by Ema Toyama; adapted by Alethea and Athena Nibley
published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
Given the wavering state of the manga market these days — the difficulty of selling long series (and thus the lack of publisher willingness to release them), the dropping sales for print overall, the fallback to safe sellers (which tend to be of less interest to me, with their fight manga, panty shots, or fantasy elements) — it’s a pleasure to find a new series that leaves me thinking “I’d like to read more of that, please”. This was one I’m eager to continue.
When we first see Yukina, schoolgirl and successful cell phone novelist, she’s facing down a school official. Her stare scares everyone, students and teachers alike. She’s incredibly self-possessed, and she has great insight into her classmates through observation (much like Lady Kanoko), except she knows nothing about love.
The idea that someone still in school can be a successful writer isn’t unusual for manga — it reminded me of Otomen’s Juta and his Love Chick series — but this particular medium is uniquely Japanese. We’re still getting used to digital content over here, let alone that designed specifically for phones. Its immediacy and ephemerality is a great choice for young people, though. Creator Ema Toyama seems to know her digital stuff; she previously released I Am Here!, which dealt with blogging.
In Missions of Love, Yukina’s readers want more romance in her stories, so she’s going to start researching it — by blackmailing Shigure, the most popular boy in school, to make out with her. He turns out to be just as calculating as she is, but in more hidden ways.
This is where Yukina differs from Kanoko. Kanoko tends to be insightful about others but clueless about herself, while Yukina is more self-aware and scheming. That makes her, in some ways, funnier, as she and Shigure try to outsmart each other. (Also, at one point, he thinks to himself, “Work hard for me, my female minions,” which tickled me.)
Visually, in full figure, Yukina resembles the spawn of Cousin Itt. She’s got this immense head of long hair that often overwhelms her small frame, complete with spiky bangs surrounding her eyes as a focus. Shigure’s got similar bangs. When they face off and the artist goes in for the requisite close-up, the best way to tell them apart are the hint of glasses perched on Yukina’s nose. (She’s got a kind of anti-Clark Kent thing going on, where she gets weaker when they’re removed.)
There’s an interesting undercurrent here, the idea that you can find out what romance feels like by going through the motions whether or not you care about your partner. Of course, we expect those two to fall in love for real while pretending, just like in an old movie. It’s also fun to see a school love story where the girl’s directing the action, instead of the usual shojo manga idea of her being initiated by a more experienced guy.