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Home arrow panel discussion (comics) arrow Papillion Vol. 1-2 (Del Rey)
Papillion Vol. 1-2 (Del Rey) Print E-mail
Written by Erin Jameson   
Friday, 12 June 2009

papillon-header.jpgA high school outcast becomes a beautiful butterfly in this shojo manga (from the creator of Peach Girl) that goes a little too far.


192 pgs., b&w; $10.95

(W / A: Miwa Ueda)

 Papillon is the story of a high school outcast who turns into a beautiful, beautiful butterfly. (Of course she does, the book is called Papillon.) However, before Ageha, our shojo dreamgirl, can cast aside her glasses and become queen of the school, she has to push aside the current reigning princess—her identical twin sister, Hana. I know, I know. I'm not especially sure how this one flies, either. It works, at first. Ageha, raised in the country by their grandparents, is shy, studious and wears glasses. Hana, a city girl raised by their parents, is fabulously confident and charming. We're introduced to the sisters and the two male leads in the charming setting of a school festival, complete with that most cliched of school festival booths, the maid café. One is Ageha's childhood crush, Ryuusei, and the other is a mysterious older man that turns out to be a guidance counselor at their school.

Click for a larger image.The mysterious stranger notices Ageha gazing wistfully after Ryuusei after he ditches her to go see a concert in the middle of the festival and encourages her to use visualization. Together, they sketch out her daydreams on a photo she carries around of her and Ryuusei as children, adding a word bubble saying that the two of them are going out. Which is eventually approximately as disastrous as it seems like it would be. Seriously, she thought it was a good idea to carry something like that around with her? She's the smart one?

Naturally, Pretty Princess Hana finds out and decides to steal Ryuusei away. And, of course, she somehow manages to without even breaking a nail. Ageha, to be fair, completely obliges by stepping aside so Hana has a clear goal. She's actually not a bad wingman, as far as that goes. There's a pretty funny scene where Ageha decides to kill herself. I'm almost sure it's supposed to be poignant until the guidance counselor catches her when she falls off a fence on top of the school (is this an epidemic in Japanese high schools?) and ends up groping her until he manages to tell her what size bra she wears.

Seriously, this guidance counselor is pretty gross. There's a truly hideous frenemy who ends up revealing Ageha's secret to more than just Hana, and more shenanigans every time it seems like Ageha and Ryuusei are about to get together. Hana is awful but, naturally, turns out to be insecure in volume two because that's how girls like that always are in shojo manga. Ageha slowly but surely starts to become more confident and, since this is manga, more attractive. Hayato the Guidance Counselor dubs her "Chrysalis" in light of her transformation, drawing the connection between an ugly word and a beautiful concept. Her classmates rally around her to provide support and makeup tips (with the exception of the frenemy, who ends up not speaking to her at all) and she continues occasionally getting good advice and icky come-ons from Hayato.

Volume two introduces an emotional subplot involving Ageha coming to terms with her feelings that her family loves Hana more. It turns out that Ageha's parents ignoring her for years is more of a misunderstanding, which they straighten out after Ageha and her mother are in a car accident that sends her mother to the hospital. Hayato orchestrates a fake deathbed scene during which Ageha tells her mother that she hates her for loving Hana more and her mother confesses that Ageha was happier with her grandmother and they left her there to make her happy. So Ageha's world is filled with love and light and joy and Hana is pissed. Seriously, she's a total beast. She sees that she might be part of something resembling a family instead of The Hana Show and starts to plot against her sister. In the meantime, surprise surprise, Ageha discovers that she might not be as into Ryuusei as she thought she was.

You'll never guess who the new object of her affections is. Oh, you can guess? Of course you can. She's imprinted on Hayato like...well, like he was the first person to notice she was alive. There's a charming little interlude where he calls her over to watch some kids with him and falls asleep with his hands on her bottom before telling her that the tykes aren't actually his kids, they're his nieces and the girl who walks in is his sister-in-law. She decides that this is the moment to maneuver him into a practice date that culminates with a confession of love on the top of a Ferris wheel. Do they get together? Does he turn her down cold and say she's confused by all of the emotional turmoil in her life?

Click for a larger image.In anywhere else in the world, the answer is that, yes, he sends her home to her chaste schoolgirl bed with a broken heart. Seriously - no, ick, eww. But this is Japan, home of the maid café, panty vending machines, love hotels and schoolgirl dating services for busy businessmen, and you'll just have to read the book. That is, you should read the book if you could make it past the 24-year-old groping the emotionally distraught student on the roof of their high school.

In fact, I'll go so far as to say the whole book is actually pretty awesome for the silly slice of shojo manga that it is, it just takes it a little too far. I shouldn't be surprised at the quality—the writer/artist is Miwa Ueda, creator of the ridiculously famous Peach Girl. The book has moments of humor and the art is great and the characters are cute and show moments of occasional complexity, I just can't drop my moral standards long enough to get completely past this whole 24-year old/high school student under his care thing. That's probably a good thing, come to think of it, but it sort of taints what would otherwise be a good manga experience. Maybe you can make it past all that to see the two luminous souls who might go ahead and decide that age ain't nothin' but a number. Good luck with that. | Erin Jameson

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