Recently there has been a bit of a surge in josei mange being licensed for the Western market. The latest of these is new series from Kodansha Something’s Wrong With Us, which I’m here to take a look at today to find out if it’s a worthwhile read for fans of the genre.
The story revolves around 21-year-old Nao Okura, who works as a traditional Japanese sweets maker after following in the footsteps of her mother. When Nao was a child, her mother worked for a world-class confectionery company and lived on-site. Living there allowed Nao to become close friends with the owner’s son Tsubaki and their days passed peacefully.
However, one day Tsubaki’s father is murdered and Tsubaki claims Nao’s mother committed the crime. Nao can’t believe that her mother would murder anyone but, before the trial takes place, her mother passes away. In the present, Nao is unable to turn her back on making sweets and pursues her dreams, while facing hardship from those who have branded her a murderer’s daughter.
Nao’s past suddenly catches up to her, however, when she’s asked to compete against Tsubaki’s company for the chance to supply the sweets for her best friend’s wedding. Initially, Nao is hesitant but ultimately decides to take on the challenge and face Tsubaki to find out what really happened that day. Will she get to the bottom of the mystery or find herself falling in love with her childhood friend first?
This new manga from popular mangaka Natsumi Ando (Let’s Dance a Waltz, Kitchen Princess and Arisa) has crafted a compelling mystery story. The murder is framed in such a way that readers will suspect Tsubaki of the crime, but there are just enough things that don’t quite make sense to offset that conclusion (for now at least). It’s gripping, but then so too is the romance element.
As children, Tsubaki used to call Nao ‘Sakura’, due to the kanji used in her name. Having changed her family name after the death of her mother, Tsubaki has no idea who Nao is when they reunite. This gives Nao the freedom to get close to her old friend to lower his guard and gain the information she needs. It’s only a matter of time before Tsubaki learns the truth, but in the meantime, he’s committed to winning her heart and adding her talent to his company.
Beyond enjoying the mystery and romance, I also liked the contrast in the personalities of the main characters. Ando has made Nao fearless, cheerful and someone you want to root for. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is aloof, arrogant and has a short temper. While Nao is likeable, Tsubaki isn’t and that’s how it should be. Until we uncover the truth of his father’s murder, Tsubaki is a character that Nao and we as readers shouldn’t grow attached to.
Where artwork is concerned, Ando draws clean, detailed work that draws the reader in. While the style is distinctly josei, I think she does a good job of toning down the usual tropes enough to not overshadow everything else happening in the series (although Nao does cut her long hair short in Chapter 1 which is a signature of romance stories…). Characters are attractive in design but don’t feel manufactured like some series in the genre often can be, which is a nice change for the Western market.
As previously mentioned this series comes to the West thanks to Kodansha Comics and has been translated by Sawa Matsueda Savage. The translation reads well and if you want to know more about the sweets featured in the story there are four pages of translation notes at the back of the book explaining them all. Something’s Wrong With Us is on-going in Japan at 9 volumes and Kodansha has Volume 2 of the English release scheduled for July.
Natsumi Ando has crafted a very intriguing and gripping josei mystery story. This first volume sets the scene well, drawing in the reader with a likeable protagonist and unique set-up that differentiates it from other romance manga on the market. Something’s Wrong With Us is a highly recommended read!
A free preview of Volume 1 can be found on Kodansha’s website here.