Given the continuing hubbub surrounding “women’s place” in geekdom, I thought I’d make a foray into Josei manga, which have slowly but steadily increased in number over the last year. The first one on my list was Happy Marriage?! (Hapi Mari) by Maki Enjoji, released by Viz.
Technically, the title is released under the Shojo Beat line of comics, which targets young women between about ten and twenty-one, but this one stands out among the rest as a particularly mature title. It has slapstick comedy, the airy art style, and a few plot tropes to go along with its youthful comrades, but the story is about a working woman who finds herself in an arranged marriage, and tried to unravel how love is born — and what commitment really means.
The story feels almost like a visual novel in terms of flavor. The story is serious, especially the undertones of Chiwa’s background circumstances. But her emotional commitment to the story is “Well, try something and see what happens.” In a way, it’s refreshing, because the story has that shojo rom-com level of impact rather than a J-Drama one, where every episode would be on the brink of emotional disaster. It’s a good, light read for when you’re wanting something to think about with relationships, but not too hard.
What I identify with most is that Chiwa is a working woman. She has two jobs, and the marriage for money and status isn’t even her idea. She would rather work hard than take it easy, and even when she’s handed an easy life, she doesn’t take it — she continues to work at her job, and avoids all “high status” occasions on principal. Chiwa’s not trapped in her situation like many a romance story would paint this scenario, and when she encounters challenges that every person has in a new situation — insecurity, jealousy, leadership, lack of emotional connection — she takes a pragmatic approach that’s quite enviable, the way I love shojo for. The issues in the book, and the approach to them, certainly resonate with economies on both sides of the ocean, and presents it in a way that seems utterly natural.
The male lead, Hokuto, is drawn borderline scuzzy and with borderline-BL facial proportions, of which I have never been a fan. His character design is a bit bland other than its hair, but the author apologizes for making him look “somewhat criminal,” so I’ll look past it. Where Hokuto shines, though, is his personality.
Hokuto, Chiwa’s new husband, is likewise forced into the situation, but is more committed to fidelity and the relationship than Chiwa is, and to helping Chiwa get more familiar around him. It’s not a desperate puppy thing, either; he’s refreshingly mature, and for the most part knows who he is. Occasionally, personality and spunk of his pops through; I wish there were more of it because it’s good. It bodes well for character development in future volumes.
The setting has a standard shojo/rom-com circuity to it: a simple series of locations, but new situations as the relationship progresses. We get to see a woman in her workplace dealing with her bosses, her coworkers, her goals, and then coming home to a place that’s not so homey, with the occasional “field trip” elsewhere to keep things varied.
Often, the plot falls victim to moving via contrived physical mischief — tripping naked over someone in the dark, running into a love motel to escape pursuers. The logic Hokuto espouses in trying to get Chiwa physically comfortable with him is a little iffy; it’s used in order to make the story move in a standard fashion. Overall, that facet is tolerable, and is redeemed by the end of the volume with an expanded explanation.
When I saw the couple playing on a Nintendo Wii together — and actually enjoying themselves — that’s when I knew this is a story that speaks to modern youth, and is going to show value as the story progresses. So, if you are a twenty-something who wants a manga about relationships that’s set in a workplace rather than a high school, check this one out. You might find a few valuable tidbits in there along with all the fun.