Ryo Ikuemi – JManga – 2012 – 3 volumes
I haven’t really talked a lot about the books I’ve read on JManga. I should talk about Anesthesiologist Hana, but it was so mundane I keep forgetting to write it up. Someday. I also read the first volume of Girlfriends, but it was just before Seven Seas licensed it, and I’d rather read it in print and support Seven Seas. It’s good, though! I picked Cousin up thinking it was part of the increasing number of yuri series JManga has been releasing been releasing (the description is a little vague), but it isn’t. It also dubiously claims that Cousin received a 100% positive response rate in Zipper. That’s what sold me, actually. Not the response rate, but the fact it ran in Zipper, which is where Paradise Kiss ran. Zipper only runs one manga at a time, I think, and I adored Paradise Kiss. I was excited to read this one.
Bon is a fairly average girl. A little overweight, a recent high school graduate, and otherwise unremarkable in every way. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, and wishes she were prettier like her supermodel cousin. After graduation, she gets a part time job working at a video rental store. Having gone to an all-girls school, she has no idea how to talk to or relate to her male co-worker, and it takes some time before the two begin to get along. What kicks off the good vibes, however, is the fact that the co-worker compliments Bon, saying she resembles her supermodel cousin without knowing that the two of them are related.
Unrelated, Bon falls for one of the customers of the rental store, and resolves to improve herself. She gets her hair done and learns about makeup and how to wear it, and resolves to lose some weight and put herself out there a little more. While trying to make a good impression on her crush, she slowly grows closer to her male co-worker, too.
What’s great about this is that the self-discovery is subtle. Bon’s campaign to improve herself isn’t a sudden push of self-motivation, nor is it something that happens all at once. And it seems like the motivation is split between her crush and her male co-worker. The crush makes it so that she wants to look her best, but talking to the co-worker makes her realize that she’s not really able to relate to people well, and she begins to get better about that. What’s also important is that she isn’t consumed by thoughts of self-improvement simply because she is lovesick. It’s presented more as self-improvement than it is a way to land a man, and the crush is discussed surprisingly rarely compared to Bon’s obsession with looking like her cousin.
And as I said, the change is gradual. It starts with Bon going out and getting her hair done. She begins to watch what she eats. Talking with the co-worker makes her realize she needs to get out and talk to others more. A visit to see her crush makes her more interested in makeup. A put-down from a former schoolmate makes her learn to be careful with her makeup. And the end of the volume has her exercising and really trying to change herself. All of this happens slowly over the ten short chapters, and it’s self-reflective more than it is outward motivation. And that’s what makes it good. Bon isn’t notable in any way, but that makes her easy to relate to. Bon could be any girl, and the fact she isn’t obnoxious or over-driven with her self-improvement, and that it all happens slowly, as a result of something, makes this a more subtle story and a fantastic read.
It’s hard for me to convey just why this is so good. The fact that it’s obviously aimed at an older audience is one of the things it has going for it, but that might be just it. It doesn’t have to be overly cheerful or get a message across. It can simply be about Bon trying to make something of her life, but in the form of a promise to herself rather than something she announces to the world. You really need to read it to learn why it’s so charming and quietly addictive. And I’m happy to see that JManga has already released the second volume. I’m not sure how fast or effective Bon’s quest will be, but I’m curious to see how far a second volume will take her.