I can’t tell you how many shojo manga stories I’ve read where the writer has concocted some convoluted scenario that forces the romantic leads to live together. It’s a classic set-up that throws the potential couple together in an intimate setting and then lets the sparks fly. Keiko Iwashita, the writer/artist of Living-Room Matsunaga-San, has come up with a decently natural way to bring this situation about by setting her story at a boarding house, but whether or not she manages to assemble a passionate romance from these building blocks is another story…
Miko’s grandmother has fallen ill and her mother needs to go take care of her, but Miko is still in high school and her mother doesn’t want to leave her home alone while she’s away. Luckily, there’s a room available at the boarding house her uncle runs, so she’ll have somewhere to stay where there will be people around and where her uncle can easily check in on her. The boarding house is home to a variety of people, including: a shy college student, a beautiful nail artist and Matsunaga-san, a handsome young designer with a short fuse whom Miko immediately gets off on the wrong foot with. But, despite his grumpy exterior, Matsunaga does help Miko out whenever she’s in trouble and, as she gets to know him better, Miko starts developing feelings for him. This makes the fact that he likes to wander around the house shirtless hella awkward for her!
In a story where romance is the focus, I think it goes without saying that the chemistry between the two lead characters is one of the most important factors that can make or break a story. That isn’t to say that the pair immediately need to be in love or even get along, just that their interactions need to be entertaining, otherwise, why would I be rooting for them to get together? Living-Room Matsunaga-San didn’t quite manage to stick the landing in this department. To illustrate what I mean, let’s review three interactions between our heroine and her would-be-Romeo that particularly annoyed me:
Strike One – Their first meeting: Miko is walking towards the boarding house when a young man on the street suddenly starts screaming into his phone and punching a nearby wall. He looks up and notices her staring at him and she quickly turns around and rushes off. When she glances back over her shoulder, she sees that the same young man is now barreling straight at her. Scared that he is going to attack her, she desperately starts running away with the man hot on her heels. He is still following her when she reaches the boarding house, so she whips around and sprays him in the face with some deodorant that she had in her bag and then bursts into the house crying for help. Then her Uncle explains that there’s nothing to worry about because this is Matsunaga-san and he lives in the house too… What?! I’m not really sure why exactly this happened and the manga doesn’t make any effort to clear it up. I guess we’re supposed to assume that Matsunaga was just running back home for some reason and it only seemed like he was chasing her because they were headed to the same place. But they made eye contact before Miko started hurrying away, so it wasn’t like he didn’t notice her and I don’t see how he could fail to realize that he was scaring her. Did he just not care? Why was he running in the first place? I guess we’re not supposed to worry about that though, as the manga seems to believe that this misunderstanding is all Miko’s fault for panicking and not in any way his for acting in a threatening manner, as she apologizes profusely and he… doesn’t.
Strike Two – Matsunaga lends a helping hand that no one asked for: Next, Miko’s uncle and her other new housemates all have things to do, so Matsunaga winds up showing her to her new room. He then starts helping her unpack, without asking her if she wants him to first, and proceeds to berate her for not packing scissors in a place that was easy to find and boss her around during the whole unpacking process. Now, I’m not saying that helping her to unpack wasn’t a nice thing to do, but Matsunaga went about it like a complete asshole. First, he should have asked if she even wanted him to help; she is a teenage girl and she might not want some random guy pawing through her stuff or helping her to arrange her underwear drawer. Second, this dude needs to take a chill pill. Yelling at a kid, who’s nervous about living away from home for the first time, because she was slightly disorganized or wasn’t unpacking her things in the “correct” order is unreasonable. If you thought that Miko might have the right to be a bit ticked off with Matsunaga after all that, the manga makes sure to let you know that you’re wrong! Once they’re done unpacking, Miko’s mom calls to see how things are going and Miko makes one, completely understandable, little complaint to her about Matsunaga’s bossiness and her mother immediately launches into a lecture. Miko’s mom tells her that it was only thanks to him that she got her unpacking done and that she wouldn’t have done it at all if he hadn’t forced her to. Thus she should be grateful. Even though we see no indication during the rest of the story that Miko is the type to shirk her chores. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with cooking, and all she knows how to make is curry, but she doesn’t seem to mind doing it and we see her keeping up with her laundry and things like that, so I have no idea why her mom thought that she would have just left all of her things in boxes if someone hadn’t been there to scream at her.
