Kitai Fuku ga Aru Overall Review


It feels like our adventure with Kitai Fuku Ga Aru had barely begun and the story has already come to an end. In a way, in the age of never-ending TV series and franchises merging to create vast multiverses, this is a refreshing change of pace. To see a plot with a clear beginning, middle and end has become rare, so while I’m a little sad that Mami’s story has come to an end, it’s also satisfying to have reached it. I reviewed volume one in the past and now that we’ve reached the end with volume five, I thought it’s a good time for a review. I will aim to avoid spoilers as best I can, though I may not be able to avoid some minor ones.

I'm still not fully sold on the official English title, it's a bit too cheesy.

Characters remain this manga’s strongest point. With a few exceptions of the tertiary/background ones, they are fleshed out and multidimensional, which in turn makes them highly relatable. As more of a slice-of-life type plot, it heavily relies on the characters to drive it and there is a lot of that. Not only do we follow Mami’s struggles with confidence and navigating her lolita life with a primary-school-teacher-to-be one, we get insights into how Mami’s fashion choices may affect others around her. While maybe a little too dramatic for most Western audience, the sentiment behind Mami’s Mother finding out about her daughter’s ‘secret life’ will resonate with many who experienced parental figures rejecting their fashion choices. I also enjoyed how with every placement Mami has visited, we have focused on one individual there who was affected by Mami or who Mami was able to help through her new experiences from the lolita fashion world. Not only were they touching and entertaining to read, but also highlighted the transferability of certain skills and experiences. Again, many of these will be specific to the Japanese context (e.g. how can a teacher who expresses their individuality through lolita fashion enforce the strict ‘no hair dye whatsoever’ rules at school), but even within those I think there are valuable messages to find that may relate to our own lives.

Volume one. That cover image feels like it's been shared so often it's now part of the wider lolita consciousness. Or is it just me who feels this way?

Crucially, although a lot of these scenes are little ‘nuggets of wisdom’, they do not come across as patronising or being there solely to teach us something. Netaro Tsuneki’s manga is primarily a form of entertainment and means of escapism, something to be enjoyed for the story and the characters. Anything that could also be ‘nuggets of wisdom’ or passing on valuable messages is passed on skillfully, naturally within the context of the story scene and you notice them more on a ‘that’s so relatable’ or ‘that’s so inspirational’ plane than anything else. Anyone struggling with confidence (in general or in lolita fashion), with their nearest accepting their fashion choices, with navigating professional life with private hobbies etc. will certainly find motivational moments that may inspire them to overcome their struggles. However, ultimately these are plot devices first, messages to the readers second.

Volume two. Playing 'spot and name the brand item' here.

What works in Kitai Fuku Ga Aru’s favour is pacing. Slice-of-life stories are prone to feeling either too slow or too fast if not handled well, in turn impacting on character development. This is not the case here. Mami’s journey throughout the five volumes feels like it progresses at just the right pace for us to believe how she could go from not daring to even take the dress out of the depth of her wardrobe to proudly and confidently strolling the streets of Harajuku. Granted, this may feel different when reading back to back, as I have had to wait for volumes to be released. However, I feel that there are enough faster paced chapters and enough slower ones to still make Mami’s journey believable, especially as she has a tendency to overthink what to do or what to say.

Volume three. Given that for a while I really wanted the print from Meta that Mami is wearing, but in a different cut, I can't help but be partial and feel like this is my favourite cover of the lot.

