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MANGA REVIEW: My Darling Kitten Hair by Haruko Kumota

MANGA REVIEW: My Darling Kitten Hair by Haruko Kumota

Cover of My Darling Kitten Hair, a 168-page manga by Haruko KumotaTitle: My Darling Kitten Hair
Story and Art: Haruko Kumota
Publisher: JManga
Genre: BL (Boys’ Love A.K.A. yaoi)
Rating: M for Mature
Length: 1 volume (168 pages)

Dear Readers,

I can’t deny it was the title that caught my attention. What on earth does My Darling Kitten Hair mean? I didn’t know when I started reading this comic.

Still don’t after I finished reading it.

Well, I do have my guess as I think I found the answer in a bonus chapter. Regardless, I enjoyed the ride through Haruko Kumota’s good-natured tale of a male couple moving in together and adapting to unexpected revelations about each other. Enough to earn grade B off me, anyroad.

Keichi “Kei” Sawada is utterly thrilled when he finally moves from Otaru, Hokkaido (think Alaska or Greenland), to Tokyo to move in with his boyfriend, Hanabishi “Mii” Misaburo, whom he’s known since they were six years old. They’ve been dating for six years, in spite of Mii moving to Tokyo when they graduated after their high school.  Kei imagines that now he’s arrived, their home would become their cosy love nest.

His dream, however, gets smashed to smithereens when he discovers Mii’s home, Matatabi House, is actually a boarding house where a small bunch of odd people also live. A sexy, fun-loving and busty single mother with an eight-year-old sweet son. A dopey, nerdy and soft-hearted pervert. A tall, cheerful transvestite. A cat named Nana (Seven). And there’s Mii, whom he discovers has been hiding some little truths from him.

(read from right to left <—) 

In spite of his apprehension, Kei settles in quite quickly by finding a job as a salaryman (office employee), learning to take his housemates’ quirks in stride, and getting know to his beloved boyfriend better.

And that’s when they run into a wall. Namely, the physical state of their relationship.

In spite of being together for six years, they haven’t consummated their relationship yet. They have their reasons for not wanting to take their relationship to the next level, no matter how much they want to. On top of that, they’re surprised to discover another depth to their personalities and quirks along the way.

My Darling Kitten Hair is – in form of the main story as eight chapters with two bonus chapters – largely an episodic story that, while charming and funny, doesn’t quite sink its teeth into issues and walls Kei and Mii face. Each wall they encounter, they knock it down with a simple but straightforward talk after fretting for a moment or two. They seem to just glide through their adjustments.

Basically, there isn’t any deep angst. Nor is there a villain, serious dilemma and unknockdownable wall. There are some moments of anxiety, concern, insecurity and jealousy, but nothing deep. At times, it seemed almost like I was watching a Disney film of the 1960s where everyone’s charming, perky and affectionate, even when cranky, sulking or – thanks to secondary character Haruki – devilish.

(read from right to left <—) 

Oh, sure, Kei and Mii have two human walls, in form of Mii’s grandmother and Mii’s cynical colleague, who aren’t that impressed with their relationship, but they don’t make life difficult for them. Well, they do have their own ways of tormenting them, which Kumota’s clearly intended as a comedic effect.

I was surprised the story doesn’t involve boarding house residents that much. Thanks to the first chapter, I was led to believe they would have bigger roles in the story, but they don’t. The main story focuses on Kei and Mii knitting their lives together whilst at the house and outside and when alone or with other people.

All this does make it sound as if My Darling Kitten Hair is shallow and rather forgettable, but no. It’s comic artist Kumota’s art that makes her somewhat mediocre story surprisingly a stand-out.

Basically, there’s so much going on in her art. Face and eye expressions, body language, and sound effects (which are mostly left intact with English translations next to them). She has successfully made each character’s looks unique, which makes it incredibly easy to tell them apart. She’s also successfully made all characters’ personalities shine through. Even Nana the cat.

(read from right to left <—)

The pacing seems pretty spot on. And so is the comic timing. The English translation, as a whole, is pretty good (only one grammatical error, which is seriously a miracle!). It’s managed to make all dialogue seem to flow naturally, which makes the reading a nice breeze.

It’s all those that makes it such a fun and charming read.

The main story somewhat tapered off towards the end, which suggests there would be another volume. My best friend Google tells me my guess is right. Further adventures of Kei and Mii are currently serialised, which could mean the second volume of My Darling Kitten Hair wouldn’t be complied until at least 2013.

