Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance
18 Volumes (complete)
Tokyopop / Kodansha Comics
Momo has a lot of problems. People think she’s a party girl, her “friend” Sae is a two-faced copycat, and her crush Toji doesn’t like dark-skinned girls. To hide her feelings, Momo covers by saying she likes popular boy Kiley. But Kiley is now saying they’ve kissed! Will Momo ever find peace and get the guy of her dreams?
Peach Girl is peachy if you don’t mind 90s style romantic trainwrecks.
The love triangle. One of the most popular storylines in romances, and yet it is often much maligned. After all, why is *that person* getting in the way of a certain ship? Why is the author introducing a character just to get their heart broken? Why is the protagonist suddenly wavering? And not to mention love polygons!
But in many ways, romance protagonists — especially females — can’t win with readers. If the author writes the lead as completely devoted to one person, readers may label the protagonist as dependent, single-minded, and even stalker-ish. On the other hand, if the lead’s feelings sway too much between love interests, then readers may believe the hero/heroine is weak-willed, indecisive, and unable to love either guy/girl. Both arguments bring up good points, and there is no one correct answer on the right balance between whole-hearted dedication and independence, crushes and true love in fiction.
With that in mind, Peach Girl is, in many ways, the epitome of “will-they-or-won’t-they” that populated 90s media, the Ross and Rachels, the Cory and Topangas, the Niles and Daphnes. In the author’s comments, Ueda notes the series went on longer than expected. Even she became unsure who Momo would end up with, so there’s no doubt the love triangle was used as a stall tactic at times. Even at the end, Momo basically admits she could have just been honest with herself and wrapped up the story about three volumes sooner. So if you don’t like seeing quite a bit of misunderstandings and denials, Peach Girl is not going to be to your liking. Everyone here makes mistakes, and sometimes the characters make wrong turn after wrong turn. It’s almost impossible to read this series without at least once wanting to punch someone out.
And candidate #1 for that lashing is probably Sae. Sae is in many ways the opposite of Momo, the heroine. While Momo has dark skin due to being out in the sun a lot, Sae is pale. Sae tends to have a doe-eyed expression while Momo’s face appears sharp. Sae is popular among the guys while Momo has a lot of shady rumors spred around her. The two girls are seen hanging around together a lot, but in the opening chapter, Momo has realized over the past few months that the friendship between them is very much on the surface. Sae keeps copying Momo, and anytime Momo complains or raises a fuss, her complaints are dismissed as a misunderstanding or twisted to look like Momo is a jealous shew. Sae is the definition of a frenemy.
So when Sae starts zeroing in on Momo’s crush, Momo has to take some drastic action. She has liked her friend from middle school, Kazuya (better known as Toji) for years, and even though he still is kind to her, Momo is waiting for the prime time to confess since she doesn’t think she’s his type yet. So instead, she diverts Sae’s attention by pointing to one of the most popular guys in school: Kiley. Due to a misunderstanding and some sneaky tactics, news about something between Momo and Kiley starts spreading, and once Sae figures out she’s been tricked by Momo, Momo finds herself attacked on all fronts — emotionally and sometimes physically.
Peach Girl ranges from teen sitcom to the much more serious drama and even soap opera. Even in the opening chapter, Momo is already finding Sae grating on her nerves, so many readers will point out Momo should have dumped Sae as a friend before the first chapter. They’re absolutely right… but I highly suspect we’ve all been a Momo, Toji, Kairi, and even a Sae at times. Ever gossipped about someone behind their back? Ever judged someone based on what you’ve heard? Or doubted a friend instead of trusting them? Just assumed your partner knew how you were feeling? Humans are imperfect, and the teenage years can be an emotional rollercoaster with almost everyone having some sort of cringe-worthy moment. But of course, like a lot of series, Peach Girl thrives on these bad choices.
As is often the case, this series is best when you just follow the wreckage instead of dissecting each chapter or character. Sure, it’s fun to get invested and riled up whenever a character runs into an obstacle. But the stumbles are too frequent for a realistic story, and I doubt a lot of people would want to go through all this emotional turmoil even to get a boyfriend. Sae’s antics start off as mildly annoying (for example, insulting a handbag Momo likes but then sneakily buying it for herself), but she and others eventually engage in criminal acts. This is especially true when some of the more mature themes start emerging — and they’re more than just “taking the next step” type situations. Even adults get wrapped up in these teenagers’ love problems — and they have their own love triangles and polygons that intersect with the main cast’s situations.
While I am focusing a lot on the drama, it’s fairly easy to gloss over the manga’s problematic bits thanks to the abundance of humor. Humor which, I might add, only works because of the genre. Sae again is the center of this. When she’s scheming, Sae spouts cat ears. When she’s at an emotional lowpoint, Sae is a literal paper doll, able to be blown away even in a gentle breeze. All the characters have very manga-like expressions and behaviors, like Kiley leering or another character’s bad driving skills. so even though Peach Girl has some important morals about not judging people until you interact with them or loving yourself is important, this series is not a perfect example of typical high school days surrounding a teenage narcissist.
I keep coming back to Sae because while Momo is the heroine, Sae is the catalyst for almost the entire plot. Momo is presented as a relatable heroine: most of her classmates have a negative view of her based on her appearance and rumors, and she becomes more agitated as her high school days become even more difficult. Momo has moments of strength where she stands up for herself, with mixed results. Othertimes, her character development suffers a setback, reflecting the typical teenage immaturity. And she also has a softer side — the girl who just wants to be a cute, adorable shoujo heroine who has the courage to tell the guy she likes her feelings.
