The Comics Get Serious logo

Call Me Princess. By Tomoko Taniguchi. Translated by Mutsumi Masuda and C. B. Cebulski. New York: CPM Manga, 1999, 2000. 179p. $15.95. ISBN 1-56219-924-2.


Teens, adults, kids

NOTE: This book collects issues #1-6 of Call Me Princess and is Taniguchi's first English title.

Makoto "Mako" Takenouchi, a young teenage girl, is looking for a boyfriend who will cherish her, take care of her, and call her "Princess"--just like Shin, the man her sister Shoko married ten years ago, and certainly not like her friend Yo Takayama, who is a "really good guy" but who "says something mean" to Mako every time they meet. When a ball gets stuck in a tree at school, Mako climbs up to get it--but when she knocks it loose, everyone with her goes off to play with it, leaving her stuck. Then a helper appears: an unsmiling young man who strongly resembles Mako's brother-in-law. As she tries to climb down to him, she accidentally kicks him in the face and pulls out some of his hair, but he says he's fine and leaves. One of the other girls identifies him as Ryo, a senior student with a poor reputation.

Returning home, Mako is overjoyed to find Shoko and Shin waiting there, visiting from Hawaii. They explain that Shin has a younger brother that they're going to take care of because their mother passed away, but they don't know if the brother wants to come to Hawaii with them or not. Mako realizes that Ryo must be that brother. The next day at school, Mako encounters Ryo and tells him how they're related, but he brushes her off, and she is disappointed. That night, however, Ryo accompanies his brother and sister-in-law to Mako's house for supper. While eating, Ryo casually mentions that he had failed the previous year and had to stay back, stunning the rest of the diners, though Mako appreciates his honesty. Afterwards, Shoko explains that Ryo has had a tough life and hates his father for divorcing his mother, who apparently did not take good care of Ryo.

With mixed but hopeful feelings about Ryo, Mako encounters Yo, who is somewhat jealous of her obvious attraction to Ryo. She accidentally strikes him in the face, and he strides away. Later, Mako's parents drop a bombshell: they're going to take Ryu in for the time being. Yo, meanwhile, tries to make up to Mako by giving her a flower, but she rushes away from him so she can be there to greet Ryo. They give him Shoko's old room, which has "Shin" spelled out in glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, much to Shoko's embarrassment. By this point Mako is convinced that Ryo is her dream man and expects to have a married life just like Shoko and Shin's. However, things don't go quite that smoothly. Ryo is repelled by her appearance when she's curling her hair and wearing a beauty mask; when she tells him he needs a haircut, he obliges by cutting off one lock; he accidentally spies Mako's mother's bra and Mako lying in a funny position on the couch, embarrassing everyone; he doesn't call when he's going to be late or stay out all night; he hangs out with "scary guys"; and in general he is very "coarse" and self-centered, though quiet and depressed. Frustrated, Mako tells Ryo that he's nothing like his brother, and Ryo is highly offended by the comparison--he's always felt that Shin got "all the happiness."

Compounding the problem for Mako is Yo, who has suddenly started to be nice to her and worried about her. Recognizing her developing crush on Ryo, he even grabs her and asks her if he can be the one, which frightens her (and causes her to drop the eggs she'd gone out to get). And to make matters worse, Mako's friend Maki appears to be interested in Yo!

Mako tries to apologize to Ryo, in the process explaining why she feels that Shin is her ideal man. Ryo responds that he hates his brother and leaves. Later, they get a call: Ryu's been hurt and is in the hospital. At first they believe he got into fights at school, but Ryu's friend Pon explains that Ryu was hurt falling off a motorcycle-they do motorcross racing. As they take the dazed Ryu home, Pon explains that Ryu found it strange that anyone cared when he came home late or that they yelled at him for misbehaving. Pon theorizes that Ryu likes being disciplined, which Mako finds cute. After he recovers, he starts being helpful to Mako, and she starts being attracted to him again.

But here comes Yo, who confesses that he really likes Mako and wants to be good friends with her. Maki is disturbed that Mako is trying to be nice to both boys (partially based on her own feelings for Yo), and they have a big fight about the issue--a fight that weighs on Mako's mind for a while. Ryo advises her to talk it out with Maki, but then Mako finds out that Maki has been spreading rumors about her dating both boys at once. Mako confesses to Ryo that she has feelings for him, but he dismisses them as being based on his resemblance to his brother. Thoroughly upset and confused, Mako locks herself away in her room. How is she going to restore relations with Yo, Maki, and Ryu? Who does she really like, and why?

The book includes a long introduction by Colleen Doran, creator of A Distant Soil, as well as occasional text by Taniguchi herself, explaining how she has always dreamed of being published in America and who she based the looks of the characters on. There is a nice little photo of Taniguchi and a cat at the end of the book, as well as a cover gallery containing the covers for issues 1-6 (and an alternate for 1) of Call Me Princess.

Call Me Princess is an excellent example of shojo (girl's) manga, which is not yet well represented in America (or in many other Western countries, I would assume). It is a sweet little story that shows a lot of understanding about the problems and confusions of young girls. Mako, alternately starry-eyed and disillusioned, seems very real to me, especially in her confusion over Ryo's behavior. Yo is also well done, as his behavior changes out of fear that he's losing Mako as a friend and possibly as a girlfriend. Ryo doesn't quite come off as the "coarse" boy that Mako makes him out to be, but part of that is simply the cultural difference between American and Japanese teenagers. For example, Ryo's casual admission of failure as a student isn't as stunning in this country as it would be in the highly competitive academic world of Japan. And an American artist would have been more… grungy, I suppose, in depicting Ryo and his "scary" friends, who looked perfectly pleasant, even clean-cut, to my eyes but whose long hair and (gasp) facial hair must still be anomalous in Japan. Regardless, he's still a good character with a sad past that he has to overcome. There are some very funny moments as well, such as Ryo's cutting of the single lock of his hair, or his embarrassment when Shin finds a silly photo of Ryo and Pon in a motorcross magazine.

Taniguchi's art is very nice, rather misty and dreamy in places, cartoony (as so much Japanese comics art is) when something funny takes place. As is common in shojo manga, background symbols extend the feelings of the characters-cherry blossom petals symbolize youth, love, and beauty; angles and lines surround hard "male" activities or strong emotions; etc. The whole is expressionistic and arty, especially compared to equivalent American comics.

This book should appeal to teenage girls in particular, but it also has a following among boys and adults, and it could very well interest as-yet uninitiated members of those groups. It would be an excellent book for collections that are trying to emphasize nonviolent stories, especially those that want to reach beyond the limits of U.S. titles or that are trying to attract young girls to graphic novels.

Buy it directly from CPM Manga!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


Return to The Comics Get Serious main page

Return to Rational Magic Current Issue

Return to Rational Magic Home

Rational Magic logo