Josei – Drama, romance, slice-of-life
12 Volumes (complete)
Tsugumi is happily surprised when she runs into her old classmate (and former crush) Itsuki at a work event. They haven’t seen each other in years, but Itsuki has become an architect — and a handsome one to boot. But Tsugumi is stunned to learn once-athletic Itsuki is now in a wheelchair. Despite their reunion, with Itsuki being disabled now, there’s no way Tsugumi’s old feelings could come back, right?
Perfect World is as imperfect as the world is, but in the end, it’s worth reading if the premise draws your interest.
Tsugumi is working at an interior decorating company, although she herself hasn’t become a designer. But at a get-together with an architectural firm, she spots Itsuki. Itsuki was in the same grade at their small-town high school, but the two mainly only spoke when he would come to the school library where Tsugumi volunteered. The two interacted less and less once Itsuki got a girlfriend, and now, they haven’t seen each other in almost a decade. Back then, Itsuki aimed to become an architect, and he reached his dream, unlike Tsugumi, who gave up the idea of becoming an artist.
Tsugumi’s heart starts fluttering when they reunite, but her feelings grind to a halt when she discovers Itsuki is physically disabled. He now uses a wheelchair after getting into an accident back in college and lost the use of his legs. Tsugumi tries to act normal, but she’s a little unnerved. Itsuki though has gotten used to his situation, and he makes it clear he’s not looking for a relationship — ever. For Tsugumi, that’s a bit of a relief since she doesn’t think she could date a man in a wheelchair, but even as she learns more about the daily struggles for people with spinal cord injuries like Itsuki, those old feelings come rushing back.
Itsuki is helped out on occasion by a former nurse, but he lives on his own for the most part. He and Tsugumi begin hanging out more both during and after work as their firms team up on a project, and the two are surprised to learn another classmate has moved to the big city. And it turns out Tsugumi isn’t the only one with unrequited love from high school.
Now, one thing that should be clear from reading Perfect World is the importance of laws like the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Here in the US, the law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and businesses must make their buildings and services accessible to all. There are exceptions like for a small business with fewer than 15 employees, but most modern buildings will be designed to accommodate wheelchairs and similar mobility equipment by designing slopes, having elevators, and push-button doors. Some states may have even stricter laws, but even places that wouldn’t necessarily have to follow the ADA tend to add ramps or whatever to ensure people in wheelchairs and such can visit. Otherwise, that’s potential business lost. That’s why stores often offer mobility scooters and wheelchairs for customer use, and people can easily order do-it-yourself kits from many retailers to build wheelchair ramps at home.
But it’s clear from Perfect World Japan still has a ways to go in this regard, something protagonist Tsugumi realizes as she spends time with Itsuki. He can maneuver his manual wheelchair well enough on his own, but there are times when he needs assistance, like going to one of his favorite restaurants. Even pushing himself gets tiring for him after a while. (The idea of a power/electric wheelchair is never brought up in the story, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they aren’t very common in Japan.) Itsuki also faces additional hardships beyond not having the use of his legs, like him developing a bedsore (pressure sore) in the very first chapter or bluntly telling Tsugumi he sometimes poops his pants.
One of the most famous lines in wedding vows is the “in sickness or in health” part, and one person developing a sickness or facing a disability is unfortunately an all-too-common reason for divorce, especially for women, according to statistics. Finding someone who will stick with you through such difficulties is a challenge, but as many would say, love can overcome anything. But how many people would have stuck around long enough for love to develop if their partner had such special needs from the start?
Which is exactly where Tsugumi finds herself. She initially doesn’t think she could handle being in a relationship with Itsuki, but she realizes she loves him and is willing to assist however she can. But even when she has the drive, others are there to question or outright criticize her decision. Why pick a man who needs to be taken care of instead of one that can take care of her? Can she really handle the stares and the stress? Is she ready to give up all the things she previously took for granted?
All of these are reasons why Itsuki broke up with his old girlfriend. It’s like the title of that famous duet: “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”. Itsuki doesn’t want to be a burden to any woman, so he intends on spending the rest of his life single. However, Tsugumi’s persistence starts weakening his resolve, and she does her best to shake off all the comments from people deriding her decision to pursue a disabled man.
There are ways for concerned family and friends to express their doubts and ensure their loved one knows what they are getting into, but you generally won’t find healthy questions or open minds here. That’s also in part due to the love square taking over much of the focus. Perfect World is at its best when Tsugumi (and Itsuki, but mostly Tsugumi) slowly build a relationship, and Tsugumi learns from Itsuki and others how best to approach life when one half of a couple is in a wheelchair. While Tsugumi does become acquainted with two other gals (one older, one younger) who have disabled partners, quite frankly, this is probably one manga that need the wise BFF character. Well, maybe not so much a wise BFF as much as a regular character who did not have romantic intentions toward Tsugumi (and another toward Itsuki).
