Manga Review: “Zetsubou Baby” by Hina Sakurada

Title: Zetsubou Baby (絶望ベイビー) (Hopeless Baby)
Mangaka: Hina Sakurada (桜田雛)
Language: Japanese
Publisher/Publication: Shougakukan / Monthly Cheese!
Year: Aug 2014 – Feb 2015
Genre: Shoujo, romance, drama, comedy

Warnings: There is a near rape scene that I found frightening. It serves the purpose of the story and is portrayed as violence and hate as it should be.

ISBN:

Volume 1 — 9784091364609
Volume 2 — 9784091370501

Purchase:

Volume 1: Amazon JP / Amazon US / Yes Asia / Kinokuniya

Volume 2: Amazon JP / Amazon US / Yes Asia / Kinokuniya

Synopsis:

Kasumi is a gloomy 1st year high school student with crippling social anxienty who is too scared to make friends and prefers the company of plants. Takichi is the hot-blooded, hot-boy celebrity son of a conglomerate president. Takichi is self-important, acts purely on emotion, but underneath all the arrogant bluster, he’s a pure boy who’s looking for a nice and quiet girl like the one he once saw in a soap opera. Takichi finds his dream girl in Kasumi and declares out of the blue to a very frightened Kasumi that she is his woman. This starts Kasumi on a wild-ride journey of self discovery.

First Impressions:

The first I saw of this series was the last chapter in an Issue of Cheese! magazine. I thought the chapter was hilarious and I wanted to know how this odd couple came to be. Without reading the words, the illustrations in this series are misleading. Reading the story, I keenly felt Kasumi’s social awkwardness and I understood her desire to flee the aggressively aggressive rich boy who insists upon chasing her and dragging her kicking and screaming out of her shell. On top of all of this, the series is hilarious!

Breakdown:

Artwork — A: I come to this series with the knowledge that most of Sakurada’s female heroines look exactly like Kasumi. However, I will overlook this and pay attention only to this series. The character design and page layouts appeal to me. I like Kasumi’s face and I really enjoy the extreme facial expressions both main characters make. There is generous use of sparkles and glowing bubbles, but the screentones never overwhelm the lovely drawings. Takichi is a Greek God and I enjoyed the fan service. The illustrations also have a great since of motion. It’s easy to imagine the flow of action across the panels.

Presentation — B+: As usual, I wish there were color pages, but otherwise I like the cover illustrations and the summaries on the back cover are more useful than most because they explain the characters and properly set expectations for the story. The first volume has two extra oneshots and the second volume has a nice one-page extension of the ending of the series. The mangaka’s handwriting is very legible and text, though small in places, did not require me to get out my magnifier.

Story — A- : This is a story that loves to teeter on the edge of looking rapey and making Takichi, the main male character, seem abusive. The way this manga teases is downright cruel, but that’s the point. The central gag of this story “misunderstanding” and the series itself feels like a “rapey shoujo” satire. The dynamic of the series is embodied in this image: Takichi endlessly chasing a terrified Kasumi.

Books_068Is she terrified of him? Yes. But more than anything, she’s terrified of his celebrity and can’t accept that he would be in love with someone as worthless as she believes herself to be. As for Takichi, after I realized through his lonely-rich-boy backstory that he’s mentally stuck at the age of 5 or 6 and looking for a mother figure, everything became clear. The story is primarily about Kasumi’s journey and how this brash guy, who sees her potential, in his own emotionally unrestrained and aggressive way carves out a space for Kasumi to grow. The only way I can explain this is that Kasumi is so shy, cowardly, and full of self doubt that it takes idiot levels of persistence to get through to her. But the amazing thing about Kasumi is that she’s not a bland girl. She’s vibrantly shy and cowardly, a doting delusional idiot when it comes to plants, and when cornered, bites back with ferocity at Takichi (which, of course, only makes Takichi love her more). She’s basically a human hamster.

Books_072

Kasumi yelling at Takichi as she explains that she has to protect the plants she takes care of at school from the rain after Takichi thinks she’s hiding from him… which is true, because she hoped avoid him and tend to the plants in peace.