Strike Three – Miko gives honest feedback and then apologizes for it: So after being told off by her mom, Miko makes dinner for Matsunaga in order to thank him for helping her unpack and they actually have a normal conversation for once. Miko starts to think that he’s not scary after all and is, maybe, a nice guy… Okay… Matsunaga does seem to improve a bit after this, he helps Miko look for her phone when she loses it, tries to organize a welcome party for her and even complements her on her curry. He also reveals to Miko that, when he first moved into the boarding house, he was a complete mess. He never cleaned up and didn’t cook for himself, but several of the other people living in the house took care of him and helped him to learn the skills he needed to be a functioning adult. It seems like he was trying to look out for Miko in the same way that they had for him. He’s just terrible at it. Just when I was starting to think a bit better of Matsunaga, however, he decides to ask for Miko’s opinion on a couple of book cover designs he’s created for a teen romance novel. Miko doesn’t like either of them, but doesn’t want to upset him. She initially gives a vague answer, but he presses her to give him honest feedback and stresses that this is important because it is a project for work. So she tells him that she thinks both designs are ugly. Matsunaga proceeds to lose his shit, screaming “What’s ugly about them?!” until Miko runs away to her room. It takes him a whole day to apologize to her and she actually apologizes first for not wording her criticism delicately enough for his fragile ego. Now, I get that criticism is never easy to take, but Matsunaga seems to have been working as a designer for years; he really should be able to at least present some semblance of a façade of professionalism at this point!
That’s three strikes. You’re Out!
To summarize, I found Matsunaga to be completely unappealing as a male lead. He’s short-tempered, overbearing and probably much too old for Miko (though I’m really not sure how old exactly he‘s supposed to be). I think his outbursts are meant to show that he’s passionate, but I found him to be immature. Miko is more likeable, but too bland to make up for the short-comings of her love interest. She is upbeat and fairly responsible, though she has moments of insecurity like any typical teen. The problem is that she has nothing that makes her stand out. If she’d been a bit more feisty and able to stand up for herself, then maybe her interactions with Matsunaga would have been more fun for me to read, but I mostly just felt sorry for her for being stuck with this dingbat. This makes it hard to get invested in their relationship and I can’t say I’m excited by the prospect of seeing these two get together.
There were a few things that I did like about this manga, however. The art is very pretty and Matsunaga has a somewhat unusual design that really stood out to me because he’s not the typical shojo hunk or pretty boy. I also liked the side characters, particularly Asako, the nail artist who also lives in the boarding house. Asako makes an effort to look out for Miko, but goes about it in a mature, big-sisterly kind of way. When Miko is acting awkward around Matsunaga after the incident with the book cover designs, she invites her into her room to have her nails done so that they can talk about it. Asako also gives Miko some pretty good advice, assuring her that, even though she might appear to be confident, she still has moments when she feels uncertain or embarrassed and that being an adult doesn’t mean you stop making mistakes or having regrets. I wish we’d gotten to see more of Asako in this volume, as she’s pretty cool and her interactions with Miko were very sweet.
Overall, this was a lack-luster first volume that didn’t leave me feeling eager for more. While there were elements that I liked, the story fell short in some key areas and failed to sell me on the main romantic pairing. I wouldn’t say that Living-Room Matsunaga-San is a terrible manga, I’ve certainly read much worse, but there are better shojo series out there that are more worth a read. I’d only recommend this manga if you’re a fan of the mangaka or are intrigued by the fact the Matsunaga=san is frequently shirtless.
Final Score: 6 out of 10
For more information on this series, visit Kodansha Comic’s website: https://kodanshacomics.com/volume/living-room-matsunaga-san-1/
What did you think of this manga? Do you think I’ve misjudged Matsunaga-san? Let me know if you think this series is worth giving another shot in the comments. Or check out my reviews of some shojo manga that I enjoyed more:
- Snow White with the Red Hair Vol 1 Review
- Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Series Review
- Fruits Basket Another Series Review
- Become You Vol 1 Review
- The Rose of Versailles Vol 1 Review