by Mari Okazaki; adapted by Liz Forbes and Hope Donovan
published by Tokyopop; $19.99 US
When Suppli Book 1 came out three years ago, I tried it. And even though I am always looking for josei manga (aimed at women, not girls) and although Suppli was well-recommended, it didn’t click for me at the time. I think I was too afraid of the protagonist’s fear, the idea of being alone with nothing but an unrewarding job, to want to read about it for entertainment.
Now that Tokyopop has returned to the series with an omnibus edition, containing books 4 and 5 of the series, I’m very glad I gave it another try. It’s been two years since Book 3, but don’t worry — if my experience as a relatively new reader is anything to go buy, you’ll have no trouble starting or restarting with this book, thanks to introductory pages that explain the characters and situations.
It’s a familiar premise, anyway: Fujii is trying to balance her work and personal lives, as she interacts with her friends and boyfriend Ogiwara in the workplace (as so many modern adults do). Lately, she’s concerned that she hasn’t seen him very often. She wants him around to share daily details of her life with. Are they both just busy, or is something more going on?
At the same time, a friend and freelance co-worker is being let go, a situation I had a lot of sympathy for, since I’ve seen it so often lately. The two talk at the bathroom mirror in an early scene that made me a fan of the series. It acknowledges how age affects how others perceive you, how it becomes a detriment to getting jobs at the same time you’re coming into yourself as a person. I was instantly engrossed in the lives of these working women, who seemed so much like someone I knew or could be.
The art often shows women while still — thinking, listening, watching. Their actions are small, fitting within the everyday, such as taking notes or touching up their makeup. They show the normal, adding to the story’s verisimilitude. I shuddered to see Fujii in a situation where she was saying the wrong things because her fears and insecurities overwhelmed her. She couldn’t stop herself, even knowing the results may not be what she hoped.
Sometimes, the panels are framed from unusual angles, titled to the side, or overlapping. Each captures a different mood, feeling off-kilter or overwhelmed by events. I think that’s why I struggled with Book 1 earlier; I didn’t know the right visual language to keep up with the story. Here, I’m more comfortable with it. Even if I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to be seeing, I get the emotion. It’s moody, running a rainbow gamut of feeling.
Although fundamentally a romance, this book also shows how many expectations there are on working women. Love isn’t all, and it isn’t the answer. There are other responsibilities and other people involved in one’s life, and following your feelings isn’t always simple. Fujii keeps finding herself thrown in with Ogiwara’s ex-girlfriend, because that’s how life happens. The ex isn’t a pleasant person, but she does have a point when she says that there are more things a working woman has to consider in a partner than just who makes her feel good.
At one point, Fujii goes through all the events recognizable to anyone who’s had a bad parting: feeling regretful that she didn’t get to say everything she wanted, buying things to make herself feel better and to find something she can control, taking out her pain on the wrong person, getting drunk and out of control, throwing herself into work. Then she’s assigned a new employee to train at work. The girl has her own assumptions, and seeing a new young woman reminds Fujii of who she was and who she thought she’d be, neither of which has much relation to who she is now.
One of Fujii’s skills at work is how willing she is to apologize for herself and her team. This is considered a virtue in Japan, but it’s also similar to how women are usually tasked with being the emotional ones, taking care of the “soft stuff” and keeping different personalities working together. One new friend won me over by telling her, “You don’t have to apologize to me.” It’s reminiscent of the classic Love Story line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I don’t take it that far, but someone who values your opinion without making you apologize for it is a gift.
As the only currently active josei series in the U.S., I’ve joined the chorus telling you to give this a try, not just to send a message about what kinds of books we want to see, but because it’s an enjoyable, touching read.
There’s no word yet on when Book 6 might appear, but I’ll be there when it does. I’m eagerly awaiting the next collection, due in February. (The publisher provided a review copy.)