Low Sugar Lollipop
Lightly Sweetened Lollipop
Shoujo – Drama, romance
7 Volumes (complete)
Madoka is shocked: her parents have just won the lottery! She’s in for another surprise when they leave her with some acquaintances while they go study to become doctors. Between her scholastically-challenged parents, a strict landlady, her rebellious son, and a popular classmate with secrets, will Madoka’s life make a turn for the better or worse?
What would your family do if they just won the lottery? Most of you probably have the same answers: pay off (or buy) the house and car, buy everything you’ve always wished for, go chase that abandoned dream.
Well, Madoka’s parents decide to do the latter. Their new goal? Become doctors. But first they need to get up to a college-level education. Considering only one of them graduated high school and both were self-admitted delinquents, you can image this is quite a task. So they decide they’re going to escape the hustle-and-bustle of Tokyo and hire a tutor to get them up to speed. Madoka protests, but she’s given two options: either come along or live with some people she’s never met before.
Madoka chooses the latter, and life at the Asagi household adds even more twists to her crazy life story.
While the Asagi household is quite large, Madoka is given an old abandoned guest house to live in. The wife, Rumiko, seems outwardly friendly, but her demeanor and actions make it clear to Madoka that she’s not being welcomed as a member of the family. She even tells Madoka to stay away from her son, Tomoyo, whom she is very overprotective of. Tomoyo initially wants Madoka to leave because the guesthouse is actually his secret storage for his anime and manga collection. At their first meeting, he spots a picture of some of her classmates, and he points out Ono, a popular kid at Madoka’s school, as his mother’s lover. Madoka can’t believe it of course, especially since although she calls Ono suspicious, she kind of has a crush on him. She eventually asks Ono, who says he just has unrequited feelings for Rumiko. Madoka accepts his answer, but readers learn that they are actually having an affair.
Confused? Surprised? Welcome to Madoka’s life.
Now, 100,000,000 yen looks impressive, but when you convert it to about $1 million US, it’s a little less so. Still, more than enough money to take care of the main bills and then some. I admire Madoka’s parents’ wish to do some good in the world, but becoming doctors is not how I would have advised them to do so.
Really, that’s the whole saga of the manga: people screwing things up so much that you want to smack them. Think of this as a junior version of NANA. By the end, no one comes out smelling like a rose, but that’s also what makes this realistic. Madoka wavers in her feelings, Tomoyo gets frustrated, Madoka’s parents fight during their cram sessions, and so on. You read stories about people whose lives have not been made better after becoming rich, and although Madoka ends up happy, it’s a fun debate whether everything was worth the money.
There’s also a time skip involved here, and I think it’s one of the more disappointing aspects of the manga. It makes it hard to understand the characters’ feelings when we can’t follow along with those couple of years. Lots of fiction has a star where they go around saying they don’t understand their own feelings, but in this case, I had absolutely no clue why Madoka chose who she did. The manga told readers she loved him, but it never really showed readers. I honestly thought there was a chance she could change her mind again, and I wish the author had Bitou Lollipop take place over months, not years. But maybe I’d understand her choices more if I were reading Bitou Lollipop in English.
However, it is unusual to have one of the main love interests be a younger man, and one who has a fighting chance of getting the girl. Tomoyo is rebellious, but considering how smothering his mother is (and the fact she’s cheating on his dad with a guy around her son’s age), it’s not so surprising he has an attitude. Plus, although he’s smart and talented, he’d rather be reading manga and watching anime. I like how he’s never defined by being an otaku, like turning him into a comedic character or one who is dropping references left and right. Ono (that’s his family name) has his own secrets, and I’d bet readers had a lot to say about him during the manga’s serialization — a LOT.
One character I haven’t mentioned is Chizuru, Ono’s grandmother and Tomoyo fangirl. Without going into spoilers, I loved how the author showed teenagers/young adults pitching in to help an older person. You don’t see too many characters who are unrelated pitch in for full-time care of someone. The relationship between Madoka and Chizuru starts off as a contentious one, but it ends up probably being my favorite. I wish more manga showed friendship between different generations.
Iketani’s art is fairly atypical. It’s in the same category as manga like NANA, Drowning Love, and Insufficient Direction: lanky bodies, eyes that have the appearance of heavy mascara, defined noses. So while this makes them look more realistic, to me, they also tend to look like they’re sulking or angry. (Well, the characters’ personalities certainly don’t help either.) On the other hand, fashion does seem to play a bigger role in these authors’ works, and Bitou Lollipop isn’t an exception. Iketani had already been working for years at the time, so the manga doesn’t tend to go off-model or anything, but it still does look a bit older than its actual age. The covers tend to look cutesier and more fashionable than the inside, so fair warning.
Chance of License:
Cookie manga don’t usually get an English release. NANA is one of the few (only?) exceptions. Iketani has been with the magazine for many years, but not a single one of her works has been licensed by VIZ Media or anyone else. Her style is not the typical cutesy style (it looks rather sharp and old-fashioned, relatively speaking), which may be a turn-off. Her works are usually mature but not sensual, so they may be too serious for those looking for something light but lacking the hot-n-heavy scenes for those wanting a manga for older teens. She’s got a lot of manga out there, so if one could be picked up, more perhaps would. Bitou Lollipop isn’t that long of a series for a licensor (probably VIZ) to invest in, but it has its own potential issues. The fact that the main character is dating a middle schooler and a high school student is sleeping with a married mother of said middle schooler is a huge barrier. In the former’s case, 2-3 years is still in the safe range legally in most states; in the latter’s case, Iketani hardly glorifies it. Still, as this series is getting up in years, and the fact that Cookie manga are rarely picked up means Bitou Lollipop probably won’t be scene on physical or digital shelves in North America and beyond.
The series has been completely released in French under the name Lollipop.
Rather than being a fabulous story, Bitou Lollipop excels as a teen drama that gets readers passionate about who’s being stupid, who’s being a jerk, etc. It’s one of those manga where readers don’t know for sure who Madoka is going to end up with — or even if she ends up with one of them at all. That’s both a blessing and a curse, but that kind of curiosity does make readers want to stick with the series until the end.