The slice-of-life genre is a blend of contradictions. While it is supposed to be a generalized portrayal of the beauty in everyday life, it often veers into a depiction of unrealistic ideals; an inevitable route unto escapism.
However, when it deviates in such a manner; it is not due to the author’s incompetence. In writing something of this genre one must embrace the uniqueness of each and every person, including their eccentricities and the slice-of-life genre suddenly transforms into a unique tale of the protagonist’s victory against that persistent villain called fate. Their struggles are relatable and yet not but the reader is compelled to root for them, and celebrate their minor victories.
And therefore, I firmly believe that those who can weave a graceful tale out of the simple and mundane are the greatest author’s in existence.
It is in this context that I would like to talk about two manga based on this difficult genre: Tsurezure Children and Machida-kun no sekai.
Love is perhaps the most common theme of any work of art and it has a broad spectrum ranging from the completely platonic ‘puppy love’ to the outright erotica. Indeed these portrayals leave the viewer or reader utterly clueless, making them imagine various scenarios that may differ from the actual meaning of love for them, a meaning that will be singular to them alone.
Tsurezure Children (author: Wakabayashi Toshiya) is a beautiful example of love that seems to be a compromise of sorts in this regard. With more than sixteen pairings depicted, it would have been criminal to be bent on showing only the platonic side of things when it comes to adolescent relationships.
So while you have one couple (Haruhiko Takase and Saki Kanda) who are struggling with the mere act of confessing their feelings you have another (Chiaki Uchimura and Kana Iijima) trying to humorously take their relationship to the next level (from just hanging out to skinship) while yet another pairing (Ryouko Kaji and Masafumi Akagi) have an unbelievably straightforward beginning to their relationship.
Four couples (Ayaka Kamine and Takeru Gouda, Jun Furuya and Yuki Minagawa, Patricia Caulfield and Keisuke Tsuji and Mai Toujo and Taichi Ogiue) are riddled with constant miscommunication and ambiguity and contribute to substantial part of the humour.
The thought of being unlovable due to one’s perceived shortcomings or eccentricities has also been depicted in three pairings (Takao Yamane and Chiyo Kurihara, Chizuru Takano and Takurou Sugahara and Yukari Nashimoto and Kazuya Sonobe). Another relationship (Haruka Saejima and Chihiro Souma) turns on its head the established concepts of what one sex views in the other as attractive. But the most quirky pair has to be the dry pair of Yoshiharu Sunagawa and Fuyumi Toda, who went mechanically into a relationship out of mere curiosity; creating an extremely laughable read.
The pairing of Youichi Kirihara and Sayaka Chiba explores the forbidden territory of a student-teacher relationship, adding more to the rich mix of characters.
In keeping with the concept of maintaining variety we also have the depictions of more clichéd relationships like those based on childhood friends (Yuuki Kaga and Kaoru Nanase), dogged pursuit (Shinichi Katori and Kazuko Hosokawa and Alice Himemiya and Akimasa Noro) and of constant bickering evolving to love (Erika Shibasaki and Shinji Ubukata). The fact that the manga is still ongoing renders me incapable of commenting on the two pairings (Satsuka Sasahara and Hideki Yukawa and Tomomichi Motoyama and Iori Enomoto) which seem to be an example of a friendship evolving to love.
That all these characters are students in the same school and have interactions with each other lends immense realism and complexity to the manga. Each of the pairings have interesting backgrounds and do not seem like shallow caricatures and the reader will have a wry smile or two while going through their endearing conversations.
There is also a rich mix of supporting characters reminding the reader that despite the large number of couplings, the school is not a lover’s park. Again it is they who flesh out the manga and bring some of the most interesting moments. Worthy of mention here would be the chapter depicting a conversation between Minagawa and Jun’s possessive sister Hotaru and the somewhat perverted mother of Chiaki who barges in to the bedroom while Chiaki and Kana are attempting to make out, asking them if they are using contraception! ( I must add Kana’s mother had given her some already!)
The artwork is minimalistic, and readers have to be careful about mixing up the characters, especially the boys.
This manga is exclusively for those who want to enjoy a mild laugh over scenarios born out of social awkwardness and take delight in reading simplistic, heartwarming tales of love; fans of raucous, innuendo-laced or slapstick humour are bound to be disappointed.
Machida-kun no sekai:
The slice-of-life genre of manga has a particular tendency of exalting the ordinary and celebrating the mundane which can be highly misleading. The ordinary people who are celebrated are in truth far from it, it is just that fate has denied them a spotlight and rendered them like unsung heroes. However, in the ideal world of manga they are not truly unseen, their subtle contributions acknowledged with equal subtlety.
Machida-kun no sekai (author: Ando Yuki) is one such manga. The protagonist is an ordinary boy Hajime Machida, given to helping everyone for he sees the world as a family. While living a selfless life of service, he is prone to self-pity only to experience a moment of acknowledgement from the loved ones around him.
Hajime’s straightforward approach to solving the problems of everyone’s lives around him touches their hearts and has certainly left one of them, Nana Inohara deeply enamoured with him.
But loving everyone also means that he has become unable to differentiate the generic love from the more specific feelings of a particular friend of his although he’s slowly, very slowly, beginning to understand the basics of those as well.
By this point the reader might have developed an inclination to self-pity themselves, assuming that such things can only happen in the make-believe world of literature until they read chapter 11, which will leave the emotional, introspective reader stunned for certain, making them question their efforts in expressing love and gratitude, after all Gandhi said,”the hardest fibre must melt in the fire of love. If it does not melt, it is because the fire is not strong enough.”
The artwork does not focus much in the background but the characters are drawn in an extremely detailed form.
This manga is recommended for those who are on the threshold of becoming cynics. It is a beautiful reaffirmation of our potential to touch the lives of those around us and at the same time a glaring reminder that love lies in sincere words and actions.
P.S. : As a responsible person, it is my duty to encourage all readers to buy the author’s works and discourage piracy. However, I must admit guilty to piracy. (Only the extremely popular ones are sold in India, and in the absence of local publishing are quite expensive.)