If you are like me, and you are constantly asking publishers like JManga, Yen Press, and Vertical to publish josei manga, you have to put your money where your mouth is. If any of my readers is a fan of josei manga and isn’t purchasing what’s available, then you aren’t voting with your dollars. And, luckily, JManga has a small, but nice selection of josei titles that are currently available to purchase. One of those titles is Cousin by Ryou Ikuemi, a three volume title which was originally published in Shodensha’s Zipper anthology.
The story revolves around a girl names Tsubomi (everyone calls her Bon for short) and her struggles with relationships and her weight. After graduating from high school, she takes a part time job at a video rental store and meets a few different guys – Shiro, a guy who works most of the same shifts with her at the store, and Nasukawa, a customer at the store and a friend of Shiro’s who owns a late night dive restaurant. Tsubomi’s relationship with Shiro starts when he compares her eyes to those of a famous model, who happens to be Tsubomi’s cousin.
The first thing you notice as you read Cousin is that the main character, Tsubomi, is not your typical shojo/josei girl – she’s chubby, and she has image issues. She doesn’t wear makeup and she hasn’t really figured out how to talk with boys. However, this atypical presentation works very well for the story Ikuemi is attempting to tell. Her artwork is, like most josei, fairly realistic. This is a big change compared to how most overweight people are drawn in manga – generally they are big fluffy caricatures of someone who is overweight, and not realistically proportioned at all. Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution is a title I have reviewed previously which has a great example of how not to draw overweight characters.
The tone of Cousin sets it apart from the large majority of manga in English; there is a wistfulness and at the same time a playfulness that flows throughout the story. Tsubomi is attempting to make up for the things she didn’t accomplish in high school, and there is an abundance of humor (most of which is self-depreciating). The interaction between Tsubomi and Shiro is really fun, and there isn’t an abundance of male/female friendships in manga, which makes it all the more interesting. There isn’t any romantic overtone to their relationship either, which is a stark contrast to most josei and shojo titles.
The pacing for Cousin is the right type of steady – in a story about personal growth and development, Ikuemi finds a way to make things move in an organic way, and in a way that’s not really predictable. It’s exciting to see Tsubomi move through her small crises and work through her issues, and it feels natural. The art, while fairly standard for josei manga, expresses emotion very well, and the different settings are well illustrated. The story works in such a way as to potentially introduce some big changes in the next volume, but it’s hard to determine what will happen.
At 499 JManga points ($3.99-4.99 based on points plan), each volume is a steal, and at 3 volumes, it’s a relatively small investment for a good story. The JManga platform has its bugs (can’t be accessed on an iPhone or any other Apple device, Flash-based – with planned Apple and Android platforms to be released in the future) but overall it is a good reading experience very similar to that at VizManga.
I liked Cousin quite a bit for its unique main character, good pacing, and smart delivery. It is easily one of the better titles on JManga, and supporting josei on the platform means more josei in the future. Recommended.
(JManga titles are currently available via the JManga website, which is a digital only portal for Japanese comics. You can find more of their content at www.jmanga.com and can follow them on twitter at @JManga_official)