‘Home Away from Home’
Seventeen-year-old high-schooler Miko Sonoda is on her way to stay in her uncle’s boarding house (a family crisis involving/caused by her ailing grandmother) when she passes a bespectacled young man ranting on his phone. When he starts to follow her, she’s terrified and sprays him with a can of deodorant (the first thing to come to hand in her luggage). Imagine her surprise – and mortification – when she arrives at her uncle’s boarding house, only to discover that her ‘stalker’ is none other than Jun Matsunaga, a respected designer, and one of her uncle’s tenants. Miko (soon nicknamed ‘Meeko’ by Matsunaga-san) is keen to make up for this very awkward start and prepares curry (the only dish she knows how to cook) as a peace offering. And once Matsunaga-san’s ruffled dignity has been restored, he takes her under his wing, helping her to settle in to her new home. It turns out that his latest design project is the cover for a high school romance by a mystery novelist. He was so angry when she first saw him because his submission had been rejected and now he needs to start over. Meeko is just the right age for the target audience – she’ll be able to give him helpful feedback, yes? Over the next days as Meeko settles in to her new life, he comes to her rescue more than once as she loses her smartphone, tries to do her laundry, and gets locked in the toilet. And as they come to know each other better, Meeko realizes that she might be developing feelings for the prickly but kind-hearted young man. If only she could find a way to help him understand what ‘cute’ means for his upcoming cover design…
The boarding house slice-of-life manga/anime trope in which the innocent young protagonist leaves home for the first time to live in a colourful household of other young people with a cute pet (a cat, Sabako, in this case) is ever-popular with writers and readers. It offers so many possibilities for romantic encounters and comedic misunderstandings – and not just the old favourite harem cliché scenarios. In Living-Room Matsuna-San the other boarders are all older than Meeko: nail artist Asako, self-effacing Akane, student Ryo and bartender Kentaro – and Meeko’s uncle is frequently away from home on business, so no sooner has he introduced his niece to the others than he’s off, leaving Matsunaga-san to take over.
This is the first manga by Keiko Iwashita to be published in English and it’s an attractively drawn and sympathetically told coming-of-age shojo tale. Kodansha have already released seven volumes of the eight-volume but ongoing series in digital and it’s proved so popular that it’s now achieved a physical release. It’s not difficult to see why as the mangaka has created a relatable heroine and a nicely balanced ‘will they, won’t they fall for each other?’ vibe. This first volume shows us Meeko’s growing realization of what it means to be part of such a disparate household. A house get-together sharing cake in which the other boarders reminisce about earlier residents makes Meeko realize, Just like me when I came…everyone else had their own “Nice to meet yous”… Which leads her to reflect, As people came in and out…all sorts of history built up, as well, and so…might have love… Could Meeko’s initial feelings about Matsunaga-san be changing and deepening? Both the art and the story-telling has a refreshing feel to it for a shojo manga – and although Meeko’s reactions and feelings are constantly to the fore (as you’d expect), Keiko Iwashita offers a realistic portrayal of what it means to move out of home for the first time.
It could be argued that shojo has the most contemporary tone of voice of all the different types of manga today. Capturing a convincingly ‘now’ vibe for the young cast of characters is essential and translator Ursula Ko has pulled this off extremely well, both in portraying their conversations/interactions and Meeko’s thoughts.
The first volume of Living-Room Matsunaga-San ends tantalisingly, tempting us to read on and find out what happens next for Meeko. If you can’t wait for the next print volume, you can, of course, go digital and carry on reading straight away!
Read the first chapter for free at the publisher’s site here.