Seinen – 4-koma, comedy, girls’ love, slice-of-life
9 Volumes (ongoing)
Shinobu loves English culture, even staying with an English family for a time. There she met Alice, a girl her age who loves Japan. Well, now Alice is coming to stay with Shinobu. With an English-crazy Japanese girl, a Japanese-crazy English girl, and their friends, there may be some cultural barriers, but no one can break their bonds!
Kiniro Mosaic is one of the many “cute girls doing cute things” manga out there. Here you have the main five of Shinobu, Alice, Aya, Youko, and Karen, and then we have recurring characters like Shinobu’s sister Isami, Karen’s friend Honoka, and two female teachers.
You will see some familiar jokes and plotlines like tsundere antics, rich girl not understanding the value of money, crazy dreams, and concerns about grades. If you’ve ever read anything in the vein of Azumanga Daioh, you should know what to expect.
How this series differs from many of them is the strong yuri/shoujo-ai vibes and the cultural jokes.
For the latter, Alice and fellow English girl Karen misunderstand some things about the culture and the language of Japan. Meanwhile, Shinobu, who loves Western culture (particularly blonde hair) is terrible at English. The barriers becomes less of a focus as they adjust to life in Japan, although some of the cultural divide is always present.
As for he girl’s love aspect, Aya has a clear crush on Youko, and Shinobu’s affection for Alice and vise versa often feel more like romantic doting than friendship. (There are a couple of other borderline relationships as well.) Aya blushes easily and/or acts tsundere, and Alice and Shinobu find being separated is often physically and emotionally painful for them. So a large amount of the humor lies in these sort of romcom situations.
But if you are a fan of the cute girls genre, Kiniro Mosaic does well to keep up the cuteness factor. Whether it’s Aya trying to hide her true feelings, Alice and Shinobu being codependent, or even the teacher who admires her slightly spacey but gentle coworker, the girls are and act simply adorable. It helps that there’s always a sweet story in traditional manga that’s meant to bring a smile on your face, usually focusing on a different pair of friends.
However, while Shinobu and Alice are the main focus, it’s Karen who steals the show. She’s high energy and dedicated to fun, which is helped by the fact she’s rich. But she’s also very kind, flying across the world just to return a pencil or organizing a summer excursion that balances fun and learning. Her Japanese isn’t as good as Alice’s, which leads to some fun wordplay in the early volumes. Karen’s ideas also drive a significant amount of the action, whether it’s going shopping or just not caring enough about her grades to make her teacher drag her back to class. There’s no way this manga would be as fun without her. Karen is best girl, FACT.
That’s not to say the others aren’t fun to read about. Tsundere girls are often popular, and Aya gets flustered rather easily when she thinks about Youko. Youko, meanwhile, is probably the most normal one of the group — a bit boyish and good at sports but not having any standout oddities besides being the tsukkomi most often. She’s not even an extreme example of one; she constantly doesn’t whip out a fan or her hand to bop people or anything. Shinobu, meanwhile, dreams of being a translator, but that’s a tall order considering her current grades. She has a strong preference for blondes, and if she had her way, she’d have her own harem with Alice in the center. Shinobu wants to always be with Alice, but Alice may be even more clingy.
Everyone else builds from the main cast, which includes adding a couple of additional friends to the group (Honoka in particular). But I especially love Youko’s younger siblings who are rather blunt and mischievous. Still, probably the next most important characters are the teachers. Kuzehashi wants to be a beloved teacher like Karasuma, but she usually ends up scaring the students. She also has to try to keep Karen focused, which doesn’t always work. Karasuma is an English teacher who (bizarrely) always wears a track suit, but she’s otherwise sweet but absent-minded. She finds Alice especially adorable (probably because she’s from England). Honoka, meanwhile, is another blonde-obsessed fanatic, and she’s particularly devoted to Karen. Not that I blame her, but she is Shino without the English obsession. I wish she was a little more unique to the story, like her friend who loves a particular anime.
However, on the negative side, Kiniro Mosaic is shorter than most other manga, clocking in at about 128 pages a pop. Even with color pages and an oversized format for the physical version, the series may seem like it’s a bit overpriced. After all, 4-koma are more of a light fare that often lose much of its impact after its first readthrough. This isn’t going to be a manga where you are going to discover something new each time you read it; at best, you might understand some of the jokes better since you’ve already read the translation notes. But so far, there hasn’t been a volume I haven’t disliked, although there were a couple that weren’t as strong. Perhaps my biggest complaints is there are points where I wish Hara had kept the setting a little longer or explained things better, like when a late night chat is not shown. Did they have a love talk off-screen, or were they interrupted? I wish I knew! But gotta move on!
Speaking of moving on, there is an actual passage of time in the story. The series starts with the five of them in their first year of high school, and we follow them through the four seasons as they continue their third year. Kiniro Mosaic appears to be nearing its end, unless Hara is going to show them going to high school a la K-ON! College. While the girls are starting to form their future plans, it’s more plausible that they’ll all end up in the same college together than most high school manga. Aya, for instance, is smart, but she’s not some once-in-a-lifetime genius-level talent. Youko is athletic, but she isn’t dedicated to or training in a single sport for the championships or anything. Plus, because the girls either act like or want to be a couple, I’m sure certain pairs won’t be that far apart for long. Based on some of the chapters, I doubt they could handle it!
Each volume opens with several color pages, and it’s enough to make you wish the entire manga was full color. The colors are so bright and cheery, perfect for a manga about happy, energetic teenagers. As this is a 4-koma, the art is clean and simple, using a lot of thick lines and limiting backgrounds. Still, Hara manages to add flair thanks to Alice’s curls or Karen’s Union Jack sweater. Her art is also solid from the beginning, so you don’t need to worry about some awkward early volumes. Visual gags are not a huge part of this series. A lot of the fun comes from the shock or stress of one of the girls thinking their crush doesn’t like them as much as they do or the opposite by getting overly excited by an innocent comment. Otherwise, as I mentioned before, a lot of the illustrations feature one of the girls admiring or fawning over the other, so that takes up plenty of pagetime.
Honorifics are used. “Onee-chan” is also used. Some of the words are kept in Japanese to reflect the misunderstandings. I really like this adaption, as there were only a few things that bothered me. Alice, for instance, says she’s in the “Shino Club”. In Japanese, she says “Shino-bu”, a pun because Shinobu’s name is, well, Shinobu. This joke later goes with “Shino-bu” in a later volume. Otherwise, most other items of note are covered.
Kiniro Mosaic is a little on the expensive side considering it’s a short lighthearted comedy. But for fans of girls’ love or cute girls doing cute things, it’s a worthwhile investment.