Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

MANGA REVIEW: Walkin’ Butterfly volume 1 by Chihiro Tamaki

Story & Art: Chihiro Tamaki
Publisher: JManga
Rating: T+ for Teen Plus
Length: 2/4 volumes

Dear readers,

Unlike shounen, shoujo, or BL, josei is one of those manga genres that seems unable to get a foothold in the U.S. It’s true that there are exceptions, such as Ooku, but for the most part, it doesn’t fare well. I’ve heard Europe is more welcoming of the genre, so I think it’s a shame we don’t follow suit here. A few years ago, I remember hearing about the launch of Aurora, the English language division for a leading josei publisher in Japan. But given what I just said about the genre’s popularity in the U.S., you can guess what happened to it.

wb1At any rate, Aurora’s launch title was a josei title called Walkin’ Butterfly. (Though for some reason it released as a shoujo here? Shows that the marketing people had an inkling of their uphill battle.) With Aurora’s demise, so too went all of their titles. Thankfully, Jmanga has much of that catalog up on their site and I finally was able to take a look at Walking Butterfly, having missed it the first time around.

Michiko Torayasu has always felt very self-conscious about her height. She’s extremely tall, you see, and sticks out in a crowd. She’s also rough around the edges, making her insecure about her femininity. Having graduated from school, Michiko is feeling lost and adrift. Her high school friends have found a direction in their lives so why can’t she?

When Michiko’s part-time job as a pizza delivery person takes her to a fashion show, however, she ends up being mistaken for a model. After all, the one place where a tall person would never look out of place is a fashion show. But the collection’s designer sees right through her and calls her out in front of everyone. Humiliated, Michiko decides that she will become a model just to prove him wrong.

As a heroine, Michiko is easy to identify with. What woman hasn’t felt self-conscious at one point in her life? That every part of it is wrong and that if it were just a little different, her life would be easier? It can take years for a woman to be finally comfortable in her own skin. Michiko is only in her late teens. Society in general, no matter the culture, can be very harsh when it comes to beauty standards and more so towards those women who diverge from those narrowly defined boundaries.

All of these things funnel into Michiko’s self-hatred. She’s in love with her childhood friend but feels that she cannot confess to him as she is now. She’s so insecure in herself and recognizes that fact. An event from her past also has her doubting whether a guy would ever like such a tall girl. Combined with the fact that her crush sees her as a sister, Michiko finds herself on multiple fronts: a life’s goal, a career, a romance. Her public humiliation finally pushes her forward in her decision to transform into a model worthy enough to walk down the catwalk.

If the focus of the manga had been on Michiko’s quest to transform herself into a runway model solely in order to win a man’s love, I definitely would not have liked that. The fashion industry, and in particular modeling, tends to focus on the superficial and not only is that a cliche, it’s a message I tend to disagree with violently. But I thought this volume avoided that trap nicely because it focused so much on Michiko’s alienation from Japanese ideals of feminine beauty.

Michiko is a very brash, somewhat abrasive protagonist. It worked here because she’s starting from a highly disadvantaged position. She is not someone you’d ever call girly. She delivers pizzas (a job normally associated with men) and used to work in a garage before. Full of self-hatred about her body, she doesn’t know how to highlight its strong points. If anything, she doesn’t know what its strong points are. Self-conscious about her height, Michiko has spent her entire life trying to hide herself whereas being a runway model requires drawing all attention towards her. So she needed that headstrong personality to make any forward motion. Otherwise, she’d never be able to climb over any of the hurdles already in her way.

The downside is that the actual meat of this first volume is short. I’m used to having roughly 200 pages, give or take a few, in my manga volumes. By contrast, Walkin’ Butterfly only had about 130 plus an extra about Michiko’s childhood. You definitely feel the lack of length. It seemed like just as the story was getting going, we reached the end.

The artwork is not what I would call my favorite. It’s very much a style I identify with josei, being very sketchy. But overall, I was fine with it and not deterred. I can see other readers being turned off, however.

Despite having a rather simple premise, I thought Walkin’ Butterfly excelled at exploring the struggles women have with accepting their own bodies. I think that, above all else, is what made the story for me, and made me invested in Michiko’s story. I’m looking forward to seeing her continuing evolution. B

My regards,
Jia

J MangaAmazon

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at ji[email protected]!

11 Comments

  1. Christine M.
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 12:42:37

    What’s josei, exactly? I’ve never heard of that genre before.

  2. LG
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 13:41:35

    @Christine M.: Manga for adult women, I think. In my experience (which isn’t saying much, since I’ve read way more shoujo than josei), the characters tend to no longer be in high school – usually college-aged or working full-time.

  3. Estara
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 16:10:25

    I basically have the opposite body type but if you continue to be interested in this story, it might be worth checking out.

  4. Tanya
    Jul 23, 2012 @ 23:31:16

    I will have to look this title up because it sounds interesting. I haven’t read a manga series in a while. If you have not already heard of it, Princess Jellyfish is suppose to be a really good title. Its characters have body image issues as well as being extreme nerds. Paradise Kiss is good too. It’s main character is also trying to find her way in life.

  5. Jia
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 05:27:06

    @Tanya: I’ve heard good things about Princess Jellyfish. It’s on my list of things to check out though I may look at the anime before the manga. And Paradise Kiss is a classic!

