Manga-ka: Sumomo Yumeka
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2010
Synopsis: “Intent on being an independent young woman, high schooler Himeyuka lives on her own in an unremarkable apartment complex in a corner of the city. But one day, she discovers her ordinary building has turned into something extraordinary! Her beloved “castle” is covered in childish scribbles—both inside and out! And waiting for her at the end of this rainbow-colored mess…is the perpetrator of the crime—a little boy named Rozione, who seems to know quite a bit about Himeyuka, though she has no idea who he is. Is he really just someone’s lost child, or is there a greater mystery behind his appearance?”
Sumomo Yumeka is a creator who has several other of her works published in English and as an owner of each one, I was happy to see another of her titles licensed by Yen Press. Unlike the majority of her other English-books, Himeyuka & Rozione’s Story isn’t a boys’ love but instead a sombre shoujo-styled collection of short stories that shows us a Yakuza, a Witch, a Robot and a Doll are all capable of feeling and their stories equally as capable at making us feel for them as a result.
The first of these four stories is the book’s namesake – Himeyuki and Rozoine’s Story. It stars a critical teenager out on her own, a young woman named Himeyuki. Determined to prove she’s an adult and independent, she has an air of bitterness around her in regards to being viewed as a child. She returns to her new apartment one day only to find it’s been coated in colourful graffiti and the culprit, a young boy, suddenly attaches himself to her. The true identity of the boy comes across predictable early on but it’s still executed well enough to be sweet and sort of nostalgic feeling all the same. My favourite part though was actually how Himeyuki handled the boy, strict but kind, but also by bringing him to the landlord and then eventually calling the police. Little touches of realism like this always stand out to me and I appreciated the grounding feeling they provide to stories, especially with more symbolic elements such as this one.
The following story was my personal favourite of the bunch. It’s so very predictable but no less charming a romance story. It revolves around a young women who is actually the daughter of a Yakuza family and very adept at fighting, which she uses to secure and defend family territory. She’s fallen in love with a pacifist at her work however, and in lieu of an upcoming arranged marriage, wants to spend as much time as she can with him before she must marry someone she’s never met or seen before. Can you see where this is going? I really like how the story wrapped up with the explanations garnered and the vague happily ever after that gives short stories like this that feel-good finish.
‘My Very Own Shalala’ is the next story in the book and takes the quirk-level a step farther. It opens up by introducing a half-witch on a mission to secure the tears of the first man she meets in order to gain stronger magical ability. Taking on the guise of a teenage boy herself, she and her trusty magical sidekick enrol in the same school as a boy she meets by happen-chance upon arriving in the human world. Admittedly I was thrown for a loop by her androgynous character design, and topped with turning into a boy, I spent the whole time my first read through being unsure if this was a boys’ love tease story or if the witch was actually a girl. I should’ve just trusted the skirt, sort of a dead giveaway (in most cases). Either way, I found Shalala the witch on the annoying side myself, too wishy-washy and teary for me to really feel compelled to sympathize with her and the lacking relevance of her being a witch, past trying to hide her identity with magic, was disappointing. It was still fairly cute but really, I couldn’t help but feel it actually being a boys’ love story would’ve been a big help adding a much needed extra ‘quirk’ factor.
Sumomo Yueka’s art will always keep me coming back for more however, even if the stories don’t always chime as well with me. I like the ethereal feeling it has, the sketchiness of the line work and how delicate all the characters look. It’s such a pretty style and it works really well with the supernatural subject matter she often likes to use in her plots.
Short story anthologies unfortunately have a tendency of putting their weakest last, which has the disappointing effect of leaving readers with a sour end note. This book is no exception, the final story leaving me more than a little underwhelmed. The art is still lovely and the mood is still pleasantly airy in nature, despite the overall darker themes of this chapter, but that’s where the charm ends. Titled ‘Robot’, the story follows a boy who’s, well, a robot in a future world where he lives with his robot ‘sister’ of sorts and a human woman referred to as Gran. Gran doesn’t say or do much but in her original incarnation she was the original creator of the aforementioned boy. Each time she dies, the robot brings her back as a clone where as he’s then left to suffer the sadness of losing her again and again. It’s a mish-mashed story with plot elements and moments of over-explaining that all eventually lead to nowhere. And at the end they jump out of a window… for some reason. Like all the stories in this collection it does have a very short scenes that are still very strong at conveying emotion but they’re not enough to save this one from the bulk of its flaws.
This book as a whole doesn’t break any new ground or offer anything too far from the usual as far as dramatic short stories go, but regardless of some lacking oomph-factor, it’s unique presentation of more classic themes coupled with Sumomo Yumeka’s atmospheric art make it a pleasant read. It can serve as a good introduction to her style of storytelling while at the same time be another enjoyable addition to the shelf of any already a fan of her work.