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MANGA REVIEW:  Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

MANGA REVIEW: Walkin’ Butterfly volume 2 by Chihiro Tamaki

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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

AmazonJ Manga

MANGA REVIEW:  Walkin’ Butterfly volume 1 by Chihiro Tamaki

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