Papillon Volumes 1-3 by Miwa Ueda

Miwa Ueda is the author of fan favorite Peach Girl, so how does Papillon compare? I have to admit I only read a few volumes of Peach Girl, and I checked them out from the library years ago, so my memories of the previous series are hazy. But Papillon seems to explore the same sort of dynamic of a downtrodden heroine that Peach Girl had, slightly updated with a gloss of pop psychology.

Papillon Volume 1

The downtrodden heroine in Papillon is Ageha, a teenage girl who was raised in the country by her grandmother and then forced to join her parents and twin sister in the city when her grandmother got sick. Ageha’s twin Hana is a vivacious and popular girl who curls her hair and wears short skirts. Many of the students at the twins’ high school view Hana as a bit of a slut, due to her boyfriend hopping habits. Ageha wears glasses, has blotchy skin, and possesses little sense of style. Ageha has a crush on Ryusei, who used to be her childhood playmate when his family came to the country. He doesn’t know that the teen Ageha is the girl he used to play with because Ageha doesn’t feel like she can approach him.

Ageha is abandoned to man a cafe at a school fair all by herself when suddenly a man wearing a giant horse mask runs into the room and asks her to hide him. He ducks under a table. A gaggle of school girls runs by asking where Kyo chan is and runs off again when they can’t spot him. The horse man demands coffee. Ageha tells him the cafe is closed. He demands coffee again, and Ageha gives in and starts preparing it. He takes off his horse mask to reveal that he’s a handsome older man.

As he’s drinking his coffee, the man with the mask starts rummaging through Ageha’s datebook, finding some pictures she’s saved of her and Ryusei. He asks if she likes the boy in the photo, and draws a dialog balloon over Ageha in the photo saying “We’re seeing each other!” and adds the caption “Madly in love!” Ageha doesn’t react well to her precious photo being vandilized, and the man tells her that her problem is her attitude. She’s given up on a relationship with Ryusei before even trying, and she needs to think positive and say her goals aloud in order to achieve her dream. Ageha decides to give it a try. She wonders if the man is a strange motivational speaker as Ryusei comes back to the cafe.

As Ryusei comes in the room the horse man hands him a photo of Ruysei and Ageha as children and makes a reference to Ryusei being Ageha’s old childhood friend. Ryusei is shocked that Ageha is the “Age-Chan” he remembers from childhood. Ageha and Ryusei make plans to visit her grandmother in the hospital…and here is where the subplot of evil twin sister is introduced. Hana invites herself along on the visit. She offers to style Ageha for the outing, and then shows up in a similar but much better looking outfit. The trio then conveniently happen to run into a boyfriend of Hana’s on their way to the hospital, and he is abusive to Hana in a way that seems like it might be a set-up to inspire Ryusei’s sympathy. Soon Hana and Ryusei are going out, Ageha’s secret picture is discovered and waved around the classroom, Ryusei formally rejects her, and she’s up on the roof trying to climb over a chain link fence when a man comments that she has nice panties.

It is Mr. Horse, and he reveals that he is Hayato Ichijiku, the school guidance counselor. He drags Ageha down to his office and tells her to work on adjusting her attitude again. He tells her to be open and admit her feelings for Ryusei. Even though some of her classmates may bully her, she’ll also likely find supporters. Ageha goes back to her classroom and stands up for herself, beginning a transformation into a more self-confident woman.

Ueda’s art is accomplished and extremely girly, even for the shoujo genre. Ageha is always fighting back repressed tears, and all the characters have bee-stung lips.

Papillon Volume 2

At the end of Volume 1, yet another opportunity to spend time with Ryusei is foiled, when Hana calls him just as he is about to meet Ageha to vist her grandmother again. Ichijiku meets up with Ageha just in time for them to see Hana and Ryusei embrace. Ryusei calls Ageha’s cell phone and cancels. Ichijiku offers to meet Ageha later in the day once he’s done with college. At dinner Ichijiku continues to tell Ageha to be strong and go after Ryusei. They talk about her feelings of inadequacy and fear of abandonment. Ageha wears glasses to be invisible because she wants to escape the notice of her mother. When Ageha was reunited with her family her mother would always downplay Ageha’s accomplishments if it appeared that she might surpass Hana.

Ichijiku ends up using some unusual psychological methods in order to med the rift between Ageha and her mother. For a guidance counselor in training, he’s certainly free with his comments about Ageha’s bra size and jokes about her paying him back for his help with her body. After all the drama, Ageha almost forgets her feelings for Ryusei. When she runs into him again and he apologises for canceling her date, she isn’t upset at all. What upsets her instead is the sight of Ichijiku walking around with an attractive woman. She takes refuge in snacks when she gets a call from him summoning her to his apartment. Is it a romantic tryst? No, he wants her to babysit the twin toddlers he has clinging to him. After saying “Understanding and acknowledging motherhood will heal your pain.” he promptly falls asleep on the sofa.

Ageha and Ichijiku then go on a mock date. He tells her to practice her Ryusei moves. As they wind up on top of a ferris wheel, Ageha reveals that she’s been affected by all of the positive change and encouragement Ichijiku has given her, and she’s been falling in love with him. She asks him if she can be his girlfriend.

Papillon Volume 3

The third volume opens with an misunderstanding of mistaken identity that shows Ichijiku to be a little stupid, especially for someone studying human behavior. Hana arrives at school with straight hair after getting wet, and he mistakes her for Ageha. Hana plays up the mistake as much as possible, going on a date with the guidance counselor as Ageha and acting like a spoiled brat in order to derail her sister’s relationship. One of the things I like about Papillon is the hints that Hana may be somewhat more complex than her role as evil twin suggests. The expressions on her face are sometimes at odds with her actions, and early on in the series when a classmate of Ageha’s attempts to get Hana to persecute her sister, Hana shoots her down. I’d like to think that Hana realizes how mean and superficial she’s being and how shallow and manipulative her relationship with Ryusei is, but I guess I’ll have to wait for future volumes to see if more of her character is revealed.

Ageha and Ichijiku continue their relationship despite all the misunderstandings that continue to plague them. Ageha also encounters her boyfriend’s mentor, who also wears a horse mask. This character quality is never explained. I guess they just hand out horse masks at psychology classes in all of Japan’s finest universities? I found the masks delightfully surreal. I swapped some other manga for this series, and I think if I had actually paid for Papillon, I would probably have been a little disappointed. Although Ageha’s attempts to change are admirable, her essential doormat-like personality isn’t quite changing fast enough. And while Ichijiku is plenty cute, it is a little creepy that he’s willing to date a high school student. But even though I’m not overcome with sympathy for the characters, there is still a train wreck quality to Papillon that makes for compelling reading. It isn’t as additively trashy as Miki Aihara’s works, but it has the same type of soapy appeal. At this point I’ve invested enough time in this series that I’m curious to see what happens next.