Papillon Volume 4
When I started this series, I read an awful lot into the first volume. Based on what I saw, I was expecting a dramatic exploration of the contrasts between appearance and behavior as twins were set in opposition to each other, layered over with the message of optimistic struggle making a dream come true.
So when I read the second volume, I was shocked to find that it went in a radically different direction, with a very different kind of drama: the kind you get with over-the-top soap opera and outrageous plot twists. Once it sunk in that I needed to reset my expectations, I could begin enjoying the way this story goes gloriously off the rails.
I mean, the first major piece of art in volume 4 is a drawing of a girl kissing herself romantically with her eyes closed. Is one of the twins leaning into a mirror, thinking of her boyfriend? Or are the two sisters teasing at a closeness that will intrigue a certain group of readers? It doesn’t matter, because the situation in the story has little to do with the intriguing image. Instead, one of the twins is playing pretend with the other’s boyfriend, testing his fidelity with mind games. That’s the pattern of this series, continuing cycles of doubt and reassurance as girls worry about their boyfriends’ loyalty.
The reader is tricked, the character relationships are continually complicated, and no one should think too hard about any of this. If you did, you might notice that the advice given to one lovestruck girl boils down to “if you liked him enough to want to date him, you should be happy with that and not dare to ask him to change in any way.” Instead, she should change herself to better match him.
That’s not the only creepy thing: The core relationship is a romance between a student and her guidance counselor, a man who’s attracted to her, among other reasons, because she’s a virgin. (Assuming you can trust his statements. I’m never sure any more with any of these characters if they’re being honest about what they think or even who they are.)
Everyone here just wants to be happy. The complications come in the twisted things they do to get there. Another example of only-in-fiction exaggeration is the plot device that sets up the twists in the second half of the book, driven by a girl who can smell when someone’s had sex. This starts out being barely plausible but quickly turns into another way to make characters believe others are cheating. Everyone’s miserable until an even more ridiculous hand-wave resets things… before the next authorial device to mess with these fictional lives comes along.
Most of the time, I prefer more depth and emotional realism in my schoolgirl shojo soap opera, but that’s asking more of this series than it wants to provide. As emotion-plucking entertainment populated by pretty people, that encourages you to feel, not think, it’s popcorn. But sometimes, that’s what you’re in the mood for. (The publisher provided a review copy.)