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Classics Catch Up: “Minami’s Lover” is a bold but frustrating romance manga

By July 31, 2023No Comments4 min read
The physical copy of Minami's Lover on display. The cover features Chiyomi next to a small mug.

One of the joys of the growing presence of manga in Western bookstores is that well regarded series of the 80’s have had a much better chance of making it stateside. Such is the case with the Fantagraphics hardcover release of Minami’s Lover by Shungiku Uchida. This release has afforded the chance to read a manga ubiquitous enough in Japan to have four separate adaptations over decades. That chance to read such a beloved story is both frustrating and challenging.

Minami’s Lover isn’t pulling punches

Minami’s Lover has a set up that is definitely bait to fans of romance or slice of life anime. The titular high schooler Minami’s life turned upside down when his girlfriend Chiyomi suddenly shrinks to six inches and needs his help to figure out her new situation and what it means for their relationship. While the manga has plenty of sweet moments, Minami’s Lover is no Skip and Loafer. The “For Mature Audiences” stamped on cover is no joke.

This series originally ran in an alternative anthology monthly Garo, which served as a home for underground and adult manga. Thanks to this platform, Shungiku Uchida’s manga is lewd and occasionally blunt and is not shy about it. Much of Minami’s Lover would never fly in a traditional release, but that is quite the point. The relationship on display is allowed to be sexual, tense, and even problematic without worrying about optics.

Short and (not so) sweet

As such, Minami’s Lover is a much more mature exploration of young love, but Uchida never lets the story be exploitative. Both Chiyomi and Minami have complex thoughts about how Chiyomi’s status impacts them, particularly in regards to exploring their sexuality. Despite being decades old, Minami’s Lover really has its finger on the pulse of this age of experimentation — even including a story about exchanging nude photos long before Snapchat. The frankness is definitely not for everyone; Uchida does not use euphemism and American readers might be very opposed to that involving characters implied to be underage. However, this direct approach helps the overarching themes being explored to be much more human and genuine.

The cast of Minami’s Lover is so human that it doesn’t just challenge taste, they are actively frustrating. Minami himself is a bit of a shit at times, particularly when he’s frustrated at Chiyomi’s situation, always taking it out on her or doing something at her expense. Even with self-reflection, the story doesn’t ever feature him apologizing or changing. On the other hand, Chiyomi actively dissuades Minami from seeking any kind of aid or even telling their parents about her situation. This makes her even more co-dependent on Minami and is unable to achieve the self-reliance she claims to want. Despite these flaws, the affection the two have is genuine and becomes the central drive to the manga’s conclusion; to see if these two can make this work.

A climax that frustrates

That answer does come in the end, but it’s the frustrating kind of ending. Without spoiling it, the ending isn’t shock for shock’s sake but could be misread as such. Frankly, on an initial reading the conclusion has a cruelty to it. However, this is also the only moment Uchida chooses to pull back on the bluntness, letting the sadness take the lead and leaving the reader to put the meaning together themselves. This may be why multiple adaptations with their own spins have cropped up over the years; with other creators taking the challenge up and looking for that lingering meaning.

To call Minami’s Lover satisfying is a reach. An abrupt and cold conclusion, along with a disinterest in growing its characters goes against some kind of sensibility. This frustration is also what makes Minami’s Lover worth a read. A more traditional story could easily blend into the ocean of stories that now sit in this same space. Being so challenged through the story of a girl the size of a battery is not an expected experience, but that’s what makes reading manga great.

Minami’s Lover is available directly from Fantagraphics and bookstores nationwide. 

Review copy provided by Fantagraphics

Travis Hymas

Travis Hymas is a freelance writer and self appointed Pokémon historian out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Known to be regularly obessive over pop culture topics and gaming discourse, he is a published Rotten Tomatoes critic and has been featured on sites such as Uppercut and The Young Folks

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