*Suppli Books 4 & 5 — Best of 2010

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.

Suppli Books 4 & 5 cover
Suppli Books 4 & 5
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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.)

15 Comments

  1. [...] ramblings) Connie on vol. 4 of Sugarholic (Slightly Biased Manga) Johanna Draper Carlson on vols. 4 and 5 of Suppli (omnibus edition) Erica Friedman on Sweet Guilty Love Bites (Okazu) Eric Robinson on vol. 1 of [...]

  2. [...] but I always like to link to appreciative reviews of Mari Okazaki’s gorgeous Suppli, like this one by Johanna (Comics Worth Reading) Draper Carlson of the recent collection of the fourth and fifth volumes. If the josei category is [...]

  3. Amazon has Feb 13 as the date for the next volume. They have it as Volume 5 but the pricepoint is that of another one of the double volumes.

  4. And so they have. Thanks for pointing it out — I’ve added it to my wishlist so I won’t lose sight of it.

  5. I really enjoy this series. Like you I wasn’t hook first up but I have come to really like it.

  6. I have been wanting to read this! But because Tokyopop was releasing it and then put it on hiatus so quickly I didn’t want to try it out. But now that this is out…I’ll try it. I’m still nervous about buying from them but I’m desperate for a good josei series.

  7. I read the first three volumes as they came out and also wasn’t all that enamored with the series. I wanted to keep supporting it, though, as it was one of the only Josei titles available. When a fourth didn’t appear on schedule, I assumed TokyoPop had dropped it and didn’t mind much.
    When I saw this double volume on Amazon, I debated whether or not to pick it up. I’m so glad I did, though! The story and characters have really come together by now. I just finished it and am going back to re-read the past books.

    I love the double/omnibus format, especially for a Josei title. I feel like it allows you to become more involved with the storylines. Though the waiting period between releases will be longer, I hope they consider this for other series (especially if it helps them to finally sart releasing more Josei!).

  8. “Butterflies, Flowers” (which I adore) is Josei, even if it’s marketed under Viz’s Shoujo Beat imprint.

    The creator for “Suppli” also had a short story anthology published called “Sweat & Honey” which originally brought my attention to her style. Mari Okazaki has a very unusual, but original storytelling style, relating a larger picture through smaller, almost mundane incidents. Her panels fall on the page the same way you’d pick out objects in a room and piece them together to form a larger picture. It takes some getting used to. But I find her storytelling and her art deeply rewarding once I let myself sink into it.

    Reading her books is a bit like watching the rain or a slow sunset and feeling contentment and reflection rather than the drama and excitement most writers have to offer.

  9. Oh, yeah, I remember Sweat & Honey — I don’t think I liked it very much, because I wanted a bit more to the stories. I wonder how I’d approach it now… that was part of Tokyopop’s aborted Passion Fruit line of manga for older female readers. I’m glad they keep trying josei — maybe at some point it will catch on!

  10. Luckily this was licensed during T-pop’s experimental phase (anything before 2009, lol!) and now they are forced to finish it due to blogger upheaval. Under T-pop’s new stance, however, I don’t predict we’ll get more Josei, but it was nice when we did get it. I would like them to, at least, build on artist familiarity and release new work by Moyocco Anno (Happy Mania) and Yayoi Ogawa (Tramps Like Us), and even Mari Okazaki’s new “&”. But then, I just said I don’t predict T-pop would get those…

  11. Tokyopop has been trying to push josei for the better part of the decade, but the market just never seems to find them. It’s a real shame. Tramps Like Us is still one of my top 5 favorite manga, and I’d love to see more from the artist.

  12. Oliver Says:

    “…and now they are forced to finish it due to blogger upheaval…”

    Due to blogger upheaval? I got the impression that when TokyoPop stopped translating the series after volume 3 it didn’t give up the license to translate the rest of the series, and that when TokyoPop resumed translating Suppli it was also due to TokyoPop losing a whole bunch of other licenses and resorting to actually using more of the licenses it had left.

    Johanna Says:

    “Tokyopop has been trying to push josei for the better part of the decade, but the market just never seems to find them…”

    I thought the market did find them in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc.:

    LillianDP Said in a comment on “Bizenghast Wins! Last OEL Manga Standing,” 09/01/2009 at 1:17 PM,:

    “Wow, Erika Sakurazawa. I haven’t gotten a question about those… ever, I think. But yeah, M-rated josei titles were pretty much a no-go in the US even back in 2003 when everything sold (whereas they did great for TP-Germany), so I doubt you’ll ever see those in English. Alas…”

  13. [...] Foods Make Me So Happy! combines the foodie love of Oishinbo with the josei-style work focus of Suppli, only the career is making manga, a subject artist Fumi Yoshinaga previously covered in Flower of [...]

  14. [...] it comes to the company’s titles, I’m disappointed to see no more Stellar Six, no more Suppli, and especially no more Lady Kanoko, which would have been complete with the next book, or Aria, [...]

  15. [...] 2010: Tokyopop restarts Suppli after a two-year delay with a combined volume 4/5 release. Fans rejoice that the series, about a [...]

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