Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance
8 Volumes (completed)
Miki’s life is perfectly normal… until the day it isn’t. Suddenly, Miki’s parents decide to divorce and swap partners with another couple, and everyone is going to live together! Now Miki has a cute-but-annoying stepbrother, a guy friend who is acting strangely, and a best friend with a big secret. Love makes people crazy, and it’s going to make Miki’s life even crazier!
Marmalade Boy is a very light, very 90s shoujo manga despite its objectionable parts.
Many readers are probably uneasy with the nature of Marmalade Boy. “Swapped partners? Stepsiblings romatically interested in each other? Gross!” Well, despite the sibling relationship surrounding the main couple (and an age-gap side couple), Marmalade Boy is pretty tame. There are no sexual or violent situations. The humor is accessible to all ages, often involving goofy faces that look like kaomoji. Like this: ⊙.☉ and (･_･) The art is on the simplistic, bright side. Again, if it weren’t for a couple of plot points, Marmalade Boy could easily be read by very young readers. (Well, Ribon targets the tween market, but generally what’s age-appropriate for kids is very different in the West and East.) If you’re looking for a serious dramatic or a josei-like experience (MARS, Paradise Kiss), then Marmalade Boy is not for you. On the other hand, parts may leave readers feeling more uncomfortable than other all-ages shoujo like Beauty Pop.
At its core, Marmalade Boy is a conglomeration of many shoujo tropes:
- a couple of high schoolers who live together;
- stepsiblings falling in love;
- a boy who likes to tease the one he likes and a girl who gets mad easily;
- love triangles that burst into squares and pentagons.
While putting all of these together would seem like Bad Writing 101, Marmalade Boy is 25 years old. It doesn’t bring in a lot of the clichés or drama that these setups have become associated with. Take Yuu’s treatment of Miki for instance. His “harassment” of her includes handing her his used gum and calling her “Mustard Girl”. This is very different than many modern male love interests who grope the heroine and calls her his plaything. On the downside, readers don’t get the really dramatic, romantic moments they have come to expect and crave. There’s no striking image of an embrace or kiss where you go, “I’ve been waiting so long to see this!” Most of the fluff involves Yuu and Miki hugging. (Cute hugs, but just hugs.)
However, the biggest test of any media is whether it is entertaining or not. By this standard, Marmalade Boy passes with flying colors. Miki finds herself surrounded by a bunch of people who think suddenly divorcing, remarrying other people, and then having everyone living together is normal. You can understand why she’s frazzled so much! Plus, story-wise, it makes sense why she is suddenly in the midst of a love triangle: her best guy friend is frustrated by her attraction to someone who gets to be at her side her constantly. Apart from the romance, Yoshizumi adds plenty of funny moments (and tennis) to break up the fluff and/or sappiness. Miki bursts into the news club’s broadcast when her family situation is revealed, and Yuu’s professional TV debut is always good for a laugh. Marmalade Boy is pretty much the manga version of one of those made-for-TV romcoms (like on Hallmark Channel).
Once all the initial romantic entanglements are solved, additional characters are introduced to interfere with Miki’s relationship, and new revelations also lead to major problems. The former aspect is probably the slowest and worst part of the manga. Marmalade Boy already has several landmines for Yuu and Miki; they didn’t need more people trying to break them up. Fortunately, readers don’t have to suffer through long periods of miscommunication. (The manga covers about three years in manga time, but eight volumes goes by pretty quick.) The last leg of the story is where the plot becomes much less appropriate for younger readers. For those concerned, the ending returns to the original level of uneasiness. This may be high or low depending on your taste for stepsibling couples.
Marmalade Boy is also the kind of series you can’t look at the same way once you read the final volume. There, Yoshizumi explains her original plans for the manga. Now whenever I reread Marmalade Boy, I see shades of the Marmalade Boy Version 1.0. Heck, even the title was just basically shoehorned in to fit! It’s hard to say which version is the best. Some of the ideas were thankfully shot down by her editor, but others I might have actually liked. One guy ends up alone, and I felt bad since the manga was building towards a very nice romance involving him.
