Shoujo – Romance, comedy, drama
18 Volumes (complete)
Momo has a lot of problems. People think she’s a party girl, her “friend” Sae is a two-faced copycat, and her crush Toji doesn’t like dark-skinned girls. To hide her feelings, Momo covers by saying she likes popular boy Kiley. But Kiley is now saying they’ve kissed! Will Momo ever find peace and get the guy of her dreams?
Note: this review has been updated and can be found here.
Peach Girl is very 90s in both theme and visuals, so millennials will likely enjoy this series the most. That being said, the series is the type of addicting craziness that makes it hard to not want to push through to the end.
First, a little history: Peach Girl was originally released in English in Tokyopop’s Smile magazine. From there, it was gathered (with slight edits) into a flipped graphic novel. As the series was being released, Tokyopop ended Smile and launched the 100% Authentic Manga line. So the second half of the series was released under the title Peach Girl: Change of Heart while the first eight volumes were re-rereleased also in the unflipped format (first in box sets, then individually). These volumes were larger and had better binding than the first graphic novels. While I purchased the originals, I eventually got rid of them all for the 100% Authentic versions. In Japanese, the entire 18 volumes are just titled Peach Girl.
But on to the actual review.
In many ways, romance protagonists — especially females — can’t win with readers. If the author writes the lead as completely devoted to one person, readers may label the protagonist as dependent, single-minded, and even stalker-ish. On the other hand, if the lead’s feelings sway too much between love interests, then readers may believe the hero/heroine is weak-willed, indecisive, and unable to love either guy/girl. Both arguments bring up good points, and there is no one correct answer on the right balance between whole-hearted dedication and independence, crushes and true love in fiction.
With that in mind, Peach Girl is, in many ways, the epitome of “will-they-or-won’t-they” that populated 90s media, the Ross and Rachels, the Cory and Topangas, the Niles and Daphnes. In the author’s comments, Ueda notes the series went on longer than expected. Even she became unsure who Momo would end up with, so there’s no doubt the love triangle was used as a stall tactic at times. Even at the end, Momo basically admits she could have just been honest with herself and wrapped up the story about three volumes sooner. So if you don’t like seeing quite a bit of misunderstandings and denials, Peach Girl is not going to be to your liking. Everyone here makes mistakes, and sometimes the characters make wrong turn after wrong turn. It’s almost impossible to read this series without at least once wanting to punch someone out.
However, what Peach Girl does well is present two love interests that truly care about Momo and want to be with her. Both are also a little different from the typical tsundere and gentle guy love interests that dominate modern shoujo. Toji is a quiet, naive, nice guy while Kiley is a seemingly happy-go-lucky player/pervert with his own issues; both are a refreshing change from the “guy-who-seems-like-a-jerk-but-has-a-kind-side” and “nice-guy-who-will-never-win” heroes that dominate shoujo manga. This is actually one of the few series where I really wouldn’t have minded either guy being chosen. Even years ago when I first read it, I had a preference, but I would have been satisfied with either a Momo x Toji or Momo x Kiley ending. Some will argue that if either Toji or Kiley would have worked as Momo’s true love means neither couple is a destined match, but I would disagree. Love isn’t always about being soulmates but a decision to be with someone who wants to be with you. Despite the story not being slice-of-life and its missteps (more on that in a moment), Peach Girl actually presents a more realistic view on love than most shoujo manga. Both main characters and side characters feel like they must give up, that chasing after someone or blindly being in love is not a healthy choice.
The overall story ranges from teen sitcom to the much more serious drama and even soap opera. Sae’s antics start off as mildly annoying, but she and others eventually engage in criminal acts. This is especially true when some of the more mature themes — not just involving sex — start emerging. It is these chapters where Peach Girl is likely to divide the readership. Would a teenage narcissist really go this far? Was Momo’s revenge fair? Should Toji have told Momo everything? Even early in the story, many readers point out Momo should have dumped Sae as a friend even before the first chapter. They’re absolutely right…but I highly suspect we’ve all been a Momo, Toji, Kairi, and even a Sae at times. Ever start a rumor? Ever believe a rumor? Ever have that friend you start to suspect wasn’t a true friend? Peach Girl stars a bunch of teenagers, and most teenagers go through some sort of drama and make decisions they regret. I do not agree with all the characters’ choices, but Peach Girl is actually best enjoyed when you just read instead of dissecting each chapter or character.
