February 19, 2010

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Marmalade Boy Volume 5

Written by Wataru Yoshizumi
Illustrated by Wataru Yoshizumi
Tokyopop

It's been a little while since I caught up with the cast of Marmalade Boy, so I figured it was time to get back into it.

This series started out as a screwball comedy about two families that divorce and remarry each other. There are two children involved and they couldn't be more different. The boy, Yuu, takes it in stride, but Miki, the girl can't stand the idea. Their love-hate relationship and Miki's inability to deal with any of it drove the start of the manga.

As we move on, however, the series shifts into a more traditional shojo drama, as Miki and Yuu finally get together in this volume and our first set of romantic rivals are moved off the scene. For a minute there, I was thinking the series was wrapping up, but as we progress through this trade, new anxieties are created. Miki tries to keep her love for Yuu a secret at home and frets as Yuu is exposed to a model with eye for pretty things. Is Miki doing her usual overreactions or is there something more?

I have to admit that I'm a bit sad at the change in direction in Marmalade Boy. While Yuu and Miki are still the main characters, I can't help but feel like the series lacks a bit of focus. We started off on the comedic situation of two married couples marrying each other's ex-spouses. Then we moved on to the various emotional problems of Miki and Yuu's friends. Now it seems like we're looking at our two protagonists as fragile young lovers. Unlike a lot of the manga I read, I can't get a feel on what this series is about as an overall theme, and that makes me a bit unsettled as a reader.

I really enjoy Miki and Yuu's relationship, and seeing it develop is part of the charm of the series. But at the same time, I think there's been development in too many directions. By this latest change, I'm a little weary of seeing how they're going to relate to each other next. I'm hoping that the last few volumes will allow their love to follow the path of fragile lovers, now that we've finally gotten that out into the (mostly) open. It may be a bit odd that Miki has forgiven Yuu's cruel streak or that Yuu would reach for Miki when they are so different, but I am okay with that--unless we start to drift off that path in volume six and head somewhere else entirely.

Yoshizumi really likes to use side characters in this manga, and that part of things works really well here. The defeated rivals for Yuu and Miki's affections may be forming a bond of their own in a natural progression that Yoshizumi develops nicely. I also liked how the new characters are inserted logically, without feeling like they are only there to serve as foils. The only problem I have in this area is that she really doesn't do anything with the parents. I'd love to see more about how they are doing in their new lifestyles, as I think there's a lot of room for comedy with them, especially now that Miki and Yuu must hide their own affections.

Given how well Yoshizumi handles side characters, I'd love to see how she would do on an ensemble book, as I think that style would play to her strengths as a creator.

I may have given the impression that I don't like Marmalade Boy anymore, and that's definitely not the case. I like Yuu and Miki as characters, and that's what drives my shojo reading, since the plots and settings are frequently similar. Yoshizumi writes very natural progressions for all of the changes that have happened so far. It's just that I feel sometimes like I'm reading a new series with the same characters every time I pick up a new volume, given all the shifts in tone.

I think there was a different manga Yoshizumi could have written, one that would have strayed further from the usual tropes and set Marmalade Boy apart from other mangas that I read. As it stands, we've drifted into familiar territory. However, it is well written familiar territory, and I'll be happy to see how Miki and Yuu handle the new challenges to their relationship in the next volume. I just hope that it stays on the same path this time.