In my initial review of volume one I praised the lack of direct product placement, so to speak, beyond naming KERA Online. This changes as soon as in volume two, where not only brands are starting to be named, but we see very specific, recognisable print releases drawn in the manga itself. What I liked about the lack of brand names in volume one was how it enabled the readers to project their tastes and/or stories, as well as it potentially being a fun ‘guess the dress’ activity for experienced lolitas. The author has managed to convince me that not sticking with this was a good choice. The introduction of brand names is done gradually and, again, naturally. It starts off with one of the most natural lolita interaction possible, i.e. this is a cute dress, what is it?, and overall brand-specific bits are predominantly kept to the background. This helps ground the story in time (which is emphasised further in the last volume, as it mentions the end of Heiwa era) and make it current, although it remains to be seen how well that will stand the test of time. Where the plot requires brands to be directly named, it is embedded into the story in a believable way that feels natural rather than forced. I am mainly talking here about the appearance of Souffle Song (SPOILER: and how Mami ends up modelling for them) - that whole episode may have seemed a little ‘this is the make-believe territory of fiction’, yet in the end I found myself believing that this is how it could’ve been. (POTENTIAL SPOILER: Though I’d be interested to hear from some of the people I know who modelled for KERA Online whether their experiences felt similar to what was depicted in the manga.)

A minor side note which I only discovered after reading: in the last volume we see a character appear called Lily Madison, a pop singer, I assume Western one. Given the manga’s track record with depicting real brands and media, as well as my lack of knowledge of contemporary pop culture, I wanted to check who that was. However, it seems as that particular bit was made up or had the character’s name changed, because the only Lily Madison my Google search was able to find is an adult film actress. Whether she enjoys Japanese fashion or Japan in any way, I cannot tell as I did not delve into any of my search results. ;)

Volume four. Has anyone else noticed that each volume number corresponds to the number of people drawn in colour on the cover? I only noticed that when taking the pictures for this post.

In the beginning I was also worried about the story heading towards a cliche love plot. There were moments where I thought that this is indeed the author’s chosen route and undeniably there are elements to that relationship that feel cliche. Having said this, the way that particular sub-plot was resolved left me feeling satisfied. As a love story on its own, particularly to a love story connoisseur like myself (if I dare make such a bold claim), it’s not particularly exciting. But within the context of this story and in a story about Japanese people in Japan, I can see how a relationship could have developed this way. Do not expect anything particularly squee-worthy, that is not the kind of story. What you will get, however, is a believable crush-to-relationship journey and a relationship that is quite soft and gentle, where any turmoils stem from the characters’ own internal struggles which may be a bit cliche on their own, but are resolved through an honest conversation. It’s not exactly #relationshipgoals, but it’s healthy and does provide a bit of warmth and fuzziness inside right at the very end.

Volume five. Finally we get a happy, smiling Mami on the cover in a less than subtle foretelling of the story's end.

Kitai Fuku Ga Aru has something to offer to everyone. For lolitas it’s a source of many relatable and potentially cathartic feelings. For those who know lolitas it could be a way of understanding some of the emotional struggles we may be going through due to our clothing choices. For everyone else, it’s a good piece of light, character-driven slice-of-life entertainment. The story has a clear beginning and end, which means there are no bits of waffling that add nothing - every scene and episode adds something to either the plot or the character. And as it’s only five volumes, it is easy to read through it in a day, making for a pleasant day off. I have discovered that I can read a whole volume over a return train journey between Manchester and Bradford (which is approximately two hours), so that’s roughly 10 hours of reading time. Someone with better Japanese reading abilities than mine will zoom through it quicker, whilst someone with lower proficiency - a little slower. I stand by my judgement of difficulty level from volume one’s review: I would recommend at least an intermediate proficiency level to enjoy it fully, although for someone with an upper beginner’s reading skills it could be a good stretch-and-challenge read. 

I’m not sure where we stand with the translations of this. Last time I checked there were people posting good quality fan translations online (as I gathered from one of Tyler Willis’ react videos), but since I never followed that, I don’t know whether that continues or how far into the story it has gotten. If you do get a chance to read this, I wholeheartedly recommend it. To me Kitai Fuku Ga Aru ranks in the same place as Kamikaze Girls and So Pretty/Very Rotten in terms of quality, relatable and enjoyable lolita content. Hopefully it will gain a similarly valued and respected status as the other two, because it truly deserves it.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.