by Machiko Sakurai; adaptation by Athena and Alethea Nibley
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Ame is a sullen and painfully introverted junior high student. While on a field trip with her class to an amusement park, she purchases a Nicori the Meerkat doll. To everyone’s amazement, the doll begins to speak and move on his own. Word quickly spreads throughout the park and to the local TV news, and Nicori suddenly finds himself a celebrity.
Ame also finds herself drawn into the spotlight and learns that popularity creates its own problems. Nicori is new to the world of humans and human relationships. His misunderstandings cause the shy Ame mortifying embarrassment at school. (In one panel, it appears she is trying to commit suicide by drowning herself in the toilet. Is that even possible?) Just as the relationship between Ame and Nicori begins to improve, some miscreants with their own plans for Nicori show up and bring new complications and life-threatening dangers.
Minima! is a series that’s slow to find its stride. In the first half of the book, most of the cast are fairly unlikeable, especially the doll. The Nicori character has been discontinued, and all the unsold dolls are slated for destruction, but Ame’s Nicori has decided not to go gently into that good night. He’s an arrogant, self-centered braggart who, once he gets a taste of fame, treats Ame like she’s his personal assistant. He even threatens to leave her, if she doesn’t get her act together and attend to him properly.
Ame doesn’t endear herself to the reader at first either. When you initially met Ame, you have to wonder if she shouldn’t be on anti-depressants. Added to her already gloomy nature is the fact that she’s trying to fit in with what I assume are the popular girls in her class. They are insufferable. The three girls are mean and petty. They try to be sophisticated, but in reality they’re just shallow and vain. They mock Ame for not sharing their interests and they belittle her hobbies. This only makes Ame more miserable and withdrawn. The people that really care for her and encourage her hobbies are the ones she seems determined to avoid. Such masochism makes for unpleasant reading.
However, things literally begin to change overnight. Once at her house, Nicori accidentally breaks some of Ame’s favorite collectibles. We’re not told what happens after Ame finds out, but the next morning, we find a greatly subdued and deeply penitent Nicori. Ame refuses to talk to him or even be near him. This humbles Nicori, and he actually becomes a more likable guy. We learn that despite his earlier bravado, he actually has deep affection for Ame. After all, she is the one who bought him and gave him a home.
Later that day, Nicori unwittingly makes Ame’s crush on a fellow classmate public. To her credit, once revealed, Ame musters up the courage to begin a genuine friendship with him. Once she begins to come out of her shell, she becomes a much more appealing person. It was a great relief to see her realize which of her classmates were her true friends.
My favorite character in the first volume is Ame’s neighbor and classmate, Midori. He’s the reason I kept reading and made it to the second half of the book. Midori is outgoing, good-natured, and very energetic. He says what he thinks and doesn’t worry how other people perceive him. My favorite Midori moment is when he and Kei, another of Ame’s classmates, are helping Nicori fix all the items he broke. Kei is trying to explain Ame’s feelings to Nicori. She asks the doll if he knows what it means to be in love. Midori chimes in and says, “I don’t really understand that subject either.” I love his honesty and how completely comfortable he is with himself. He’s the unsung hero of this book.
The author is a good, if tad bit generic, draftswoman. It’s your standard shojo art. The only place where the artwork stands out is in Nicori’s facial expressions and body language. Sakurai does an excellent job of conveying a wide range of emotions and attitudes. Perhaps his simplified features make it easier to express such things nonverbally. Whatever the reason, it works well and makes Nicori believable as a doll come to life.
Once the characters and story are properly focused, Minima! becomes an enjoyable read. The characters become more interesting and more likable as the book progresses. Plus, toward the end, the plot quickens and the dramatic tension heightens. The first volume ends with one of the best cliffhangers ever. You’re guaranteed to want to pick up the second volume to see how things get resolved.