Manga-ka: Mikiyo Tsuda
Rating: Teens (13+)
Released: January 2008
Synopsis: “Meet the Sakamotos…a typical, upper middle class family of six with one peculiar quality-namely, they’re all uncannily good-looking! That is, except for one member of the clan-14-year-old Akira. At that awkward stage where teenagers feel out-of-place in general, Akira believes he’s average in the looks department, which simply doesn’t measure up. How can he be around his family when he feels like he’s being judged against them all the time? Will Akira’s complex about being “different” cause him to turn away from the people who love him most?”
Readers of Mikiyo Tsuda’s popular Princess Princess will no doubt recognize some faces in Family Complex. The beautiful Sakamotos return in this one-shot manga release all to themselves. Starring the attractive and eerily-youthful mother and father, their three gorgeous children and the kind-hearted, but more physically plain, second-youngest Akira, the book is broken into chapters that individually follow the trials of the different family members, one complex after another.
The first chapter is about Akira Sakamoto as he struggles with the fact that he isn’t as beautiful as the rest of his family. While they are revered and striking to everyone who sees them, Akira finds himself spiralling into self-doubt amidst the sea of whispers that point him out as ‘the plain one’. It acts as some insight as to Akira’s low self-esteem, especially in reference to his friendship with the androgynous trio of Princess Princess, with whom Akira often shared centre stage.
Things aren’t all pretty and perfect for the gorgeous ones however. The eldest son finds himself placed on a pedestal by his classmates and thus ostracized in their attempts to ‘protect’ him, while the eldest daughter, whose appearance is more of a pretty boy than a girl, is trapped between the two genders, neither able to except her for who she is. Fuyuki, the adorable, doll-like youngest child is having problems dealing with her peers after years of doting from her family has left her unaccustomed to showing her emotions. Mom and Dad? With the exception of a short story at the end showcasing their first meeting, they remain more background characters: loving, but a little air-headed.
While none of their problems have a magic fix, they all learn to deal with them with help from their family members and friends. They’re sweet and humorous stories that don’t pack much wow factor but are entertaining reads in their own right, cute and endearing. Fuyuki’s inner monologue is particularly amusing as she ponders what she should do about the situations she’s confronted with, including a boy’s love confession and a show-all pervert. Some of the stories also sprinkle and poke in a few light yaoi and yuri references that’ll appeal to fans of Taishi Zaou’s works (going by the penname Taishi Zaou, Mikiyo Tsuda has published several yaois and short yuri stories).
Drawn prior to Princess Princess, there’s some slight art variations in the character designs that those picking this up after finishing Princess Princess (which was released first in English by DMP) may notice. The differences are subtle but the first story in particular would be better suited to the more updated appearances. Akira doesn’t seem to have as sharp a contrast to his family members as he does in later chapters (his design evolves throughout the book), nor do all the members of the family have designs that make them stand out enough amidst the other delicately featured characters who appear in the book. Those small quips aside, it’s a very visually appealing art style with wonderful character designs, detailed but uncluttered line work and expressive, and often suitably not expressive, facial features.
As readers may have come to expect with this artist’s work, there is a very lengthy Mid-word near the end of the book that follows personal aspects of their life. In this instalment, it’s 15 pages worth of the telling of Mikyo Tsuda’s detached retina, complete with all the details. While some parts are entertaining, told in a manner that’s meant to be, it may still leave a lot of readers wondering why they should care, especially those who don’t follow these kinds of escapades in the manga-ka’s other releases. Fortunately, with a page count of about a 190, 15 pages isn’t too large a chunk lost from the characters. Another common aspect of Mikiyo Tsuda’s work is the hidden bonus comics printed under the cover slip and Family Complex is no exception.
Though it may not prove a compelling enough stand alone for those who haven’t, or don’t plan to, read other connecting series by the artist, its fluffy stories that are good for a giggle, and very appealing artwork, make Family Complex a book worth picking up.