by Chihiro Tamaki
published by Aurora Publishing; $10.95 US
I’m so glad to see more josei manga titles becoming available. These are books aimed at women, skewing older than the better-known shojo books for girls.
And you’ll know that Walkin’ Butterfly is for an older reader (it’s rated 16+) from the first page, which is a full-body nude image of the protagonist glowering at the reader. It’s an appropriate choice, since it sums up the core conflict of the story.
Michiko is very tall, and as a result, she’s always stood out. She hates her body and the way it’s shaped her life. Yet when she stumbles into a fashion show and is temporarily mistaken for a model, that body might lead her into a different world. After everyone evaluates it down to her pores, of course.
Tamaki’s art is sketchy, often resembling fashion drawings, appropriate for her setting. Michiko’s internal monologue, necessary to understand her state of mind, is presented in heavy block capitals, which sets it apart from the art. It’s not the most elegant choice for the English translation, but it is in keeping with her feeling as a clumsy monster, disrupting the world others have built. The captions hang heavy on the lighter art the same way Michiko stomps through life.
She doesn’t realize that she must take responsibility for the life she’s living. Sure, she’s gawky, but she had friends, until she drove them away with her unpleasantness and stupid choices. She feels unlovable because she was rejected during a schoolgirl crush, due to her height, but she too easily seizes on the evidence that reinforces her poor self-image, ignoring that which offers a different view.
At the same time, feeling trapped in a hated body is a conflict many women can relate to. All of us have had thoughts similar to “if only I was shorter/ taller/ skinnier/ had bigger breasts, they would like me more.” Of course that kind of change would make for a different life… but so would a different attitude. (And a world where people didn’t feel free to comment on the anatomy of strangers.) She’s waiting for someone to change her life for her, some big event to send her in a different direction.
It’s odd to see modeling presented as the way out for Michiko, given how often that field is responsible for unrealistic self-images through the exaggerated pictures it feeds the public. But the clothing designer has a good point: no matter whether Michiko meets the physical qualifications for the job or not, she’s not going to be good at anything until she knows and accepts herself.
Going from wishing no one saw her to a field where the whole point is to be looked at isn’t the magical fix she expects. But she needs some direction, some goal, and it’s the only one she’s got for now. The next volume, where she begins her career, is when the real struggles start, and I look forward to it.
There’s an interview with the author included in this book, and there are preview pages available at the publisher’s website. I have reviewed other Aurora titles. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)