Thursday, February 01, 2007


Partner is a three-volume series, of which I have read the first volume, by Miho Obana. Obana's best-known work in the U.S. is Kodomo no Omocha ["Child's Toy"] (aka "Kodocha" and "Kodocha: Sana's Stage"), but Partner is a very different series, and one which breaks the stereotype that shoujo manga are all about romance. This isn't evident at the start, though: Partner begins like a typical shoujo romantic comedy-drama. The main characters are two sets of twins, all in high school: two female twins, Nae and Moe, and two male twins, Takeshi and Ken. The relationships among these four are typically tangled. Ken and Moe are in love with each other. Takeshi loves Nae, but Nae regards Takeshi as both a friend and a pest, and secretly carries a torch for Ken. But the expectations raised by this comforting beginning are shockingly upended in the middle of the first chapter, when Moe is killed in a traffic accident. To add insult to injury, Moe's body disappears mysteriously from the hospital where it was being held.

At the end of the first chapter, things start to get weird. Ken sees a girl who looks exactly like Moe, but she shows no signs of recognizing him. When he grabs her arm to keep her from walking away, the arm comes off, and it doesn't seem to be an artificial one; but the girl calmly picks it up and gets in a car waiting for her, which drives off. From there the story becomes a grim and downbeat (at least so far) thriller, though Obana also keeps following the relationships between the three survivors. I've also seen the series described as a horror story, which fits too.

Though similar in appearance to Sana, the heroine of Kodomo no Omocha, Nae is quite different in personality. She's serious, and she can take care of herself (unlike Sana, who only thinks she can take care of herself): she uses her kendo skills to disarm and overpower a gun-wielding attempted rapist. Both these characteristics are evident on the cover, which is also atypical of shoujo manga.

The art in Partner, while very similar in appearance to the art in Kodomo no Omocha, is more self-assured and dynamic, and flows better.

In addition to the main story, the volume includes two bonus short stories. The first, "Seto no guran ma" [Grandma of Seto], is an 20-page long autobiographical story about an old woman running a coffeeshop whom Obana met while traveling alone in her early twenties, and again several years later. To me it seemed rather slight, but my impression is that this sort of quiet, undramatic sketch is common in Japanese literature in general. (Of course, such stories aren't unknown in Western art comics either.) The second, "Paatonyaa," is a brief jeu d'esprit in which the four protagonists of Partner, Moe included, are turned into cats and comment on the story.

I highly recommend Partner if you can read Japanese. Obana's story is original and a page-turner, and the characters are well-drawn, particularly Nae and Ken. And this series would seem a natural to be licensed (though since it's published by Shueisha, Viz is the only company that can license it).

The ISBNs for the three volumes are:

vol. 1: 4-08-856200-3
vol. 2: 4-08-856222-3
vol. 3: 4-08-856244-5

The first volume costs 390 yen (though amazon.co.jp sells it for 20 yen more), and my guess is that the other two do also.

(Wow, posts on two consecutive days! I'm on a roll!)

I've been trying to find scanslations of this series but I think it's discontinued.

It's such a riveting story. Even know I can't read Japanese, I'll be trying to get these off Amazon if I can.

Nice summary review/summary :)
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