by Yuuki Fujimoto
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
The Stellar Six of Gingacho, a story of deep kid friendship, provides different appeal to different age groups. For the young, it’s a gang of buddies they want to be part of having fun; for the older, it’s a nostalgic reminder of days when all that mattered was loyalty and time spent together, before difficult decisions and hard emotional choices interfered. As the opening statement reads, “Back then… we weren’t afraid of anything.”
Book 1 introduces the six teens, the 13- and 14-year-old children of merchants in the same street market. It takes some attention, perhaps a re-read, to keep all the kids straight, but they’re distinctive in look and personality:
- Mike, the quasi-leader, food-loving tomboy daughter of the green-grocer
- Kuro, her best friend, son of the fishmonger
- Iba-chan, sturdy, strong, cheery, and motherly daughter of the rice merchant
- Sato, artistic and bookish fangirl; her dad sells yakitori
- Q, suave, egotistical son from the noodle shop
- Mamoru, quiet loner son of the liquor store owner
The six have grown up together and formed deep, lasting relationships because of it. They spat, and some are beginning to find different interests — Q, for example, seems much more interested in starting to date than any of the others — but underneath, they know they can depend on each other.
In the introductory story, Mike, who’s emotionally the youngest, doesn’t want to lose their close-knit time together. They’re now in different school classes, so she signs the group up for a traditional dance contest in order to bring them back together. Although they squabble and make noises about having other things to do, they pull through for each other — and the neighborhood — in the end. It’s a wonderful fantasy, about the good fortune of good friends and good humor.
The pages are busy with background and characters and emotion-indicating screen tone, with plenty going on to populate the memories-to-be we’re reading about. In the second story, another grown-up subject begins to stalk the kids, with Mike confused about how she relates to Kuro when she thinks about how other girls in her class see him. I was touched by how the story argues for not rushing to grow up, about taking time to enjoy who and where you are. Also charming is the small image of their hands together — they used to be the same size, but now, he’s outgrowing her.
The stories involve flashbacks to the kids’ younger days, even though they aren’t all that old, which contributes to the comfortable feeling of charming nostalgia that underlies the chapters. The third story takes time in a different direction, sending the kids up against the stubborn granny who runs the sweet shop on the market street. This one’s about people taking care of their own and accepting them in spite of their flaws and unpleasantness.
The second volume jumps the kids ahead a couple of years, to the point where they’re entering high school. They’re still cute, though, resembling your typical manga teen, all hair and eyes, and they’re still helping out the neighborhood. This time it’s a florist getting married. Then there’s another take on a subject from the first book, Mike and Kuro’s special relationship (and abilities — they’re apparently quite the athletic prodigies). But the best part is last: the story of a new kid moving into the neighborhood, as her parents open a bento shop that needs help from the Stellar Six.
For me, this is another in my list of favored comfort manga, series that evoke warm reactions and thoughtful moments of peace. Plus, the food, frequently mentioned, is fun to contemplate, and the active characters are friendly and inspiring. It gives me a bit of the feel of Honey and Clover or Sand Chronicles.
Book 2 also has a bonus story, “Stand by You”, the author’s debut manga, about two close friends separated by one moving away, and how they work to build memories together in the time they have left. Future volumes of The Stellar Six of Gingacho are mentioned in the author’s note; they’re hinted to feature the rest of the six, beyond Mike and Kuro, which I’m looking forward to seeing. (The publisher provided review copies.)