Greetings! A little different from the previous recommendations, today I’ll be reviewing a historical manga that, although it hasn’t been long since I’ve read it, left quite the impact on me. One of the cultural aspects of Japan I’m deeply interested in would be the traditional fabric patterns and designs. While traditional garments like kimono are very beautiful as well, I also love smaller pieces that are meant to use in daily life, such as tenugui (plain woven towels that are 35 x 90 cm in size) and furoshiki (square wrapping cloths).
Title: Momo and Manji
Author & Artist: Sakura Sawa
Release Year: 2017
Status: Completed, 3 volumes.
Licensed? (Y/N): Yes, on Futekiya!
This beautiful tale is about two men; Momo, who is a former kagema (male prostitutes who offer their services in teahouses during the Edo period), and Manji, a wandering musician. After retiring from being a kagema and settling in together with Manji, Momo starts working as a domestic servant, teaching writing. Their fates seem to be entangled in a way they (and us readers included) cannot foresee. As we accompany their journey together, their pasts are unveiled and we also witness the pair growing as humans.
Where do I even start praising this manga… And I have to do it without spoiling! Momo and Manji, without a doubt, was one of the best titles I’ve got to read last year. From the narrative to the topic itself, to character designs and all the intricate details, especially the backgrounds and the fabric patterns of the garments were all handled superbly. I can only imagine how much time, effort, and research must have gone into this work, it’s also no surprise that Momo and Manji is the first BL to receive a manga award at the Japan Media Festival, organized by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs.
The story was so emotional and captivating and the characters were so likable. I also loved the informative pages added by the artist at the end of each volume, explaining historical bits on kagema and sex work during the Edo period, same-sex relations, clothing and undergarments, and other details that might escape an uninformed reader. I loved Momo and Manji so much that I’m doing a very bad job at praising it in the end. I’ll just say not only the cover or the first illustration, but each and every panel is PRETTY.
As heartbreaking as it was to read about their past and how both of them came to be, seeing the two just enjoying food, or walking around teasing each other, sitting silently in their room, or each of them doing what they love was very calming, and just as interesting as the drama. As far as I can see, an established relationship is less common than “getting together” stories in the romance genre. While I understand that there’s a certain thrill we get with the “will they / won’t they” however, established relationships offer a different dynamic that I find just as intriguing: the little habits and the special way of communicating between the parties.
I heartily recommend Momo and Manji because it’s one of those stories that I’m sure will move your heart. It gets hard to read at times, particularly the end of the first volume, so the warning about reader discretion is there for a good reason. However, the way Momo questions where he is standing and who he wants to be, the way he refuses the tragedy to define who he is, and the way Manji finds solace in Momo’s strength was a fascinating experience. If you decide to give it a go, I hope they manage to capture your interest as well!
I also hope Sakura Sawa considers releasing an illustration book in the future, I’d love to have a copy of their designs printed on quality paper. I’m not joking when I say I’d buy that in a heartbeat.
Header image taken from Sakura Sawa’s Twitter account.
A — Ameiro Paradox
B — Blue Sky Complex
C — Coyote
D — Dear, My God
E — Endou-kun no Kansatsu Nikki
F — Full…
G — The Good Teacher
H — Hakujon to Kurobotan
I — Itadakimasu Gochisousama
J — Jealousy
K — Koi wo Suru Tsumori wa Nakatta
L — Love Tractor
M — Momo to Manji