  6. Maili
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 16:41:11

    @Christine M.: ‘Josei’ targets female readers, aged anywhere between 17 and 30. Commonly (and perhaps derogatorily) nicknamed as OL manga (Office Lady manga).

    Josei comics usually feature mature social issues that women face in their everyday life, sexual situations/relationships that wouldn’t otherwise be appropriate for shoujo manga readers; all aspects of female friendship or relationship (e.g. mother and daughter), and/or “confidence-boosting fables”. Such as triumphing over a boss who denied heroine’s every attempt to climb her career ladder, just because she’s “too marriageable”.

    Not all sexual/romantic relationships end with the HEA (most do, though). And not all are that soft-focused either as some can be quite gritty. I’m still trying to get over the one with a couple beating the crap out of each other during a fight. Both ended up battered and bruised, but wiser and still very much together. That’s unusual, I think. I hope so, anyway!

    Anyroad, it basically covers a wide range of genres including historical, drama, comedy, BL (boys’ love or “yaoi”), Yuri (girls’ love or f/f), melodrama (tearjerker), philosophical or existentialist drama, religious, PWP (Plot? What Plot?) and less commonly, action–which is regularly categorised under Seinen (target audience of men between 18 and 30).

    Jia is right. Josei for some reason never took off in the US, no matter how hard US publishers tried to push it. I really have no idea why. Shame as there are so many interesting – and more appropriate – stories in josei for older readers. Thankfully, josei is quite popular in France, Germany and [edited: I blanked on this country and I still don't remember. Sorry!].

    One of my favourites is actually South Korean, available at netcomics: Wann’s Talking About… (I disliked her other book 100% Perfect, though). http://www.netcomics.com/comic/talkingabout.htm One reviewer describes it as “Korean Sex and the City”, which I suppose is rather apt but not quite.

    Sorry, Jia, for derailing a bit.

  7. Jia
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 16:48:56

    @Maili: No needs for apologies. It’s manga and josei so that’s related, honestly!

    As for why josei never took off in the U.S., I have a feeling it’s something to do with the fact that the manga boom of the early 2000s took place around the same time that chick lit as a subgenre began to decline. It’s true that they’re different mediums but I suspect a connection was made in the marketing at some point that josei = the manga equivalent of chick lit and people shied away from that. Maybe it had to do with the titles being licensed. I know the majority coming over at that point were from TOKYOPOP and they were infamous for taking the toss everything at the wall and see what sticks approach, especially once Viz formed its partnership with Shueisha, effectively taking all of the major shounen and shoujo titles off the table.

    Maybe the readership was younger then? It’s hard to say. People keep saying the manga readership is aging and thus should be going for the more mature titles but I don’t see seinen titles suddenly taking off and becoming bestsellers. It tends to be the shounen titles plus Vampire Knight and Sailor Moon, none of which are geared towards a “mature” audience like seinen or josei.

  8. Christine M.
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 18:49:10

    Thanks for the explaination! In that case yes I do own some ‘josei’ manga (translated by a French editor), I just didn’t know the broad category name. I actually quite like those mangas (they’re fav along with BL/yaoi).

  9. LG
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 19:02:09

    @Maili: Very interesting! It sounds like I’ve probably read more josei than I thought.

  10. Maili
    Jul 25, 2012 @ 10:47:50

    @Jia: Thank you for being so gracious. Much appreciated.

    All that definitely sounds plausible. Especially the ” I know the majority coming over at that point were from TOKYOPOP and they were infamous for taking the toss everything at the wall and see what sticks approach” bit. This is probably why a couple of genres crashed and burned.

    I do think there is another issue, which isn’t necessarily restricted to the US. There were largely negative responses from US and certain non-JP-Asian-country readers to how heroines behaved in josei. “Slut, whore, slutty, stupid bitch” and similar were usually the charges made by readers towards heroines who took a stand against heroes. Certainly towards female characters in BL comics. My goodness, there was so much anger from readers towards female characters – even mothers – who stood between a gay couple and their HEA. When they bite, they really bite.

    So, I thought the reason josei isn’t popular may be due to the complex or complicated relationship between female comic readers – usually age between 15 and 25 – and female protagonists/characters. This is just a theory, though.

    Most likely it’s just down to poor choices on publishers’ part. They did publish some truly mediocre ones, after all. I mean, Audora’s choices were pretty crap. I still don’t understand their editorial logic on this one. Shame, really.

    @Christine M.: @LG: Oh, awesome. Thank you. Glad to know I didn’t bore the crap out of you three.

    Christine, I’m envious if you’re in France because that’s where they are publishing Setona Mizushiro’s two-volume josei comic, A Game of Cat & Mouse (that’s what the French title says, right? ‘Le Jeu du chat et de la souris’). One of the best BL-themed josei comics.

  11. Christine M.
    Jul 26, 2012 @ 12:55:19

    @Maili:

    I actually live in Quebec but all teh French mangas we get are French importations. I’ll try and see if I can get my hands on that comic (and yes, that’s exactly what the title says!).

    …Well, I can buy it from amazon.ca and a couple of other places, it would appear. Thanks for the tip! :)

%d bloggers like this: