Manga editor Asako Suga has just split up with her girlfriend, leaving her feeling dazed and unable to go back to the apartment they once shared. After seeing an ad for a house needing a tenant, Asako takes that as a sign to move – especially as it’s going so cheaply! Turns out there’s a reason it’s so cheap: it comes with the landlord, living in the attic space. Miyako Kitano is the landlord’s name; she’s a nineteen-year-old who doesn’t seem to know how to look after herself very well, so Asako decides to step up, and ends up uncovering Miyako’s secrets as to why she decided to become a landlord in the first place.
The mangaka Yodokawa notes in the author’s afterword at the back of this book that they were ‘burnt out’ by their previous serialization and wanted to write something ‘way more chill’ which resulted in this manga series. They do not specify which serialization they were burnt out by, and this is (so far) the only series of theirs that has been translated into English, but upon researching it seems their bread and butter is girls’ love stories, mostly one-shots, except for one series called Tora to Hacidori (Tiger and Hummingbird) which lasted four volumes. The ‘way more chill’ vibe comes across from the very first chapter; Asako is immediately hit with the break-up with the girlfriend, whom we never see, and the relationship is never spoken of in depth. Asako says she’s shaken but seems ready to move on once she sees the ad for the new home. She takes the plunge to move in, despite the live-in landlord, and begins a friendship with her. The same goes for Miss Landlord herself, Miyako, whose big secret is that she’s come out of a high-profile job (I’m keeping it vague to avoid spoilers, as the blurb on the back of book does, but I have to describe it somehow) and out in the ‘real world’ for the first time. She’s much younger than her tenant, in both age and maturity, but at the same time, Asako is not looking for a new relationship right now. So at this stage in their lives (both being at a crossroads, unsure where to go next) it seems fitting that they’re drawn together. They also have little-to-no conflict between them; yes, Miyako is a terrible cook, but Asako is happy to teach her, whilst Miyako is happy to help Asako buy new furniture that doesn’t remind her of her ex. Even when Miyako’s grandmother comes to cause a ruckus in the final chapter of this book, the conflict is solved quite quickly and amicably.
It’s safe to say that the lack of conflict and stakes in this series, may make it or break it for the audience. For me? It didn’t make me invested, which is a shame as there’s stuff here that I do like, and think could work if given better writing to back it up. Asako being a manga editor, for one thing, is something we rarely encounter in manga (normally we follow the mangaka themselves, or someone trying to break into the industry) and seeing a more mature woman coping with the fast-paced environment…is sadly not in here at all. Same goes for Miyako; her previous life as a [spoiler] again is breeding ground for exciting stakes and character bonding, there’s even more chapters where she must deal with a stalker, but it’s so milquetoast and resolved so quickly that I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of it all was.
Then there’s the yuri side of this story, which is killed by the lack of chemistry; if you’re not into age-gap romances then this manga will be best avoided, but as a lover of vampire stories (where the age-gap trope often features) I didn’t mind giving it a shot. However, it’s mostly soured by Miyako constantly calling Asako ‘onee-san’ (big sister) and the manga constantly infantilising Miyako’s character. I get that, that is probably the point, her learning to grow up and be more independent with Asako’s help, but Asako’s reciprocating the relationship by calling her ‘landlord’ but always cooking for her and looking after her, just doesn’t help matters. There may be something here, after a few manga volumes of maturity and growth between the pair, but the first volume feels more like a ‘slice-of-life/friendship’ sort-of tale, not the yuri that Yen Press has tagged it as.
It’s a bit nit-picking, but I dislike the title too; the ‘garden’ aspect of the story doesn’t come into play until two-thirds into the first volume, and they’re not meeting up monthly ‘cos they live in the same house and Asako cooks for her all the time. According to Wikipedia, the title is meant to be referring to a line in the legal contract Asako signs, saying in the original Japanese, ‘monthly, with garden, with landlady’ but that wording is not translated in the manga, it’s not clear or exact enough to make the title click with the audience, and nothing is mentioned in the translation notes either. Without that context, the title just comes across as a marketing department thinking that ‘light novels have long titles – so let’s give our manga a long title too!’
The one thing I can’t complain about however is the art: Yodokawa’s style is very distinct and pretty to look at. The leading ladies are soft on the eyes, with distinct fashion tastes to sell the characters just by sight; the house itself looks bare at first (intentionally so for story reasons) but there’s a floorplan of the house at the back of the book that clearly lays out where they live and how many rooms the house has. There’s very nice use of shading and facial expressions are well done too. The translation by Stephen Paul is easy to read, with some translator’s notes provided at the back, and it does a nice job of making Miyako’s Kansai accent come across on the page.
Monthly in the Garden with My Landlord is a dud of a starter for this new LGBT series; the slice-of-life yuri fails to find a balance between making a chill manga more engaging, or a yuri manga with actual chemistry between the leads. It’s a shame, but monthly or otherwise, I can’t recommend signing up for this landlord.