by Miwa Ueda; adaptation by Jodi Bryson
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Sae was the bad girl in Peach Girl, the story of how a teen girl named Momo overcomes stereotypes to find love. And when I say bad, I mean BAD. Sae didn’t think anything of having Momo drugged and date-raped in order to steal her boyfriend.
So seeing her as the heroine of a new short manga series was going to be a hard sell for me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed.
Momo and her boyfriend have gone to college together, and Sae’s still hanging out with them. Momo’s always had a big heart, you see, so she’s forgiven Sae for everything terrible she’s done. (This is not particularly believable, but it’s a manga convention that the heroine is incredibly loving and giving.) Sae’s not in school with them, because she flunked her last year of high school and has to repeat the grade in order to graduate.
Sae’s refusing to cope with all this, acting like a 6-year-old with her pouting and pretense that she’s also in college. Her childhood sweetheart has returned to town, and she treats him abominably, because he knows too many of her secrets.
Suddenly, the mean and manipulative Sae becomes someone that the reader is asked to have sympathy for. Her childhood is something out of a tearjerker, and she hates to be reminded of it, which is supposed to explain why she’s treating the old friend like dirt. Only all of this is too much of a switch, and too much reliant on cliché.
Most significantly, Sae has suddenly changed from someone who will do anything to get what she wants to someone pushed around by fate. Instead of making decisions and taking action, she’s reactive throughout this story, wailing against her school history and how the old friend’s presence makes her act. He even rescues her when she becomes a drunk victim of sexual attack.
I get the feeling that the reader is supposed to root for Sae to “come to her senses” and accept the old friend’s attentions, because he really means well underneath. Only Sae’s right about how clumsy and ungainly and pushy he is and how much he doesn’t fit in. So in order to get to the happy ending, the reader is supposed to root for the lead character to be wrong about everything she does and believes.
I think Sae was a poor choice for a lead for just that reason. Seeing things from her perspective is an interesting choice to expand the series with potential for new discoveries, but she’s always been a two-dimensional character in previous books. (Sometimes literally. I don’t think it’s ever explained, but at times, she’s drawn as a flat piece of paper.) We can’t feel sorry for her, as we’re constantly asked to in this book, because we know what she’s done and how much of her problems she’s brought on herself.