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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Manga Review: Suzunari!

Suzunari! volumes 1 & 2 (complete series)
Shoko Iwami
Yen Press
128 pages (v.1); 128 pages (v.2)
Kaede Takamura's teenage life swerves to the brink of insanity when she comes face to face with her twin...or does she? Suzu is practically the mirror-image of Kaede - except for having cat ears and a tail and being far more well-endowed than Kaede thinks any teenager ought to be. But the Takamuras have no qualms about bringing this strange, happy-go-lucky catgirl into their home. With Suzu completely ignorant of the ways of modern society, it's going to be a very long year for poor Kaede. (Source: Goodreads)
Quick, name a 4-koma manga that has actually been wildly successful! Okay, you thought of Lucky Star, right? Now name another one. Azumanga Daioh? Yep. Name a third. Pause. A little harder, isn't it? It certainly helps that both above titles have anime adaptations and that, in the case of Lucky Star, has turned into an otaku phenomenon verging on a cultural movement.
Now, I'm not gonna lie to you and say that Suzunari! will every qualify as a success like those above. It pretty much ranks along with other 4-koma such as Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro as titles that manage to push units but will never push the same amount of units as Konata and Chiyo. But Suzunari! has two things going for it that a lot of 4-koma may not: it's extremely cute and very short. Clocking at two volumes in total, it won't hurt your wallet to invest in it, and it won't waste your time reading it.

Okay, so saying it's short sounds like backhanded praise, so let's not focus on that. What sets Suzunari! apart from other Yen Press-released 4-koma series, story wise, is that it's so off-beat and unusual in nature. It's also tricky to put into a box, genre-wise. Is it a comedy? Yes, but it also had dark, introspective moments? So, it's a drama? Well, but the comedy really takes up most of the series? Is it a yuri title? Well, Okazu treats it as one, and Kaede and Suzu's relationship does enter into that territory lightly. Is it an incest title? Insert 'Comme ci, comme ça'-esque hand gesture here (Suzu plants herself as Kaede's sister but they are not technically related beyond her cover story).
So really, a lot of Suzunari! is what the reader makes of it. And a lot of it asks that you mentally hand wave the origins of Suzu and her relationship with Kaede. But once you do that, and you bite your tongue through the more awkward jokes (like Suzu's parents trying to set them up as a couple and how their classmates see them together), it's not a bad series. Like I said, it's cute. She has cat ears! And big eyes! And is so, well, ugyuu~! Wrong series but still!
Also, I like the art. It's nice and clean and, again, cute. Not the most original art style but it reminds me in a way of Azumanga Daioh, especially in characters' facial expressions. Iwami is good at visual gags, although her more cultural-based jokes need explanations - luckily, Yen Press provides translation notes at the end of each volume.
As for the ending, which takes the series into the inevitable dark weird place it was always going to head up in, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. Sorry! Considering that Suzu is clearly not human (the ears!), the series telegraphs heavily that something is going to happen to her that will affect her relationship with her beloved Kaede, and the last part of volume two tackles that issue head-on. It's an ending that will divide readers down the middle, opinion-wise.
If you are cool with ecchi humor, yuri-cest relationships, inescapable cat girls, and lack of personal space, Suzunari! is the two-volume series for you. It attempts to be a series of some substance while still having fun and exploring a cast of oddball characters with each chapter. It mostly succeeds at these things and it never overstays its welcome, and considering how many manga series often break into the twenty-plus volume range, there's no shame in trumpeting that fact.