Marmalade Boy Volumes 1-8 by Wataru Yoshizumi
Instead of reading the new manga in my recent DCBS shipment, I’ve been spending the past few days immersed in the out of print Tokyopop series Marmalade Boy. Although this series is out of print, I don’t think it would be too hard to pick up the complete series through ebay or through finding used copies on Amazon. I got all my eight volumes through Paperbackswap.com. An interesting bit of trivia about this series is that it appears to be the first unflipped manga Tokyopop put out! So in addition to being an entertaining shoujo series it is a part of manga publishing history 🙂
The plot of Marmalade Boy begins with a sudden wacky wife-swapping premise. Miki is an ordinary high school student. She’s sitting around drinking tea with her parents when they smilingly announce that they are getting divorced. They say that while they were on vacation in Hawaii they met another couple, the Matsuras. Miki’s Mom fell in love with Mr. Matsura and her dad fell in love with Mrs. Matsura. The feelings were mutual, so they’ve decided to get divorced, swap partners, and remarry.
Miki freaks out and complains to her best friend Meiko at school. Meiko notices that the situation has improved Miki’s can-crushing abilities as Miki lashes out in frustration. Miki leaves school for a family dinner with her parents and the Matsuras. She thinks that even though her parents are weird, they are still her parents, and she has to stop them from following through with their insane plan. Miki is shocked to see that the Matsuras seem nice and normal. They say they have a son named Yuu, and Miki looks forward to a potential ally in stopping the parent swapping insanity, thinking “someone else to relate to my suffering!”
Yuu ends up being an extremely cute boy who is Miki’s age. She bursts out with her objections to the plan and is amazed that Yuu is nonchalantly accepting the whole situation. The parents say that they are going ahead with their plan and they will rent a big house and live together as a family of six. Miki gives up, but doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation. As they start moving in together Yuu starts teasing Miki, calling her ugly and leaving behind a wad of gum as a souvenir when he shakes her hand in friendship. Miki’s normal happy and energetic personality is dampened by her strange new living conditions.
Miki’s mother warns her “Don’t fall in love with Yuu,” saying that it would be confusing if the two teenagers started dating. So it is easy to see where the series is heading! Yuu starts attending Miki’s school. She wants to keep their unconventional family arrangement a secret. Yuu is immediately popular with the girls at school, but his cool and reserved personality makes it seem like he is always holding something back. Yuu notices that Miki is close with a boy named Ginta who is in her tennis club. Miki confessed her love to Ginta years ago and was rejected in the worst possible way, by seeing Ginta commenting to his friends about the love letter she wrote to him. Ginta and Yuu are suspicious of each other. While Yuu continues to tease Miki, he also comforts her when she gets upset by her parents’ antics. After Miki gets sent to the infirmary at school Yuu visits her. She pretends to be asleep because she’s afraid that he’s going to tease her. Instead, he kisses her. Miki finds Yuu simultaneously irritating and fascinating.
Meiko is concerned about Ginta’s actions as he starts to display signs of jealousy. Meiko sees Miki’s interest in Yuu is a sign that she’s getting over Ginta’s rejection from before, and she warns Ginta not to interfere. One of the things I like most about Marmalade Boy is the feeling of warmth the reader gets from reading about the relationships between the characters. While plenty of drama happens, it is firmly within the context of people connecting with and caring for each other.
The first volume concludes with Ginta abruptly kissing Miki, Miki becoming aware of her growing feelings for Yuu, and the appearance of the inevitable interfering girl – Yuu’s ex-girlfriend Arimi.
Volumes 2 and 3
The next volumes deal with the developing love triangle between Miki, Ginta, and Yuu. Ginta and Yuu confront each other outside Miki’s house. Ginta tells Yuu that looking at him makes him sick. Yuu responds “I don’t get sick looking at you, but you’re not even worth wasting energy on.” Ginta is left outside to yell in frustration. When Ginta’s jealousy over Yuu lead him to tell Miki that he loves her, Miki is understandably confused about her feelings and she relies on Meiko for support. Yuu hasn’t done anything to acknowledge the kiss he gave Miki when she was faux-sleeping. Miki comments “Who do I like more? I have to consider everything very carefully. You know, I don’t think I care much for either of them anymore.” Meiko counsels, “Let’s not go crazy now!”
Yuu discovers that Meiko has a secret – she’s been meeting with her teacher Mr. Namura in the deserted library. Yuu promises her that he won’t tell anyone, and asks if Miki knows. Meiko has kept her relationship a secret from her best friend. The boys are forced together to play a doubles tennis match against a rival school, and Ginta’s feelings for Miki cause him to lose his focus. As Miki is sorting out her feelings she realizes that she feels awkward around Ginta and comfortable around Yuu. They share everyday moments like going shopping or sitting on a park bench.
The lovelorn duo of Ginta and Arimi decide to pretend that they are dating each other in an attempt to inspire some jealousy from their objects of affection. Unfortunately things don’t work out as they planned, and Miki and Yuu grow closer even if they aren’t officially dating. Miki’s life is disrupted when the truth comes out at school about Meiko and Mr. Nakamura’s relationship, although her parents use the revelation as an opportunity to discuss the allure of teacher-student forbidden love. Miki is shocked to find out that she didn’t know what her best friend was going through. Yuu supports both Meiko and Miki as they patch together their friendship again.
Volumes 4, 5, and 6
In the middle of the series the reader begins to learn more about the reasons why Yuu often seems to hold himself apart from other people. He thinks his mother had an affair before she married, and his father isn’t his biological father. Miki helps Yuu deal with meeting a man who might be his father, and in the emotional aftermath they acknowledge their feelings for each other and start dating. They decide to keep their relationship a secret from their deranged parents.
Miki starts a part-time job with the hope of saving up money in order to go on a vacation with Yuu. Meiko channels the sadness about her relationship with her teacher and her innate bookishness to produce an award-winning first novel. Even though Ginta and Arimi initially started seeing each other as a way of tricking Yuu and Miki, they start growing closer. Throughout all the drama and outside events that effect their lives the bonds between the characters remain strong.
Volumes 7 and 8
In the final two volumes, the characters are all growing up and beginning to come into their own. Meiko decides to fight for her relationship with her former teacher. Yuu is still trying to discover the identity of his real father, and his tendency to keep things to himself threatens to derail his relationship with Miki forever. But with a manga filled with earnest and happy characters, there’s never any real doubt how the series will conclude.
The plot elements and character types in Marmalade Boy aren’t unexpected, but the emotional core of the story is very sweet. The occasional interjection of antic humor from Miki and Yuu’s parents helps to balance the drama and tears that accompany the ups and downs of teenage romance.
The art in Marmalade Boy is clean and crisp. Being immersed in 90s era manga art made me realize that many of the newer series that exhibit a reliance on tone are often too overdecorated for their own good, resulting in confusing flow between the panels. I never had to stop and wonder what was going on in Marmalade Boy, and the clear art made reading the manga a pleasure. Simplicity is sometimes hard to pull off well, and even though some of the plot elements in Marmalade Boy may be typical shoujo, the combination of humor, drama, and the genuine warmth of the characters’ relationships make this series a classic. Even though it is out of print, I encourage you to track this series down and read it.