As far as characters go, there are basically two groups: the emotional ones and the reserved ones. For the core group of characters, Miki and her friend Ginta fall into group A while Yuu, Miki’s best friend Meiko, and Yuu’s ex Arimi make up group B. Miki herself feels more three-dimensional than many other protagonists thanks to her pretty much being the “normal” one in her family. She cries several times over the years, but she also manages to scare other characters with her anger. Miki waffles on whether she loves Ginta or Yuu more in the first half, but it also just feels more realistic instead of her either being stubborn or instantly realizing this is True Love. She’s also the rare shoujo character who isn’t either the school genius or the school dunce. Yuu is more reserved, but he is also fairly playful. A lot of the problems could have been solved just by him talking, but at least he truly cares about Miki. Without going into spoilers, I wasn’t too inspired by the secondary couples. As characters, they’re fine, but their romances are on the dull side.
Marmalade Boy‘s art is pretty simplistic. While many manga focus on pushing as much content into each chapter, Yoshizumi just sticks to the main plot. Marmalade Boy is never crowded — let alone overcrowded. For someone just getting used to reading manga in Japanese style, this is surely a blessing. Panels are large, and it’s easy to discern which character is talking. Yoshizumi also loves exaggerated faces with dot or line eyes and SD proportions. On the bright side, this means her art is very crisp. The art is bright with all the whitespace, and there is no art shift from beginning to end. The characters grow a bit older, but they don’t look significantly different. I’ve always liked Meiko’s design with her sharper eyes and permed hair, but otherwise most of the manga is more on the cute, childish side rather than the beautiful side. In addition, the fashion styles are very 90s. Miki and Yuu go to an amusement park; she’s wearing a striped shirt and shorts while he’s wearing and oversized shirt with a sweater tied around his shoulders. This is not an insult, but there’s not a lot of images you would love to blow up and paper your walls with. It’s just not Yoshizumi’s style.
If there’s one thing I give Marmalade Boy credit for, it’s taking chances. This was released earlier in Tokyopop’s 100% Authentic Manga line, making it one of the first manga to be released in the Japanese right-to-left format. This alone was pretty revolutionary. Tokyopop was a little unsure of how much of the original Japanese flavor to leave in, and they were still partly in their “let’s Americanize things” stage. So family names are often switched for personal names, and the TV version of the series is called “the animation version”. (Most companies would use “anime” nowadays.) I don’t mind some hard-to-translate or out-of-place Japanese names and terms staying, but “kawaii” and “chikusho” definitely have English equivalents. Again, though, it was interesting for the company to take a chance, but this is one idea I’m glad didn’t pan out. Honorifics are only used as part of nicknames (Nachan, Kachan).
Yoshizumi’s columns appear to be replaced with editor’s notes talking about Japanese culture sometimes. This is nice, but I wish these were put in the back instead. Some of the dialogue is punched up, but a few you could argue are actually funnier. (Yuu calls Miki an idiot for believing she looked cute in her tennis skirt in the Japanese version; he says he’s seen better legs on a chair in Tokyopop’s adaptation.) Tokyopop makes plenty of errors. Meiko’s family name is written as “Akitsuki” instead of “Akizuki” one time, and several times Japanese name order is randomly used. There are typos and sentences that don’t flow in context. The font is on the light side, but it’s not too hard to read considering the art is pretty light as well. A lot of the text is centered between two dialogue bubbles, making the bubbles look empty and awkward.
All in all, despite the subjects, Marmalade Boy is the most PG version of the its storylines you’re going to find. I am really surprised Viz Media hasn’t released this as part of their Viz Selects line. However, this adaptation — and the series itself — is old enough that many readers would probably double-dip on the six volume kanzenban version. Either at six or eight volumes, Marmalade Boy is short enough to make it easy to collect and enjoy, but it also lacks the epicness of longer romances. Give Marmalade Boy a spin if you want something not dripping in realism or angst.
Yoshizumi’s Ultra Maniac was released by Viz Media. Tokyopop released the anime in the U.S. Yoshizumi is currently serializing the manga’s sequel, Marmalade Boy Little, but it has not been licensed in English.