Kodocha: Sana’s Stage
こどものおもちゃ (Kodomo no Omocha)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance
10 Volumes (complete)
Sana is a child actress, but her school life is anything but fun! Akito and all the other boys in class cause chaos every day, and no learning can be done. Sana finally can’t take it anymore, and she is going to try to stop Akito’s nonsense. Akito, meanwhile, can’t quite figure out this weird girl…
Kodocha: Sana’s Stage one of those series you can’t take seriously, but this gets harder to do once you get older.
Lots of manga have elements of both comedy and drama, but I can’t think of any manga like Kodocha: Sana’s Stage that has both with such extremes. What can you say about a manga that features a classroom with out-of-control students but also has a mother who has a squirrel living in her hair? A suicide-murder attempt and lots of breaking the fourth wall? This isn’t just a dramedy where the jokes are an attempt to not overload the reader with angst; the humor is an essential part of the plot. Get kissed by someone you don’t want to be kissed by? Build a wooden tutu as your armor! See a classmate getting ostracized by his family? Call them idiots and ask them to watch your movie!
Obana does state not to take anything in the story seriously. And you really can’t, although I find it much harder now that I’m much older and the world has significantly changed since this series was published. There’s no way any school would not have removed Sana’s teacher for her classroom management (or probably would have hired her or even given her a teaching certificate in the first place), but any student who pulled out a water pistol would no doubt be immediately expelled in a U.S. school. (Kids have been expelled/suspended for shooting imaginary bows or chewing a Pop-Tart in the shape of a gun.) I mean, of course there’s no way a person could have a squirrel living in her hair (especially doing her hair in all kinds of crazy designs), but certain dissonances are harder for brains to accept. It’s why we can accept magic in a manga, but we tend to not accept a sudden world-altering power being activated without warning. Or we believe in coincidences but often find it eyerolling in fiction when two people happen to run into each other in far-away cities.
Fortunately, after the school bully arc of the first volumes, the series becomes more slice-of-life-ish. Akito doesn’t transform into his cheetah form as much, and Sana’s schemes are not as weird. There’s still plenty of hits with a toy hammer, fourth-wall breaking, and Maro always is in Misako’s hair, but the series finds its groove and tones down the almost randomness of the early volumes. The love story becomes one of the driving forces of the manga, and the story does deal with rather serious topics despite its humor.
Again, this manga is one of the best in covering both humor and sadness, laughter and angst. Part of this is due to the age of the characters. Unlike most shoujo published in the U.S., Sana starts off in elementary school (sixth grade). While teenagers’ struggles in becoming young adults is often covered in manga and in real-life, the “tween” age is also quite difficult. Some sixth grader girls, for instance, still play with Barbie dolls while others are ready to seriously date. Sana and her friends must face their first steps into maturity, but they can’t shed their childhood selves easily. I’m sure a lot of readers will like having a protagonist not in high school; however, some parents may object to the bullying presented in the early volumes along with Sana declaring Rei her gigolo. Considering this is rated T, it isn’t extreme, but some situations may be a little more adult-like than parents would like for elementary/middle-school students.
Almost everyone in this series is a quirky character. Sana is the type of character the Japanese word “genki” was made for. She’s hyper, energetic, cheerful, and very optimistic. Akito is much more sullen and a smart-aleck, but he isn’t a typical male lead tsundere. He regrets his actions and is actually pretty proactive about dealing with his crush. He’s just contrary. Fans of Natsume of Gakuen Alice will certainly love him (and visa-versa), as they have a lot in common. (The objects of their affection are also quite similar: hyper and a bit dumb.) Naozumi will blow his trumpet when he’s agitated, while Tsuyoshi has a tendency to just flip his lid. Sana’s mother Misako is wise and stern, but she will never turn down a moment of fun. Even Rei, the manager, seems level-headed, but no one recognizes him without his glasses.
The art is quite angular in the beginning. At times, Sana’s head doesn’t look connected to her neck. Lots of super-deformed expressions are used, pretty typical of 90s shoujo. I have always thought Obana has one of the most intricate eyes in shoujo, but the downside is that her characters’ eyes and faces are not as expressive as in some other series. Lots of screentones and shading are used, and panels are quite dialogue-heavy. Fortunately, the manga is easy to follow, and Obana paces the manga very well: lots of jokes in the comedy scenes, but she slows down in the more serious ones. No one reads Kodocha: Sana’s Stage primarily for the art, but it suits the story.
No honorifics are used. Since the original has a lot of puns and mixed-up words, the adaptation uses English jokes instead. For jokes that just don’t translate, notes are included. Like it or not, I just don’t know any way to make a pun on “cheetah”/”leopard” with “hailstorms”. Sana’s TV show (which is also called Kodomo no Omocha) is translated to Child’s Toy, so it does not use the Kodocha abbreviation like the name of the manga. While Sana starts off calling her nemesis “Hayama” like in the Japanese, the English version then has her switch to “Akito” when they start getting along. In the original Japanese, she does not switch. So there’s stuff like that which slightly changes the meaning and some scenes.
Otherwise, we are left with the usual Tokyopop errors of swapped speech bubbles and missing dialogue. The lettering is also pretty bad. For example, it isn’t uncommon for speech to be divided into two connected bubbles. Tokyopop then puts the text right in the middle of the two, leaving a lot of empty space in the bubbles, making it look awkward.
Kodocha: Sana’s Stage is like standing at the Four Corners of the United States: it is simultaneously dramatic, funny, insane, and serious. It’s probably not a go-to series if you’re in the mood for something more realistic, but it was one of Tokyopop’s early hits, and for good reason.
As the series is out-of-print, you’ll need to go to the secondhand market to acquire it. While some listings have various volumes a good $20-$30, I’ve seen the whole set available for that on eBay.
Funimation released the first half of the Kodocha anime. It was dropped though.
The movie Sana made had its own one-volume manga spinoff (Mizu no Yakata), but it was never translated into English. Likewise, Sana and other characters from this series appear in a manga called Deep Clear, which is a crossover between Kodocha: Sana’s Stage and Obana’s latest series Honey Bitter. It’s set many years after this manga and can be considered an epilogue. Neither Honey Bitter or Deep Clear is licensed in the U.S.
The manga was also recently made into a musical in Japan. Guess who played Sana’s mother? The voice of Sailor Moon!
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