If there’s anything I liked about My Darling Kitten Hair, it’s how solid Kei and Mii are with their relationship. Even though one has expressed moments of concern whether his beloved truly loves him. In other words, their relationship is pretty ordinary. And this makes it a rather refreshing change. Especially after I waded through a recent batch of comics that revolved around crazy melodrama, dark angst and wtfery. Nice one, Kumota.

But that title? Doesn’t make sense. Same in Japanese. It may refer to one of Mii’s favourite things about Kei, as mentioned in a bonus chapter, but that’s just a wild guess. Judging by the titles of comic artist Kumota’s other works, quirky titles seem to be one of her trademarks. The English translator could at least modify it as ‘My Darling’s Kitten Hair’ or ‘My Lovely Kitten Hair’ to make sense somehow.

As for the maturity rating, there are partial nudity, mild profanity, some kissing and one sex scene. I would say it’s fine for readers age 16 and over. Or with parental guidance, 14+.

As far as I can see, My Darling Kitten Hair is available only at JManga. I wasn’t exactly over the moon when I learnt all JManga titles can only be read online at the site, but when I explored the basic functions of their comic reader, it isn’t too bad. Especially when I discovered the online reader’s Full Screen mode function. I’ve never liked reading a comic within an online comic reader or a web browser. So it’s great that the Full Screen mode has helped me to forget I was even at the site while reading the comic.

I still can’t work out how JManga’s subscription system operates, though. In fairness to them, I have dyscalculia (like dyslexia, but with number, value, distance and time) so I can’t say whether JManga offers good value for a digital comic like this one.

My Darling Kitten Hair is worth getting if you’re looking to give JManga a trial run. Or for a charming introduction to the BL comic genre.

J Manga

MANGA REVIEW:  Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

MANGA REVIEW: Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

wb2

Story & Art: Chihiro Tamaki
Publisher: Ohzora/JManga
Rating: T+ for Teen Plus
Length: 3/4 volumes

Dear readers,

I recently reviewed the first volume of this josei manga series about Michiko, a young woman who’s self-conscious about her height and decides to become a model to overcome it and break out of her stagnation. Though I found the initial volume to be shorter than expected, I was intrigued by her rough personality and desire to reinvent herself so I picked up the next installment. Now I’m wondering if perhaps my enthusiasm got the best of me.

After the events of volume 1, Michiko has joined a small modeling agency — small in the sense that she is the only client — operated by an alcoholic, former runway model. She has a lot to learn. Modeling is more than just standing there and looking pretty, something she should have guessed considering the public humiliation that led her on this path in the first place. She has to learn how to walk in heels — a tricky skill that many people overlook. A runway walk is nothing like walking down the street. She also has to learn how to pose to show off clothes to maximum effect. In short, she has to learn how to be the type of model designers and runway directors will want to hire.

Unfortunately, Michiko is impatient and stubborn. While she realizes that she needs these skills, she can’t get over her desire to get revenge on Mihara, the designer who embarrassed her. So even though it takes time to become the type of high caliber model to do so, she wants to rush things and get things done now. Hardly a recipe for success.

This was a frustrating volume to read. Ironically, the traits that make me like Michiko as a character — her rough and brusque personality — are also what made me dislike this current point in the narrative. Michiko goes to auditions and go-sees and even occasionally gets a job (like modeling clothes for a print catalog) but she doesn’t approach these for the learning experiences they are. Instead she considers them wastes of time and obstacles to her ultimate goal.

While completely in-character for her, it makes Michiko unlikeable. In volume 1, she hates her body and is uncomfortable in her own skin. But modeling is all about being comfortable in your skin and knowing how to display that body — and anything on it — to its best. How does she expect to reach her goal of being a supermodel if she doesn’t stop to reconcile those two things? She doesn’t practice walking. She doesn’t bother to learn how to pose her body. She’s run into other models at auditions and clearly seen the difference between their abilities and hers, so it’s tough to see her not make the connection.

Michiko’s mishaps in this volume are briefly interrupted by a look at Mihara, the fashion designer. It offered a little backstory into his character; to no one’s surprise, his family thinks his occupation is ridiculous and hopes he’ll come back to the family medical practice. He’s also given the chance to become part of a larger fashion house, but at the expense of his own vision. It’s interesting to see the mirror of his refusing to compromise and going after what he wanted with Michiko’s desire to reach a goal. I think this is mostly why I wish Michiko had better self-awareness about her situation.

Even though I enjoyed the first volume of this series, I found volume 2 to be less enjoyable. Not quite enough to be put off the series — something happens at the end that I hope spurs Michiko on — but I’m no longer so charmed by it. While I love rough and difficult characters, I dislike it when they’re also obstinate and unwilling to put in the work they need to, especially when it comes to achieving highly competitive goals. C-

My regards,
Jia

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