Spoilers Ahead if you haven’t read Volume 1!
‘From the cradle to the grave… the Hebinuma Group will be with you every step of the way.’
Reiko Kujirai, single, thirty-two, working for a Japanese realtor in Kowloon, has a problem: she can’t remember anything of her past life. So, why does this photo she’s just found tucked in the files in her colleague Hajime Kudou’s desk drawer show her and Kudou smiling at the camera? They look so happy. And why is it captioned: ‘Reiko and Hajime – Congratulations!’ Then there’s the barman who greeted her so warmly at the Goldfish Teahouse and told her he took the photo at their engagement party. When she goes back to ask him what he meant, it turns out that he’s quit his job.
Is there any way she could be the (the same) Reiko Kujirai as the one in the photo when Kudou treats her as if she were nothing more than an (annoying) work colleague? She has feelings for Kudou, that’s certain – but he’s already rejected her and returned to treating her in his usual jokey, distancing manner around the office.
Kujirai is spending more time in the company of Yaomay, the young and stylish seamstress she met when there was a complaint about noise coming from one of their apartments. She shares her worries with Yaomay and they begin to call the ‘other girl’ in the photo ‘Kujirai B’. Yet Kujirai A is aware that by continuing to wear glasses like Kujirai B (when her vision is 20/20) she’s somehow trying to be someone other than herself, even though she’s not entirely sure why – and is only setting herself up for more heartache and disappointment.
When the renowned Hebinuma Medical Group arrives in Kowloon, promising amazing beauty treatments and health check-ups, the two friends eagerly take up the offer of free consultations. After all, Yaomay has already confided in Kujirai that she’s completely reinvented herself by having extensive plastic surgery. Suddenly the Hebinuma Group is all over the media; there’s even a televised press conference in which the representative director announces their participation in the Generic Terra Construction Project ‘in an advisory capacity’. However, after going through various assessments, Reiko Kujirai is ushered in to see none other than Dr Miyuki Hebinuma himself. A little overawed, she tells him she’d like to lose the crow’s feet that Kudou has unkindly teased her about – and he reacts to this in an unexpected and genuinely terrifying way, causing her to flee. Does he know something about her missing past? Why do Dr Hebinuma’s words continue to resonate in her memory? “What matters is you exist here and now. That fact is more marvellous than any other.”
Kowloon Walled City is still very much the star of this intriguing and compelling manga; Jun Mayuzuki treats us to little glimpses down alleyways, mysterious passageways that seem to lead nowhere, overcrowded shopping streets crammed with enticing little restaurants; you can almost smell the street food sizzling on stoves. But high in the sky far above old Kowloon, Generic Terra gleams, occasionally catching the light of the sun, a promise of a futuristic society… As yet, we’ve been told very little about it. Although with the arrival of Miyuki Hebinuma, there’s a real buzz of excitement – and the glamorous aura exuding from the wealthy young beautician and his team of even more glamorous assistants is very seductive indeed.
However, at the beginning of this volume, Jun Mayuzuki takes us back to when Hajime Kudou first arrived at the Kowloon real estate office from Japan. Reiko Kujirai shows him around Kowloon, takes him to her favourite backstreet restaurant, introduces him to the group of elderly men she’s befriended who love to play mah-jong every day. “I’m in love… with Kowloon,” she tells Kudou, likening the feeling of nostalgia that the city evokes in her to the state of being in love.
Nevertheless, it’s the relationship between Kujirai and Kudou that these chapters focus on – the spats, the disagreements over little matters in and out of the office, his hostility, her honest confusion: what has she done or said to make him react so angrily? In one telling night scene, though, his attitude towards her softens a little as the clouds part overhead and he gazes up at Generic Terra, appearing like the moon high above, saying, “Gene Terra’s shining extra bright tonight.”
The symbolism used by Hebinuma is inescapable by the end of this volume, although Jun Mayuzuki employs it with a light and even mischievous touch. Nevertheless, the company’s cute little snake avatar begins to manifest itself in rather more disturbing ways as Dr. Hebinuma takes an interest in Kujirai (‘hebi’ means ‘snake’ in Japanese). Check out the print given as a gift by Hebinuma to the Wong Loi Realty Company!
Yen Press are really doing justice to Jun Mayuzuki’s wonderfully detailed art by presenting Kowloon Generic Romance in trade paperback format and it’s good to have a couple of colour pages at the front as well. The excellent translation is again by Amanda Haley, and she and letterer Abigail Blackman work together to show us how many ‘Good luck’ signs are everywhere: on walls, doors, inside shops, restaurants and offices. Here, the translation notes at the back are very helpful too to explain some of the less obvious ones, such as Kowloon currency, food-related menu items or Kujirai purposely addressing Kudou as ‘Mr. Kudou’ when she’s annoyed with him (it’s done with the use of formal speech in Japanese but needs localizing differently for English). Again, this volume comes shrink-wrapped, with the slightly mystifying rating of ‘M Mature’, with the Parental Advisory label on the front cover.
This is such a rich, layered and intriguing story that it repays several re-readings; Jun Mayuzuki is one of those rare mangaka who manages to combine a distinctive and detailed graphic style with the ability to create fascinating characters and keep the reader turning the pages. The good news is that Volume 3 is due out in April 2023 from Yen Press. Highly recommended!