However, I cannot neglect doing a small analysis on Momo and Sae. Momo is presented as a relatable heroine: most of her classmates have a negative view of her based on her appearance, so she hangs out with the one girl who talks to her, despite Sae getting on Momo’s nerves. While she went to middle school with Toji, she’s not confident enough to approach him. As the story goes on, she has both moments of strengths and weakness, just like real people. Sae is essentially the catalyst for the entire story. She is excellent in her position as Momo’s life meddler, but I seriously question anyone who aspires to be like her here. There’s a difference between liking a role and liking a person; I love Disney villains like Gaston and Scar, but that doesn’t mean I want to be them. The author’s notes feature heavy discussions on Sae’s copycatting, but there is no doubt she is quite cruel in the middle of the story. By the end, we see a different side of each of the girls.
Visually, Peach Girl is quite unique. Ueda has a very stylized way of drawing, most notably her characters’ large detailed eyes. Momo herself is a dark-skinned girl, rare for a lead. She’s also very trendy. Throughout the series, Momo puts her hair into different styles: down, up, pigtails, curled, even cornrows. This really helps bring the characters to life instead of looking the same every single day, school uniform or not. Even Kiley’s hair grows, again helping show the time flow. Sae also basically breaks the visual fourth wall by having a paper form. Paper Sae can be folded up into a ball and tossed. When Paper Sae transforms back into her normal form, the guy holding her notices her sudden weight gain. It can be a funny visual gag, but it takes away from the escapism.
Despite having two or three versions of the first eight volumes, there are some glaring errors, and many of these persist into the Change of Heart series. Part of this is due to the Americanization of Peach Girl, a common practice in those days. It still doesn’t excuse some of the major mistakes, however.
Firstly, Okayasu’s first name is adapted as “Kiley” here. His name would normally be romanized as Kairi, which is what Funimation uses in their Peach Girl anime release. Toji’s full last name is also incorrectly written as “Tojikamori” when it’s actually “Tojigamori”. Ironically, Tokyopop even goes the extra mile and says “Tojigamori” is incorrect. (Huh?) In addition, characters always refer to each other by their first names here despite often using last names in the original. For example, Toji calls Momo “Adachi” while she calls the other guy “Okayasu”, but here it’s “Momo” and “Kiley”. Kiley’s last name of Okayasu is also incorrectly presented as his first name at least once. This is due to the switching the Japanese name order to Western name order, of course. This also affects a pun in another character’s name: Goro Oji, in Japanese, would be written as Oji Goro. If you say it this way, it is easier to hear how he got the nickname of “Gigolo”. Plus switching to first names makes a few lines and scenes confusing or seem off, like why one brother answers. (Because in Japanese, they both have the same surname, so either responding would be correct. In English, they would certainly know when people are referring to the other sibling since other characters are using personal names.)
At times, the dialogue is just plain punched up to sound more severe…or even more affectionate! Toji, in Tokyopop’s version has no problem calling Momo stuff like “sweetie”. Speech bubbles are sometimes swapped, and a few lines are incorrectly ascribed to the wrong person. Sound effects are pretty much left untouched and untranslated. Most of the side and small comments are translated, but you’ll still probably find a couple of instances where basic Japanese will come in handy.
I guess it’s not bad considering the times, but if you read this manga, be prepared for a less-than-accurate adaptation at times. You might want to either a) buy the Japanese or another language’s version, or b) check out the anime (with Japanese audio) in conjunction with the manga to pick up some of the original version’s nuances and/or double-check some lines.
Peach Girl is perfect for those who just want to read about a girl’s crazy high-school life involving a frenemy and two decent guys. It’s the kind of fun insanity that is both realistic and unrealistic, just like a soap opera.
Despite being out-of-print, the volumes are still easily found for cheap on second-hand sites.
Funimation has released the Peach Girl anime here in the U.S. Overall, it is quite faithful to the manga, and the animators try to keep Ueda’s style.
Tokyopop also released an artbook from Ueda featuring Peach Girl as well as the manga sequel Peach Girl: Sae’s Story. Del Rey started releasing Ueda’s Papillon manga (and released six out of eight volumes), but once Kodansha Comics USA took them over, the series was not continued. As such, Papillon will likely remain unfinished in English forever.
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