I saw this would actually be a recurring thing, I cheered. Not only are these segments some of the funniest in the volume, but they also serve to help deepen the characterization of the main heroine, who is otherwise very matter-of-fact and calm. It’s a great device.
The premise is laid out right at the start. Mikuri kept doing college because it was hard to find a job, but now she’s post-grad and still can’t find work, and even temp agencies aren’t working out. She’s living with her parents as well, which proves to be problematic when they decide to retire to the country, meaning she needs work and a place to stay NOW. Luckily, she’s been doing a part-time job cleaning house and basically functioning as a wife-figure for Tsuzaki, an introverted guy who tends to say what he thinks and has minimal social skills. They get on fairly well (it helps that Mikuri’s degree is in psychology, so she’s much better at reading people than the average manga protagonist), and suddenly it becomes apparent that this is a solution to her problems. They could marry on paper, and she could function as a full-time wife (minus wifely duties, so to speak) and get health benefits and the like.
In case you hadn’t already guessed, this is a josei series. It is, in fact, the sort of josei we don’t usually see brought over here – a lot of the josei we’ve seen in the past few years I’ve defined as “shoujo with adults”, as you find the same love misunderstandings, fretting, and breakups that you would in a high school shoujo magazine. This seems more grounded in the real world – indeed, a big surprise for me is how little romance there is in this first volume. Clearly the endgame will be getting these two quirky kids together for real, but I like how it’s a slow burn, and that we’re starting to see it on his end but not on hers. In fact, it’s even bluntly laid out in their agreement that they can see other people as long as they’re discreet. That may be tested soon, as it appears that Tsuzaki’s co-worker may be starting to fall for Mikuri, and his other co-worker seems to have realized their marriage is not a genuine one.
The supporting cast is also good – I particularly liked Mikuri’s aunt, who shows that you can regret not having a romance when you’re in your fifties but still have a happy and fulfilling life. Tsuzaki’s friend Numata is also gay, and occasionally acts the stereotype, but even this is subtler than I was expecting. What I’m left with is a good story with great characters and an interesting style, one that I really want to see play out in future volumes. It also has a live-action series under its belt, so apparently did pretty well in Japan as well. Read this, you’ll love it.