Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Portrait of M & N Volume 4

By Tachibana Higuchi. Released in Japan as "M to N no Shouzou" by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

Honestly, this manga continues to drive me crazy. Despite all attempts at comedy (and there are some here, though not as many as Volume 3), this continues to be a series about watching a fragile, shy young girl get horribly abused by life. At least with Gakuen Alice Mikan was allowed to be spunky and upbeat. Whereas Mitsuru, a girl who glows with happiness whenever someone remotely notices her, spends much of the volume in despair about her horrible family, her somewhat callous boyfriend, and her innate masochism.

One thing I liked is that the misunderstandings from Volume 3, with her new friend Ririko thinking that she was dating Hijiri, are very quickly cleared up, allowing the two of them to stay good friends. It's always nice when an author knows which jokes to drag out and which ones can be safely stopped short. (There was also an amusing bit where the two girls hug after making up, and two passing guys go "Ah, lesbians!" "What, where? Lesbians?" It reminded me of some of the yuri fanboys I see online.)

The trip to the beach also began on a very amusing note, with Natsuhiko and company dressing up in drag and essentially kidnapping Mitsuru to get her on their vacation. (I did feel sad at one point; the Nibley twins and Jamie Rich translated one bubble as 'Big Success!' rather than 'Huge Success', missing out on a great Portal reference.) The vacation itself works less well, with a horribly shoehorned in island shipwreck designed to do nothing more than get Natsuhiko jealous; and his subsequent jealousy, which is understandable given his lack of experience with love, but his taking it out on Mitsuru is like stomping on baby ducks. Luckily, he knows this and resolves it fairly quickly. Unluckily, he resolves it by accident by getting drunk, kissing her, and sleeping on her breasts all night.

And so, after the summer vacation of awkward, we reach the culture festival of even more awkward. This is, if anything, even more uncomfortable as we're dealing with Mitsuru's wretchedly horrible family. The class is doing a cosplay cafe, with Mitsuru dressing up as The Crane Wife (from that story where the man helps an injured crane and she takes human form and marries him). This involves her wearing a very skimpy costume with a crane 'hat', something that even the most-self-possessed woman would have trouble carrying off. And once her brother and her 'intended fiancee' (something she only vaguely knew about before this, and is rather horrified to hear about) show up, things quickly descend into a giant chase.

It all ends up with a confrontation (at long last, I should add), with Mitsuru's mother slapping her across the chops for being such an ungrateful daughter. Which, naturally, gets Mitsuru to ask her to do it again harder. You can imagine how well this goes. Luckily, Natsuhiko is there to drag her off, and the volume ends with the two of them running away from her marriage interview, fiancee, and family... except now they've no idea what to do next.

The author comments that M&N was scheduled to be 2 volumes, but the author was asked to extend it, and she didn't have any other material. I think what we see here does extend naturally from the plot, but the execution... Gakuen Alice, the work she did after this, has a much better blend of comedy and gripping drama, and manages to make Mikan incredibly sympathetic without making her a doormat. Mitsuru... you want to hug her, but at the same time reading about her life is like sticking your hands in boiling tar. I want to find out how things work out for these two. Sadly, that involves reading the manga to do it.

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