Manga Review: “Zetsubou Baby” by Hina Sakurada
Title: Zetsubou Baby (絶望ベイビー) (Hopeless Baby)
Mangaka: Hina Sakurada (桜田雛)
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.
Volume 1 — 9784091364609
Volume 2 — 9784091370501
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.
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!
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.
Is 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.
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.