Peach Girl NEXT
Josei – Comedy, drama, romance
8 Volumes (complete)
Momo and her boyfriend have been together for 10 years now, but with no wedding in sight, Momo can’t help but feel a little down. But when that proposal finally comes and they’re given a new home to live in as a wedding present, the future seems rosy! That is, until two familiar faces move into the house next door…
Note that this is a direct sequel to Peach Girl, so yes, spoilers ahoy for that series. It also includes things from the spin-off Sae’s Story, so again, spoiler alert, but albeit to a much lesser degree. If you haven’t read the original, there is little reason to read Peach Girl NEXT since it cannot stand as an independent work.
Peach Girl was not my first manga, but I did read it early in my manga-reading fandom. It became not one of my favorites but still a strong nostalgic memory. It also still remains one of the more unique titles in the English shoujo fandom, as similar to Kodocha: Sana’s Stage, the series has a weird way of blending horrible and/or sad situations with absurdity. For instance, Sae, the main rival character, can transform into paper when she’s depressed. So much so that when a man cheers Sae up in his arms, she suddenly feels heavier as she goes from her manga-style comedy self back to a “real” 3D person.
Sae’s relationship with Momo was also closer to frenemies than most antagonists-turned-BFFs found in most shoujo manga. Sae can be cruel and cunning, but by the end of Peach Girl, she’s reformed enough that her purposeful meddling caused Momo and Kairi to get back together. In Sae’s Story, set after Peach Girl, her jealous-prone personality is explained in a way I didn’t really buy as believable. But anyway, she had a boy who liked her as a child and even returned wanting to marry her. Unfortunately, Sae’s Story didn’t have much of a resolution or character development for Sae. There, though, Momo and Kairi were often frustrated by Sae’s behavior (either towards them or to her own self, like skipping so much school that she couldn’t join them in college), but they couldn’t hate her since she’s their cupid. So in my head canon, she would be very much like the stereotypical sitcom annoying neighbor who is always popping over (Kimmy of Full House or Urkel of Family Matters) with a heavy dose of the vain/selfish one in a friend group (Blanche in The Golden Girls) — you know, often despised but at the end of the day, still loved. And for Momo’s sake, a mischievous Sae is better than an angry Sae.
… Well, according to Peach Girl NEXT, that theory of Sae always being around was all wrong. But I was totally right that a mischievous Sae is better than an angry one.
Momo and Kairi have been dating for 10 years now and live together. Twenty-seven-year-old Momo is loving her life overall, but she’s a bit upset that Kairi hasn’t brought up marriage. But when Momo is about to storm out, they clear up the misunderstanding: he’s been saving up so they can have a wedding and fulfill Momo’s ideal family of the two of them and three kids. A wealthy patron of Kairi’s soba shop gives them a wedding present to celebrate their official engagement: a house to live in! But when they prepare to move in a few months later, they notice a new house has been built next door — an identical house, in fact. Surprise, it’s Sae! Oh, but don’t worry, she has a roommate to help her out: Toji!
Momo’s dream of a peaceful, happy family with Kairi is about to be interrupted — and put in jeopardy.
Now, the reason in the very beginning of this post I talked so much about Sae, who is not the protagonist, is because, as fans of Peach Girl would expect, she drives a lot of NEXT‘s story. But unfortunately, the Sae we see here seems to have abandoned much of the development featured in the preceding two manga. That doesn’t seem to be all her fault; as I mentioned earlier, I pictured Sae as someone always involved in Momo’s life, a girl who Momo couldn’t get rid of even if she tried. Like, if Momo moved to Antarctica, guess who’s in the igloo next door. If nothing else, there’s the whole saying about keep-your-friends-close-but-your-enemies-closer.
NEXT shows that Momo did break off contact with Sae, and their reunion as neighbors is the first time they’ve seen each other in years. That premise seems out-of-character for Momo, and maybe Sae, as hard feelings should have softened and mostly melted away by the end of Peach Girl. But even beyond that, the guy from Sae’s Story who spent the whole three volumes doting on Sae? NEXT is like, Kanji who? I can’t believe how he, Sae, Momo, and Kairi go from celebrating Sae’s 19th birthday with 19 cakes to… well, the girls being estranged with Momo quite angry at Sae. Yes, a lot can happen in eight or so years, but Ueda offers no real explanation for the divide. If it weren’t a couple of references, I honestly would have thought Ueda retconned the Sae’s Story manga completely.
That divide between Momo and Sae’s high school/college friendship and their 27-year-old selves causes most of the problems in Peach Girl NEXT, which in most cases should be called Peach Girl REHASH. Because that’s what it is: a lot of the same romantic conflicts revisited 10 years later. Sae first wants to mess with Momo but eventually wants to get with Toji; Momo wants to stop Sae from causing trouble and guard Toji from Sae; and Kairi spends a lot of time with Misao, who still has insecurities. Yes, Misao, Kairi’s first love, also returns… because why not.
Toji is above the drama for a good part of the series, and that’s nice. What’s even better is his storyline: as Momo and others learn early in the series, Toji got married, but his wife died six months ago, shortly after giving birth. Her parents became obsessed with their grandchild while his parents also wanted to see the baby. Meanwhile, Toji was also dealing with the fact that he lost his beloved Nagisa, and he felt like he didn’t belong in either family home. That’s when Sae appeared, and he thought he could ease his heart by seeing at least some things haven’t changed.
… Unfortunately, Toji too is swept up in Ueda’s poor writing, as his old feelings for Momo begin reawakening. And his chance to be with her grows as Kairi spends more time at Misao’s house.
