Shojo fans may already be familiar with mangaka Mika Yamamori thanks to Daytime Shooting Star or ongoing In the Clear Moonlit Dusk. She’s a prolific author with several titles to her name both in Japan and here in the Western market. The latest to make its way to English is Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet, which I’m here to take a look at today. Does it prove a must-have? Let’s find out!
Our story follows second-year high school student Fumi Oono, whose world comes crashing down one day when her single father admits that due to mounting debts and a loan shark coming after him, they’re going to be evicted. Thankfully, thanks to his contacts, Fumi’s father manages to find her a job as a live-in housekeeper where she’ll be paid and safe until they can deal with the debts.
It turns out that Fumi is working for author Akatsuki Kibikino, who has no interest in anything besides working on his novel. He and Fumi immediately get off on the wrong foot when he realises she’s not an older lady like he expected and is instead a teenager, whom he doesn’t believe will be capable of doing the work. Her insistent nagging that he should eat a warm meal occasionally only further annoys him.
Fumi is used to running a household due to her mother having passed away and her father constantly working, so this is the perfect role for her. Especially when rent and food are free so she’s not having to balance the books like at home! Despite Akatsuki not making a great first impression, she’s not going to quit and works hard to prove his assumptions wrong, no matter what it takes. After all, this is home for now and she’s grateful to have a roof over her head, no matter how annoying Akatsuki may be.
Much like Mika Yamamori’s Daytime Shooting Star series, it appears that Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet is setting up an age-gap romance. It’s not clearly stated how old Akatsuki is, but it’s not difficult to assume he’s in his early 20s which is quite different to Fumi who’s still in high school. The author is trying to muddy the waters by having Akatsuki take up a bit of a surrogate father role as the book goes on and there’s a transfer student in Fumi’s class who currently hates her, due to an incident from their childhood but will probably fall for her as time goes on. Yamamori’s other works prove that she won’t always take the predictable route when it comes to romance, so even if you don’t like age-gap series, I wouldn’t jump ship just yet.
Even if we do go the age-gap route, I’m not sure I would dislike that because Fumi is such a strong, independent character and it doesn’t feel like there’s a huge gap in maturity between them. Not least because Akatsuki is a shut-in who cannot take care of himself or anything unrelated to his work.
Fumi being such a strong character is certainly what’s most appealing about this series. The set-up is a little generic for a shojo manga, but Fumi carries it with her optimistic and frankly adorable attitude toward life. She has a surprising amount of depth too, not always being as happy-go-lucky as she first appears. It’s clear that while she has a cheerful outlook on life, the hardships she’s faced have left their mark and seeing them occasionally come to the surface helps her feel human to us readers.
The art is another good reason to check this one out. Yamamori draws her art within small panels with an emphasis on following characters’ emotions and reactions to a given situation. It’s something I’ve always liked about Yamamori’s series since she’s so good at giving us little snapshots into what our heroine might be thinking even if the feelings go unsaid. Despite how clean and polished the art feels, Yamamori is happy to have fun with it and depict the characters a little off-model or change how they’re shaded in places to ensure a joke lands correctly. She has fun with it, which in turn means we’re having fun reading it.
As previously mentioned, Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press where it has been translated by Taylor Engel with lettering by Lys Blakeslee. The translation reads well with some useful translation notes at the back of the book. However, I was a little surprised that there was no monetary reference, given Fumi regularly talks about the cost of things and that’s retained in Yen. Usually, there’s at least a point of reference between panel margins giving readers an estimation of how much that is in dollars or even in the translation notes but that’s not the case here. Not a huge problem when we have Google at our fingertips, but still a surprising omission.
The series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes in total. Yen Press currently have Volume 2 scheduled for an English release in January with #3 to follow in April which is quite a quick schedule for this delightful manga.
Overall, Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet is off to a wonderful start. The premise is a little on the generic side and the age-gap romance brewing may put off some readers, but the strength of our plucky heroine will firmly pull us along for the ride as her story unfolds. If nothing else I am always happy to see more by this author available in English!