Yes, Hirotaka (referred to mostly in the story as Koreda) is ready to assist Tsugumi whenever she needs something. Meanwhile, Itsuki’s part-time caretaker hardly welcomes Tsugumi with open arms. I wish Tsugumi had more of a safe space to express her doubts and ask for advice about how to better convince those around her that she does love Itsuki and is not with him because she’s naive or has a savior complex. I didn’t need a best friend character with all the answers, but I would have liked one who was just there to listen.
Perhaps such a character could have prevented all the turmoil from the love square. No doubt that there are levels of anguish and doubt that I, as an able-bodied person, could never fully understand, but things between Tsugumi and Itsuki go very much awry. And as the story continues down that path, it’s clear the emotional hurt is only going to keep piling up higher and higher. Perfect World features a rare type of main couple; there are already so many love polygon manga out there. When I think of the highlights of the story, it’s Tsugumi adjusting to hospital visits, learning about how so many businesses aren’t designed to be barrier-light (let alone barrier-free), rationally discussing the ugly side of Itsuki’s health while he also occasionally curses his paralysis. It’s not the love triangles. Particularly one where we already have Tsugumi still harboring feelings from a decade ago, and Hirotaka pops up in the exact same situation.
The romantic tension eats up too many of Perfect World‘s twelve volumes, which is a darn shame. Plus, I thought the trigger that finally breaks the status quo came across as rather poor storytelling. This is at-odds with so much of the rest of the manga since the author obviously spent a lot of time on research to present Itsuki’s and others’ disabilities in a respectful, realistic manner in the story. There is a lot about societal difficulties and judgements from both strangers and immediate family members. The manga has a big educational factor in it, but perhaps it could have leaned a little further into that aspect in some areas, like a physical relationship with someone with disabilities.
Anyway, the manga does have an issue with sometimes being a bit choppy in regards to the timeline. There were times I assumed it was just a few days or weeks later, and it turned out to be a few months. It’s like, things have been going on for this long, and we didn’t get to see it? And then late in the manga, where the main chapters are almost like side stories, it gets even muddier. This is the type of manga where you just have to wait for a character to
namedrop timedrop how long it’s been since the previous chapter/volume. And along those lines, it’s important to add that the last two volumes of Perfect World function a lot like a sequel. Time skips become even greater, and it’s more like the full-fledged story of Tsugumi and company morphs into snapshots of the characters’ lives. Fans will likely want to complete the series, but in terms of structure, those final volumes are a bit different from the rest.
But while those volumes operating differently leans toward the negative side, the series itself being different is on the positive side. Yes, the number of manga featuring characters with disabilities is slowly rising, but it’s still a minor fraction of the market. Even smaller is the number that address some physical harshness and/or ugliness versus, say, deafness. Not downplaying the challenges of being hard of hearing, but main characters with deafness in A Silent Voice or A Sign of Affection don’t face possible holes in their body. That’s why you want to see Itsuki happy, perhaps even moreso than Tsugumi despite her being the protagonist. Since we see the story primarily from her perspective, she’ll also likely gain more of readers’ ire as she pulls away from Itsuki. Hirotaka and the nurse will be disliked by some readers, but in the end, everyone moves forward in their own way with no ill will toward each other.
Most of the manga opens and/or closes with Tsugumi monologuing about her current emotions, and you can find these sort of profound lines throughout a chapter. As such, the manga has an almost poetic quality to it which is only enhanced by the art. The title of this story is, of course, a bit tongue-in-cheek since Tsugumi is finding herself in not a traditionally picture-perfect romance, and with all the drama involving Itsuki’s health, unrequited love, and extended family circumstances, you might expect this series to have more darkened pages. But this is a manga with bright pages and large paneling. Kodansha Comics rates this for older teens, but I think much of the content is something younger teens should be exposed to. Yes, there are upsetting or uncomfortable parts, but that’s part of the reason why Perfect World stands out. This isn’t a risque series, and nor is full of violence or swear words. Artistically, this is very character-focused as we see the central character of a chapter or section watch another closely or as they agonize alone. Since the main characters are all adults and can do much of their work independently, this is not a manga where crowd scenes are common. Perfect World has a lot of whitespace thanks to this simplicity.
Honorifics are used. Translation notes are included at the end of the volume, but there are also medical footnotes right on a page (like defining SCI).
Perfect World should have cut down on the unrequited love drama, and while the series isn’t especially long, I can see readers perhaps skipping volumes at certain points to concentrate on Tsugumi and Itsuki. The last couple of volumes are also not necessary if time and/or money are an issue. But I hope to see more romances that showcase some of life’s uglier, unfortunate sides and hardships. If nothing else, for most people, this will lead to a deeper appreciation of their physical or societal circumstances.
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