Manga-ka: Shinobu Ohtaka
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2009
Synopsis: “As if being the target of Momoko’s affections isn’t bad enough, now Koushi is a target for assassination! Iroha Miyamoto is the next to make a move, determined to regain the honour of her fallen clan. But there’s more than one way to break up the union of Kuzuryuu and Inuzuka. Why kill Koushi off? Why not marry him instead?!”
The bizarre misadventures of Koushi and his wannabe bride continue as Shinobu Ohtaka brings us more of this surreal series. Like its energetic heroine, Sumomomo Momomo’s pretty low on brain cells and focuses on merrily skipping along, allowing you to witness as it smacks your mind around lest you think you’re reading a normal manga. Engaging in yet more offensive territory, Sumomomo Momomo is a not something for everyone, but it certainly is something.
The book starts off as yet another squad of martial artists, in this case a pair of inept, impoverished ninjas, attempts to break apart the engagement of Koushi and Momoko. Enlisting the aid of the school’s gym teacher from the previous volume, the book highlights one of its more entertaining aspects. The small, monkey like Momoko delivers yet more unexpected, quirky challenges to her foes as the tiny cartoon powerhouse brings more shameful defeat to her school’s faculty. Bouncing about the page, it makes for an unusual reading experience as her cutesy design is contrasted against the more intentionally seinen-manga look of the gym teacher. Indeed, many of the supporting characters like Nakajima’s landlady grandmother and Koushi’s father look like something out of Mad Magazine, contributing to a generally bizarre atmosphere well-suited to the overzealous nature of many of the kooky martial artist families.
Meanwhile, another aspect I enjoyed from the previous volume comes to the forefront as Nakajima’s secrets are unveiled. We discover that she too is secretly part of a martial artist family. The exact nature of her connection to Koushi fits well into the plotline, and offers a balance to the more vengeful clans. I was also amused that she rebels against her life by escaping into extremely saccharine shojo manga. She sees them as a refuge from her violent family’s lifestyle, and projects her fantasies onto Koushi, viewing him as her ideal, real-life prince, leading to much conflict regarding her secret life. Things are made complicated as they introduce her arranged fiancé, Hikaru, as the next antagonist. Having her fiancé have the same name as her favourite shojo manga hero is pretty funny, especially considering his country bumpkin dialogue and resemblance to the cast of the Street Fighter video games. Ohtaka pokes fun at manga culture and shonen manga with both these elements, as Nakajima’s retreat into girly-land is contrasted by the strangeness of martial arts characters of shonen manga when contrasted against the real world.
However, despite these entertaining elements, the less tasteful elements of Sumomomo continue. While Momoko’s seduction attempts are toned down for the most part, these elements of the book continue. Iroha, like Momoko, looks quite younger than Koushi, and is often placed in questionable poses and situations, such as when Momoko‘s attempts at subliminal brainwashing go awry, and Koushi “confesses“ his love to Iroha while sleeping in an inappropriate way. Following this, Iroha tries a different approach to defeating Momoko. Attempting to mimic the girls in the dating simulation games, Iroha calls him Oni-Chan and plays the part of an overly saccharine girl in an attempt to seduce him and foil Momoko’s plans. This is a short-lived plan, but still emit’s a cringe-inducing nature, though somewhat offset by the dark humour that follows this chapter as the girls make friends while blissfully ignoring Koushi‘s imminent doom. The strangeness of it all undermines these elements a little, such as Momoko’s inappropriate attempts at cooking. Koushi’s rejection of it all makes things less sketchy, but ones’ eyebrows will probably be raised throughout. While it does poke fun at these trends in Japanese fandom, it simultaneously serves them, adding a slightly creepy aspect to the series that could have been downplayed to make it more palatable for wider audiences.
Ohtaka’s art continues to be strange yet slick and polished, employing decent use of perspective in action scenes and background work, while making use of inhuman supporting characters and strange visuals. Yen Press’s presentation is their standard best, with a colour insert of Iroha and her assistant Hanzou. They also provide translations notes and a translated, text-heavy next-volume preview.
Sumomomo is in some ways a knowing parody of current manga trends, yet I find it difficult to recommend. Too gross-out and violence-oriented to be a pleasant romantic comedy and too sappy and adherent to moe trends to be entertainingly vindictive, the series has set itself in a middle road of outright strangeness. The mockery-based martial arts elements continue to be the book’s highlight, with entertaining action scenes and fun at the expense of current trendy ninja manga. This book might hold some appeal for fans of that genre, with Naruto‘s popularity probably playing a part in these things. In the end however, this is mostly recommended for manga fans who either can’t turn away from a train wreck of horribleness, or already think that Sumomomo Momomo is a sweet comedy. Whichever works for the reader, some might enjoy this work, but I remain a tad skeptical due to the sketchier aspects of the series.