Takichi has resting scary face and is his bluster and swagger obscure his fundamental goodness, purity, and optimistic naivety that rises above Ouran’s Tamaki Suoh levels of stupidity. The story pacing is fast, helped along by expressive and dynamic illustrations. I like the way it went from a cat and mouse chase, to getting the mouse out of her hidey-hole, to the mouse mustering the courage to accept her own feelings and self worth, to eventually the mouse saving her celebrity prince from the “dogs”. The story never tries to cure Kasumi of her shyness and cowardice, rather it follows Kasumi as she gains enough courage to move past her timidity. I think I appreciated this aspect of the story the most because it seems that’s true of most shy people who finally come out into the world.

Readability — on the easy side of medium: There is furigana to assist with the kanji. There aren’t any crazy run on sentences and vocabulary is standard shoujo. Anybody used to reading shoujo shouldn’t have a trouble reading this series.

Overall — A-: I really enjoyed this series. I sympathized greatly with Kasumi and laughed heartily at Takichi’s being. I got a thrill out of the way it danced on the edge of being totally misunderstood as a “rapey shoujo” series. It made Takichi’s sweetness and purity even more palpable and brilliantly contrasted the true horror and violence of rape when the real attempted rape scene comes along. I don’t know if something as razor sharp as this series would ever get licensed in the US because it is too easy to look at the images and come to the wrong conclusion. This is not a starter shoujo, rather this is a series for veteran shoujo readers who have enough knowledge of common shoujo troupes to understand this as “rapey shoujo” satire and appreciate the bombastic “stoopidity” of Takichi’s character.

6 comments

  • You love short stories because you can actually finish them =P . Interesting review, I get what you say when the tease is cruel.

    Sakurada makes unhinged and downright crazy characters, If I remember correctly I read a onshot from a 1 vol oneshot anthology where her male protagonist would say such horrible things to his girlfriend because he loved to see her cry.

    It looks like Sakurada is trying to mix comedy with her normal dose of looneyism and from your review it seemed to have worked.

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    • Yes. Oneshots and short series get to the point and then end. I don’t like meandering manga series. I get bored and frustrated most of the time. In the case of shoujo, many of them go off the tracks and focus on some side character for several volumes rather than just spinning off the story. That drives me crazy! KareKano did that and I was tearing my hair out. And then it had the nerves to end with some whack-a-doo my father’s batshit insane arc, the female MC settles, and their daughter’s in love with their best friend who basically raised her. Dafuq? Imagine if that were limited to 8 volumes. It would have had a much tighter story like Eensy-Weensy Monster.

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      • Purely romance ( mostly shoujos ) manga are the one type of content I would say is a turn off for a lot of people if it drags on.

        I can read long lasting gag mangas if they’re funny,
        I can read long action/adventure if they’re exciting and I’m invested in the MC’s final goal.
        Same with a good mystery/horror manga or sports.

        But endless romance or should I say endless courtship is bad. I’m too old to romanticize that part of the relationship, the after is so much rewarding that i’m just bored because there’s no progress. The truth is that it’s all bad really, that period has way too much stress.

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        • Yes, I am the same. I prefer to get the confessions over with quickly and then enjoy the couple being in love. This is what turned me off about Akagami no Shirayukihime. Volume 12 and they are still not together in any official capacity. I do not understand the appeal of endless shoujo courtship, but lots of shoujo fans love it. Part of me suspects that some mangaka don’t know how to write a requited relationship.

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          • Oh my. Lurker coming out of my shell for a bit to say that this oneshot sounds like something I would love to read, and damnit, I don’t know Japanese beyond recognizing hiragana/katakana.
            And seconded about endless romance. What HAPPENED to Shirayukihime? It started so promising and is maybe one of the most gorgeous mangas ever, and now I just tune out when I try to read it. I think it’s when you get past a certain point…you just want to see the leading couple face problems and challenges as a couple, and not keep struggling to be a couple over and over.

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  • Great review! Your posts are always so detailed, I love it.

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