But Sae is excellent in her position as Momo’s life meddler. The author’s notes feature heavy discussions on Sae’s copycatting, with some readers saying they’re a Sae-type or Sae-fan. First of all, there is no doubt she is quite cruel in the middle of the story, and I seriously question anyone who aspires to be like her here. But there’s a difference between liking a role and liking a person; I love Disney villains like Gaston and Scar, but that doesn’t mean I want to be them. And for as much the story spends on the love triangle — or, rather, love polygon — the relationship between the two girls is also a key plot. Will Momo vanquish Sae like a knight slaying the evil dragon destroying the kingdom, or will they actually become friends like Momo thought they were initially?
And speaking of the romance, as I mentioned earlier, the question of will Momo end up happily ever after and with whom isn’t answered until the very end of the story. That’s 18 volumes’ worth of showing both the dashing and disappointing sides of the two male leads. On one hand, we have Toji, a quiet, often naive all-around nice guy while Kiley is a seemingly happy-go-lucky player and pervert. The two are a little different from the typical options in modern shoujo of “guy-who-seems-like-a-jerk-but-has-a-kind-side” and “nice-guy-who-will-never-win”. Kiley and Toji both truly care about Momo, and by the time the story ends, they each want to be with her even though they know they have screwed up their chances with her before. This is the rare series where I could have seen either one with Momo, and I would have been satisfied with either outcome. Some will argue that if either option would have worked as Momo’s true love means neither couple is a destined match, but I would disagree. Love isn’t always about being soulmates but a decision to be with someone who wants to be with you. Despite the story not being slice-of-life and its missteps (more on that in a moment), Peach Girl actually presents a more realistic view on love than most shoujo manga. Both main characters and side characters feel like they must give up, that chasing after someone or blindly being in love is not a healthy choice. Moving on can also be a form of expressing your love.
Visually, Peach Girl is quite unique. Ueda has a very stylized way of drawing, most notably her characters’ large detailed eyes. Momo herself is a dark-skinned girl, rare for a lead outside of gal-centered stories. She’s also very trendy, especially in the various splash art spread throughout the series. For example, Momo puts her hair into different styles: down, up, pigtails, curled, even cornrows. This really helps bring the characters to life instead of looking the same every single day, school uniform or not. In-story, we get a sense of time flowing through things like Kiley’s hair growing. Characters tend to be expressive, and the manga tends to reflect that energy. I already discussed a bit about the humor, but the manga does break the visual fourth wall. These gags can be funny, but as with any self-aware lampshading, they take away from the escapism.
Tokyopop started releasing this series in Smile magazine, and then those chapters were collected into graphic novels, at times with some edits. After the success of Tokyopop’s “100% authentic manga” line, Tokyopop started releasing the series unflipped at about the halfway point and gave that series the subtitle Change of Heart and restarted the volume numbers with 1. The first eight volumes were rereleased in right-to-left format. This series was rescued digitally by Kodansha Comics, they used the Tokyopop unflipped version (the Peach Girl / Peach Girl: Change of Heart releases), but they renumbered everything in line with the original Japanese version as volumes 1-18 instead of volumes 1-8 and 1-10.
The biggest issue with Kodansha Comics not retranslating the series is that leads to major inconsistencies with Peach Girl NEXT, the sequel.
Tokyopop initially was Americanizing the series, which was an hardly uncommon practice of the time. Then, once the company realized the popularity of the , they started dialing back, but they wouldn’t or couldn’t go back on their localization choices.
The most notable example comes in the form of the dark-haired, often goofy love interest. His name in Japanese is 岡安浬, which would normally be romanized as Okayasu Kairi (Kairi Okayasu in Western name order). Other characters sometimes refer to him as カイリ, which is pronounced phonetically the same. Tokyopop adapted his personal name as “Kiley”. The other love interest’s last name is 東寺ヶ森, which can be written as “Toujigamori” or “Tojigamori” depending on style choices with the long vowel. Either way, Tokyopop uses “Tojikamori” and even says “Tojigamori” is incorrect, which is not true.
And speaking of names, a lot of characters refer to each other by their last names. For instance, Toji calls Momo “Adachi” while she calls the other guy “Okayasu”, but here it’s “Momo” and “Kiley”. Between this and the switch to Western name order, there are some areas where there is either a mistake or a confusing part. Like, there’s a sibling of a main character who appears. In Japanese, they both have the same surname, so either responding would be correct when being referred to by their family name. In English, they would certainly know when people are referring to the other sibling since other characters are using personal names. In another example, there’s a character whose name in romanized here as Goro Oji. Use Eastern name order, Oji Goro, and it’s easier to understand why his nickname is “Gigolo”.
At times, the dialogue is just plain punched up to sound more severe…or even more affectionate! Toji, in Tokyopop’s version has no problem calling Momo stuff like “sweetie”. Speech bubbles are sometimes swapped, and a few lines are incorrectly ascribed to the wrong person. Sound effects are pretty much left untouched and untranslated. Most of the side and small comments are translated, but you’ll still probably find a couple of instances where basic Japanese will come in handy. And, in case it wasn’t clear, no honorifics are used.
Peach Girl is not a series for those who want a natural wallflower of a heroine or a rival that spends more time as a friend than an enemy. But while all the characters are flawed, it’s a series where both love interests have a fair chance with the heroine and were worthy of having their feelings reciprocated.
Funimation has released the Peach Girl anime. TOKYOPOP published the Peach Girl artbook as well as the spinoff Peach Girl: Sae’s Story. Kodansha Comics released the sequel Peach Girl NEXT digital. Del Rey partially published Ueda’s Papillon manga.
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