So you can see how much of NEXT is mostly the same old romantic entanglements. I would have been happy with Momo ending up with Kairi or Toji in the original, but here, I definitely didn’t want to see them break up and ruin my attachment to Peach Girl. In a sequel like this, there are only two real outcomes: either Momo remains with Kairi and makes all these insecurity and jealousy issues pointless, or it becomes a NTR where Ueda undoes her previous ending.
I won’t spoil which one happens here, but even then, readers will likely be upset by the romance. Let’s start with the Kairi side since that’s who Momo is dating at the manga’s start. This first one will be partially a cultural thing, but it still seems odd considering how casual Momo and Kairi are as people: Momo still calls her live-in boyfriend by his family name despite the fact they’ve been living together for four years (and likely had a physical relationship since high school 10 years ago). We’re never even treated to her calling him by his name for the first time here.* (*See Translation section.) Even if you chalk that up to Momo’s embarrassment or whatever, the sweet moments they have that show their dedication to each other, like when Momo forces him into her diving gear to think about what he truly wants, is slowly replaced by the fear that Ueda made this sequel more like a what-if story — in essence, an official fanfiction where Toji wins Momo’s heart after all.
But Toji fans won’t be happy either. Not only is he a mourning widower, but he continues to be such a good guy for most of the story. He helps Momo and Kairi unravel a couple of Sae plots early in the manga, and he encourages the couple to work through their issues. Toji also helps Sae and doesn’t judge her as harshly as the other two want to. As Toji works through his own struggles surrounding being a single, widowed father, his fans will want to see him start moving toward a wonderful future, and becoming interested in an old flame in a long-term but currently shaky relationship may be seen as regression, not progression.
As for the woman pursuing Toji, well, I already talked a lot about her. I will say this though in regards to the romance: the ending just moves on, sweeping the bad stuff that happened under the rug. The romantic resolution is additionally forced due to the contrived ridiculousness of the final volume. I mean, it’s pretty sad when — am I am being completely serious about this — one of the best parts of a final volume is the sudden inclusion of a trolling turtle.
Plus, despite being a josei, the manga doesn’t have a lot of spice. Or rather, it’s not much different from the its shoujo predecessors when it comes to sexual content. In fact, you could argue it’s more tame since the characters are no longer horny teenagers. (Yes, even Kairi.)
If I seem upset by all this, it’s because I am. If Ueda wanted to revisit these characters, she should have made it more aligned with Peach Girl and Peach Girl: Sae’s Story. Or even do a Love and Lies-style two second ending story, even though it’s several years later.
Even beyond that, the author had chances to focus on topics not often tackled in manga. Toji eventually regains custody of his daughter, Miyu, and even with help, being a single parent is hard. Kairi goes to Misao’s to help with her grandmother, a woman with dementia. Kairi also becomes concerned at one point about the chances of Momo getting pregnant. Meanwhile, Misao feels old and alone. The pain a debilitating disease can ravage on an individual and their family, trying to balance an in-law’s last connection with their child while not let them override the parent’s role, even the potential of being sterile or feeling overworked and that your life has passed you buy… all topics these familiar characters could tackle respectfully. Some of these, like the heartbreak and stress dementia can cause, were very emotional and were high points of the series. But the love polygon aspects eventually override everything else.
Alternatively, it didn’t have to cover serious topics at all. It could have been just a fun throwback series starring an often short-tempered but often tough heroine, her sometimes perverted boyfriend, and her vain, self-proclaimed BFF. It could have also featured other characters like Toji, Kanji, and Misao as recurring or main characters, but either way, Sae’s fun-loving, drama-addicted, often self-absorbed lifestyle is enough to drive any plot.
If there’s one part that takes me back, it’s the art. Peach Girl always was stylish and featured girls who were fashionable in the story and even more dolled-up in the color artwork, and that continues here. Ueda’s style also hasn’t changed much since the 90s, so that helps fans of the original to jump right back in. Ueda’s characters have very detailed eyes with thick brows and lashes. Noses are much more defined than in most modern manga art, and not too many series feature a dark-skinned heroine. (Momo tans easily.) Exaggerated expressions are frequent in this series, especially a “gah/geh/ew” face when Sae pops up or Kairi/Sae’s ero/nyari face respectively. All of this will be very familiar to Peach Girl fans, and if any new fans start off with this series… well, the series may look a little different from the cheerful, soft heroines and their cohorts found in most shoujo/josei manga, but there won’t be any issues.
Honorifics are used. Okayasu’s given name is spelt as “Kairi” with a footnote explaining it’s a more direct romanization — only they mispelt how his name was in the Tokyopop version! (It’s Kiley there while Kodansha wrote “Kylie”.) I guess in order to match that version, in which Momo freely uses his personal name, the English version often replaced “Okayasu” with “Kairi” early in the series. I’m not a fan of the font. A few footnotes are used to explain some terms, but despite Kairi’s job, there aren’t many Japanese terms or cultural things in this series.
Peach Girl NEXT proves sometimes it’s better to leave a finished title alone instead of revisiting a series. The manga unnecessarily revives plotlines that should be settled and doesn’t do a good job of aligning the two main ladies with how they were presented in the preceding two manga. Go read Sae’s Story (which includes a couple of fun Momo-centric side stories) and craft your own follow-up. Chances are it will be better than this.
Tokyopop published Peach Girl and Peach Girl: Sae’s Story. Kodansha Comics rescued the former for a digital release. Del Rey partially published Miwa’s Papillon.
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