Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance, by Kaho Miyasaka, is a shojo romance that takes place during the Meiji era, a period in Japan’s history characterized by great change and rapid modernization. With its long period of isolation over, Japan begins to embrace many Western ideas and technologies, but amidst this massive cultural shift, can a young girl of mixed-heritage find a place to belong?
Maria never knew her father, a white man who left her and her Japanese mother before she was born, but she’s suffered a great deal as a result of her parentage. Having lighter-coloured hair and eyes has attracted a lot of malicious attention and her mother orders Maria to dye her hair and hide her background from everyone. Feeling ugly and monstrous, Maria becomes shy and nervous and keeps to herself as much as possible, until the day she meets Rintarou, the scion of the wealthy family her mother works for. Rintarou takes an interest in the awkward girl who’s always keeping her head down and hiding her face, not to mention her true feelings, but Maria has no interest in getting closer to him. Then Rintarou accidently gets a glimpse of Maria’s true appearance and, instead of being repulsed, he blurts out that she looks like a mermaid. From then on, Rintarou becomes determined to help Maria to gain confidence and find her place in the world.
I really felt for Maria while reading this volume. She’s full of self-loathing and is constantly anxious, even while just moving around the town or during simple interactions with strangers. She can’t even feel safe at home! While her grandmother seems loving and supportive, Maria’s mother is terrified of being ostracized for having a relationship with a foreigner, and she’s desperate to hide the fact that Maria is mixed-race.
While the mother’s fears are likely a result of legitimate dangers to their status and ability to live un-harassed, she winds up taking out her emotions on Maria, haranguing her over little slip-ups and hurling verbal abuse at her on a regular basis. Maria has nowhere to feel safe or welcome and it’s heart-rending to see how othered Maria is made to feel, even by her own family. I’m hoping that Rintarou’s influence will allow her to expanded her horizons, and that she’ll eventually come to appreciate her own good qualities.
I’m a little on the fence in regard to the relationship between Maria and Rintarou, though. Golden Japanesque makes use of a lot of romance cliches that kind of annoy me and I wasn’t really sold on the two as a potential couple.
As an example of the types of clichés I’m talking about, at one point, Rintarou saves Maria from criminals attempting to assault her. This kind of scenario is a shojo melodrama staple and in this manga it kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to serve a narrative purpose, aside from making Rintarou look cool. Rintarou also spends his first couple of interactions with Maria trying to play pranks on her in order to get a reaction out of her. A classic example of the “boys tease the girls they like” trope. Well, that old-fashioned idea has always bugged me and Rintarou comes off as an immature jerk in these early scenes, rather than the puckish youth that I think the mangaka was going for.
I’m also not thrilled by the fact that a lot of Rintarou’s interest in Maria seems to be motivated by her “exotic” looks. While he was clearly curious about her from the start, his interest is noticeably ratchetted up when he catches a glimpse of her golden hair.
For her part, Maria is so starved for approval that I get the impression that she would have fallen for the first boy who showed her any kind of positive attention.
So, these two aren’t off to the best start.
That said, I am glad to see that Rintarou seems determined to help Maria, and they do share a few cute moments together. I found the scene where Rintarou realizes that Maria thinks he’s calling her a yokai when he says that she looks like a mermaid, and then tries to draw her a picture of a beautiful mermaid and just completely fails at it, to be hilarious!
My expectations for Golden Japanesque might have been a tad high going in, as I really enjoy period pieces and I was expecting this manga to be a gorgeous tale of magnificent romance. I did find Maria’s struggles to be compelling and I loved the art and seeing all of the lovely period outfits. I’m not yet sold on the romance, but I do plan to pick up the next volume and see how things go for Maria, now that she has a friend and ally in Rintarou.
Final Score: 7 out of 10.
What did you think of this manga? Let me know in the comments!
For more information on this manga, visit Yen Press’ website.
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