Tokyo Mew Mew
IKUMI Mia (art), YOSHIDA Reiko (story)
Shoujo – Magical girl, romance, comedy, action
7 Volumes (original), 3 Volumes (omnibus) (complete)
Tokyopop / Kodansha USA
Ichigo was an ordinary middle school student until a freak accident merged her DNA with that of an iriomote wildcat! With her new powers, Ichigo must defeat aliens who infect animals and find the other girls who had their DNA altered. And she also has to hide her cat transformation from her crush…
After the success of the Sailor Moon media franchise, the magical girls team became a popular trope. While the height of the craze has subsided, almost any manga featuring several normal girls who gain superpowers to save the world will undoubtedly be compared to the most famous example. While many were poor ripoffs, some found their own niche and gained its own popularity. Tokyo Mew Mew is one example, being popular enough for Kodansha USA to rescue the title. Despite Tokyopop’s bad translation, I can’t help feeling there are other titles more deserving of a second chance.
This series has a unique backstory. The artist submitted the original story, but then the publisher and editor gave her a writer, although Ikumi had some control over the story. Ikumi then took control of both writing and the art for the two volume sequel Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode. This post will cover the original seven volumes/three omnibuses only.
Unlike many other magical girl stories, Ichigo and her friends’ power are the result of an accident. This eliminates a lot of “who am I?” type monologues or long flashbacks about the past. The focus is on the present and what the Mew Mews (particularly Ichigo) need to do with their newfound powers. While I enjoy destiny and reincarnation-type stories, it is kind of nice to have a magical girl tale focus on the present instead of trying to tell two stories at once. But it also lacks one of the key elements of a good fantasy series: the coming-of-age story. Ichigo doesn’t really mature (well, she didn’t start off as really immature, but still…). There’s the romance, and the story incorporates a lot of “save the planet” messages, but Ichigo in Chapter 1 is still the same person in the end.
Although the Sailor Moon comparisons are obvious, I also got a Cardcaptor Sakura feel from this series. The two leads share several similarities: hairstyles, having a crush, and both are afraid of ghosts. Many people believe Ichigo is rather ditzy, but she actually has a decent head on her shoulders for her age. She only sleeps in class because of her cat genes, and she manages to come up with a cover story a couple of times. Ichigo does not burst into tears often. Ichigo is the type of person Tokyo Mew Mew‘s target audience want to be — or, at the very least, have as a friend. Ironically, outside of the first chapter, she is only seen hanging out with the Mew Mews and her crush. I don’t think her original friends are even given a name. Regardless, Ichigo’s story focuses more on how her secret identity affects her relationship with Masaya rather than her life in general.
The idea of the story is good, but the execution is poor. Tokyo Mew Mew seems to be one of those manga that seem more like a prototype for an anime rather than being an independent story. Yet staples like the henshin/transformation phrase and the mysterious savior don’t appear until late into the fourth volume! It’s really strange. Even the “save the planet” theme wasn’t implemented well. For example, Ichigo merges with a Iriomote wildcat. However, this isn’t reflected in her outfit, attacks, or anything. She transforms into a normal looking cat. Her weapon and attack is a pun on her name and has nothing to do with cats. How does a pink skirt and black gloves equal a wildcat? At least the “sailor” in Sailor Moon and “wedding” in Wedding Peach are reflected in their outfits. It just didn’t make to me. I also get why the aliens dislike humans, but sometimes I didn’t know if they planned to destroy the whole planet or just people. The anti-pollution messages boil down to “people are harming the planet” instead of stealthily incorporating facts and tips.
After their introductory episodes, the other Mew Mews fade into the background. They basically exist to power up Ichigo, interrogate her about her love life, and to make her do all work at the cafe. It’s similar to the first arc of Sailor Moon but unlike titles like Wedding Peach and Shugo Chara! where the team members are given adequate development and screentime. Ichigo’s crush Masaya is given far more attention. While he seems like the typical school prince, he does have a slight possessive streak to make him more human. Rich kid Ryou is placed in the more typical tsundere male role, so I can understand why readers may gravitate toward his character as the more interesting one.
The art is decent…when the artist slows down. While Tokyo Mew Mew incorporates many aspects of the 90s style, the manga just does not flow smoothly. One second Ichigo the cat is walking along the street with a shirt in the mouth. Yet she’s not holding it in the next. She grabs it right away in the third panel, but then water suddenly appears. Scenes can quickly switch locations. The action scenes are short and hard to follow. Battles are resolved quickly, and it is hard to tell what the Mew Mew attacks are supposed to be doing. Is Pudding’s attack just to encase things, despite having “Inferno” in its name? And the monsters they fight are nothing but darkened animals. With animals like cheetahs and hawks, it’s really hard to tell when they’re infected by aliens.
I really liked some of the art (Ichigo transforming, for instance). However, some panels are just too busy. A swarm of chibi Lettuces surrounding a closeup of Ichigo’s face is just too distracting. Distance shots of the characters look terrible with undetailed eyes and uneven faces. Character design is cute, but their outfits and overall appearance just doesn’t reflect their animals despite the Mew Mews’ DNA being altered. Except for the Strawberry Bell Bell, their weapons are hardly seen after their initial appearance.
I’m reading the Tokyopop version, but any new owners will want to acquire the currently in print omnibus versions from Kodansha USA. For in-depth analyses of the differences, please watch this Youtube video and its followups. In short, the Kodansha USA is more faithful (last names, speech patterns, names) despite a few mistakes and stilted speech. The Tokyopop version suffers from their usual issues of Americanization and errors. Kodansha retains honorifics while Tokyopop has everyone on a first name basis. The wolf Mew Mew’s name is romanized as “Zacro” in Kodansha USA’s version. Considering everyone else’s name is given English food names, I find this odd, even if the intention was to make the cross pun. Neither version tries to distinguish the spelling of the characters’ names between their normal selves and Mew Mew forms. I do lean toward “Reborn” instead of “Ribbon” in the attack names, and this article does a good job explaining why. To me, the girls are trying to return — as if being reborn — the creatures to their original selves.
I really like the Tokyopop sparkly logo.
It’s better than some Sailor Moon-inspired magical girl tales, especially considering the lack of them in English. But while older readers will probably want something more solid, younger readers might get lost in the tale and not notice the manga’s flaws.
4Kids started releasing the anime as Mew Mew Power, but it was ultimately cancelled. Nobody wanted to team up with 4Kids to create merchandise. Get it? No? “Team Up” was the theme song for their version. Not laughing? Oh well…