Poor Poor Lips, Vol. 1

By Hayako Goto. Released in Japan by Takeshobo, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Life. Released in the United States by Takeshobo on the JManga website.

The first thing that struck me about this series, a title that I knew something of coming in thanks to Erica Friedman’s reviews on Okazu, is how appropriate it is that the word ‘poor’ is repeated in the title. In fact, if it had been called Poor Poor Poor Lips I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. More than a series about cute girls doing cute things, or about a growing love between two young women, this is a manga about a very, VERY poor girl, and what her life is like to the people around her. Mako isn’t homeless or anything. But she’s constantly on the knife edge of it, and deals with things like never having the money to buy clothes… or furniture… or even food beyond the meanest variety. It’s actually quite impressive the sheer amount of humor the author can wring out of Nako’s desperate poverty.

In contrast to this we have Ren, the woman who runs the shop that Nako comes to work for. Ren is an interesting character right off the bat, as she tells prospective employees point blank that she is a lesbian – something you rarely get in Japanese manga, even ones that do deal with actual relationships between two girls. Usually the closeness between the two gets some “it’s just because it’s you” lip service that manages to dance around the actual lesbian identity. So it’s refreshing to see Ren be so blunt about it, even if it is mostly to scare off people who can’t put up with her. Nako, of course, is not going to let anything like that stop her from work that might give her money to live, so she gets hired and the manga shows the two becoming friends.

This is a cute 4-koma manga, so the rest of the volume tends to involve a lot of cute 4-koma situations. We follow Nako’s staggeringly ridiculous poverty, and start to realize how it is she keeps ending up that way (a naivete that manages to remain innocent and charming while still making you slap your head); we see her interactions with an old male friend from high school, who clearly is interested in her but can’t quite get that across; and we see Ren, who has already told Nako that she’s ‘not her type’, begin to fall for Nako anyway. The two contrast very well, with Nako’s blithe matter-of-factness contrasting well with Ren’s occasional tendencies towards being overwrought. Ren, of course, would like to give Nako more money and help, but it’s hard to simply DO that, so she has to be subtle about such things.

The yuri in this first volume is mild – Ren clearly is interested in Nako, but this is different from the usual sort of relationship – and girl – she’s had before, so she’s still trying to figure out what to do. Meanwhile, Keiki is a relatively sympathetic male co-star considering it’s a yuri manga. He and Ren don’t get along, but you clearly see things from his side as well, and they both share a concern that Nako will one day simply be kidnapped off the street. Nako, being fairly oblivious about such things, is not particularly helping either of them. But then, this manga is meant to be more than one volume long, so that’s only to be expected.

This was a lot of fun. It uses the 4-koma style well, being a series of slice-of-life events without ever giving off that feeling of ‘nothing will ever happen’ you get from many similar series. The characters are funny and likeable, and you want Nako to better her situation while realizing that her situation is what drives all the comedy and plot. And the translation, done in collaboration with ALC Publishing, is excellent, showing none of the over-literal awkwardness that sometimes plagues JManga titles. The one drawback to the series is that Nako is yet another of those girls who’s 21 but looks to be about seven years old. Japan loves this, but I really wish they’d learn to write about adult women who look like adults. Still, Poor Poor Lips is an excellent addition to JManga’s library, and Vol. 2 is already available as well, with 3 coming out next week. Give it a shot – you likely can afford it more than Nako could.