銀のニーナ (Shirogane no Nina)
Seinen – Slice-of-life, comedy
71 Chapters (ongoing)
Shutaro has returned to his small hometown from Tokyo after being let go from his job. As he decides what to do about his future, his parents put him in charge of his half-Finnish, half-Japanese niece Nina. Shutaro helps Nina learn all about Japanese culture while trying to deal with his own problems.
Silver Nina is a cute slice-of-life, child-rearing manga with some educational value about Japan.
Children in manga are usually presented in one of three ways:
- Mini-adults who are very mature, often for humorous comparisons,
- Absolutely adorable, huggable bundles of joy, or
The titular character is firmly in group #2, with a bit of #1. Nina is a very hard worker, friendly, and optimistic. Fans of titular heroines in series like Cardcaptor Sakura or Yotsuba&! will also love Nina.
Some people will (and have) argued that the biggest flaw in these heroines is they’re too perfect. Their flaws are designed to make them almost moe, to make them even more adorable. Nina in this series, for example, doesn’t seem to get mad or moody; she’s always perky. I do agree nothing ruins a series like an unflawed hero or heroine. However, it’s less of an issue when the characters are young. Part of it is the fact children are not fully developed yet, and even their negative aspects of their personalities are still emerging. The other part is the longing for what many see as the most fun part of our lives. Childhood is so short, and everyone wants kids to have a good time during it. Overall, though, just as some bratty actions are more forgiving when the perpretrator is a child, I personally am more forgiving of near-perfect leads in children.
While Nina is no doubt the heart of the series, the manga also focuses on Shutaro’s life. He doesn’t just exist to be Nina’s personal Japan tutor. Recently unemployed, he retreats back to his parents’ house in the country in order to figure out what to do next. His ultimate goal is to return to Tokyo, but finding employment often isn’t easy. In addition, there’s his childhood friend Tomoe and their sort-of-but-not-really romance. Tomoe would like for Shutaro to stay in the country, and she has no intention of moving to the city. So the pair is stuck in relationship limbo, and many chapters focus on this.
Some of my favorite chapters, however, center around Japanese culture. Since manga is made primarily for a Japanese audience, authors rightfully assume readers know about Valentine’s Day, Obon, Girls’ Day, etc. Growing up in Finland, Nina only has some basic knowledge of Japan’s traditions. Shutaro explains these holidays to Nina, and these mini-lectures also teach readers about Japan. The base story of an man helping with childcare is already one Westerners can easily appreciate, and all the information about Japan makes it even more newbie-friendly. I’ve already learned a lot from years of reading manga, but there were some facts I didn’t know. Nina also shares some information about Finland, and I can honestly say I know next-to-nothing about Finland outside of what Nina shares with her family. Either way, Silver Nina has a bit of educational value, and it is one of the best gateway slice-of-life manga to recommend to others.
Of course, the heartwarming tale of a positive young girl and her slightly lost uncle is one all manga readers can enjoy. There is nothing objectionable in content, and I’m sure most people can relate to being the new kid in school or finding what career is best for you. Two stories are playing out, and family bonds unite them. Don’t expect drama or even laugh-out-loud comedy. Silver Nina is more about life. It’s sometimes humorous and sometimes sad, but life is life. Nina is living a happy life, and her happy life is one that is designed to put a smile on your face.
The art is pretty simple and clean. I don’t mean this as an insult. Nina is cute, Shutaro is scruffy, and Itokatsu draws some love Hina dolls. Inking and screentones are very light to keep the pages bright and cheerful. It’s a seinen style focused on cuteness rather than action. The number of characters — even in Nina’s class — are rather limited, so designs are pretty straightforward. Since this is a realistic manga, there’s not a lot of overly exaggerated expressions or poses. Itokatsu draws some lovely scenery of small town life, but still the highlight here is Nina’s adorableness.
Honorifics are used along with Japanese name order. Since Nina is foreign, the translator chooses to keep a lot of Japanese words for when Nina is confused. Translator’s notes are provided in-between panels. Most of these are for food since other terms are explained to Nina naturally through the dialogue. Side comments (dialogue not in text bubbles) are not erased but provided a translation nearby. The lettering changes slightly as well as some terms. For instance, Nina calls her mother “Mommy” in the early chapters but “Mama” in the later ones; she is always “Mama” in the original.
Although Nina herself may be too perfect for some, I look forward to reading the new chapters of Silver Nina every week. It’s also a good manga for newbies since several aspects of Japanese culture are explained. It’s too bad it isn’t getting a printed release to make it easy to lend out.