September 30, 2011

Miwa Ueda – Tokyopop – 2003 – 110 pages – ISBN 1591820421

Next month I’ll switch back to imports, but here’s one more domestic artbook for now. Again, I hadn’t flipped through this one in years, and when I saw it on the shelf I couldn’t resist.

Tokyopop only published a handful of artbooks. Aside from one or two based on their own properties (There’s definitely a Bizenghast artbook floating around, and there might be one for Princess Ai as well), there’s a Priest artbook, seven from CLAMP (not counting CLAMP no Kiseki), and this one for Peach Girl. The fact Peach Girl was popular enough to warrant an artbook release tells me that this was probably one of Tokyopop’s best-selling titles at the time. For a comparison, no domestic Sailor Moon artbooks exist, but this was starting just around the time Sailor Moon was ending, too. Manga was becoming more popular, more widely available, et cetera.

I don’t see much discussion of Peach Girl at all these days, but at the time it was one of my absolute favorites. I’m happy I can share the artbook and hopefully convince a few shoujo junkies to seek this series out.

Unfortunately, I talk more about the series than the book itself once again. If you just wanna read about the book, skip down to the last few paragraphs.

Peach Girl is a high school romance about a girl named Momo with a crush on popular and good-looking Toji. The problem is that Momo looks like a party girl with her darkly tanned skin and very light hair (specifically, she looks like a ganguro girl, a popular style at the time). But she’s really not. Her hair is naturally light, and her dark tan comes from being a lifeguard at the beach. But the vicious rumors persist. Her only friend is Sae, a very pretty girl who is also reasonably popular. Surprisingly, Toji doesn’t believe the rumors about Momo, and Momo begins to think she has a chance and begins to grow closer to him.

That’s Toji.

Meanwhile, another boy enters the picture to make the romantic triangle complete. Kiley shows up and claims to have fallen deeply in love with Momo after she saved him from drowning at the beach. Momo wants nothing to do with the smooth talking ladies’ man, but Kiley carries on.

That’s Kiley.

The trick is, the vicious rumors are spreading because Sae is actively trying to ruin Momo. She’s just that kind of person. She does everything in order to split Momo and Toji apart. Unfortunately, it takes Momo a long time to pick up on this, Toji even longer, and everybody but Kiley needs about eighteen volumes before they stop listening to a word Sae says.

And there you have Peach Girl, in a nutshell.

It sounds like a thousand other series. But the thing that makes Peach Girl super-special is its properties as shoujo crack. I promise you, if you are at all inclined to bouts of shoujo addiction, you will not be able to put this series down. There are few people that can write a soap opera like Miwa Ueda.

It’s like Hot Gimmick in that a lot of what’s happening is horrible, like watching a train wreck. The characters are too gullible to be believed, there’s a lot of situations that could be avoided by sitting down and having a conversation, and Sae is one of the worst villains in shoujo manga.

(If you’re wondering why Sae is dressed as Sailor Tin Nyanko from Sailor Moon Sailor Stars, it might have something to do with the fact Miwa Ueda was one of Naoko Takeuchi’s assistants at one point. There’s also a Miwa Ueda illustration of Usagi, human-Luna, and Hotaru in one of the Sailor Moon artbooks.)

At one point, in a scene where Sae has a “believe me, not Momo” moment in front of Toji, Momo stands in Toji’s hospital window and threatens to jump out unless he listens to what she has to say. One storyline involves Sae paying someone to rape Momo so that she’ll feel like she doesn’t deserve Toji anymore (the person’s name is “Gigolo,” in Japanese, to make matters worse). A few fistfights find their way into the mix. There are pregnancy storylines at least once, maybe twice. Momo frequently switches from Toji to Kiley and back again. Amnesia may be involved later on. But the biggest problem is that Sae just can’t shut up, and for some reason, people keep listening to her.

Soapy enough for you?

This was one of the first shoujo drama series I read, and it has a special place in my heart. I was still young enough to be the target audience when this started coming out, so at sixteen I ate it up with a spoon. I always keep this fact in the back of my mind, and it makes me wonder if I wouldn’t be enjoying my manga more thoroughly if I was still living it, so to speak.

This was also the only real shoujo drama that was coming out while I was in high school. I think I read almost all the shoujo manga available at the time… but I really didn’t like Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yugi, and Magic Knight Rayearth; Cardcaptor Sakura was too little girl-y (though I love it now); and the two I actually did like, Video Girl Ai and Oh My Goddess, were actually shounen or seinen. This left me with only X to enjoy.

When Peach Girl came out, it blew my mind. It was what I had been looking for in manga. And fiction, for that matter. It was incredibly mature to my eyes, but it was written with characters that I could relate to. The school setting was also familiar, and made the soapy drama that much more real. I had just never read anything like it. Now, there’s a wealth of soapy romance for teenage girls. It’s hard to believe the difference ten years can make. I read Paradise Kiss a year or so after I started this one. Paradise Kiss was even more of a game-changer for me, but Peach Girl came first.

How’s the artbook? It’s an exact replica of one that was published in Japan, down to untranslated notations underneath the images (just technical details, not author commentary). The Tokyopop edition was printed in Japan, and they took the release here pretty seriously. Other than the table of contents and publication info, the only nod to the American audience is a translated interview with Ueda.

It’s a beautiful book. It’s oversized, there’s a vellum title page, and even several double-sided pull-out posters. There’s a big section on Peach Girl, then other illustrations in the back from Ueda’s earlier work. The book also came out somewhere in the middle of Peach Girl’s run, so only half of the illustrations for the series are included. That’s a shame, because the later ones are much more sophisticated in terms of color palette, composition, subject matter, and… well, almost everything. Unfortunately, I’m unable to scan a better variety of images because my scanner is smaller than the book, and many of the best images are double-page spreads that I can’t get a good scan of at all.

The illustrations themselves are, admittedly, mostly Momo posing against a white background. A high school romance with only four characters with no hobbies doesn’t lend itself well to complex illustrations. But Ueda does put a lot of work into the clothing Momo wears, both in this book and in the series, and I still adore the fashion. Ueda’s drawing style is, surprisingly, still fairly contemporary-looking in terms of character design, clothing, line style, panel layout, composition, et cetera. There is a slight 90s look to it, but it looks enough like a modern shoujo manga that I believe it wouldn’t turn off anyone averse to dated artwork.

Peach, the artbook, is fairly cheap online if you are inclined to pick it up. But by all means, give the series a whirl if you’re a fan of soapy shoujo high drama. It’s ridiculous, unlikely, the characters need slapping on several occasions, and it runs out of steam after 10-12 volumes, but that initial rush is addictive shoujo manga at its finest.

2 Responses to “ARTBOOK SPOTLIGHT: Peach”

  1. lys Says:

    I don’t think I ever realized Tokyopop released this artbook. I think I have to get my own copy! Maybe read the series someday too, but I’m not sure if I have the patience for “if they’d just actually talk to each other…!” drama these days. Maybe. The art and fashion is indeed lovely, though. I love how Momo has a visible tanline in any pictures where she’s wearing a lower-cut top. It’s nice attention to detail :D

    “Living” the manga series—it’s true, I can’t say that about much I read now. I definitely felt that way about Kare Kano once upon a time, though. Aw, nostalgia~

    And I didn’t know Miwa Ueda worked for Takeuchi-sensei! I love finding out that kind of info!!

    Thanks for this overview of the series and selection of artwork scans!! It definitely sold me on looking out for this book :D

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