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Manga Review: Pastel Vol. 1

Pastel – Volume One
Story and art by Toshihiko Kobayashi
Publisher: Del Rey
Retail Price: $10.95
Release Date: December 2005
Pages: 208 b/w
Age Rating: 16+

Poor Mugi Tadano… The sixteen-year-old is heartbroken after his girlfriend moves away. To ease he troubled state, Mugi takes a summer job at his friend Kazuki’s beachside snack bar/hotel on a tropical island. It seems like the perfect plan – until Kazuki sets Mugi up on a date with Yuu, who’s supposed to be, well, a little less than perfect.

When Yuu arrives, however, she’s not the monster that either of the boys had imagined. In fact, Yuu is about the cutest person the Mugi has ever seen. But after Mugi accidentally walks in on Yuu in the bath, the girl is steamed. When trying to apologize the next day, he discovers that Yuu has left the shores of paradise. Mugi vows to search high and low for the beautiful Yuu, but will he ever see her again?

Extras:

About the author
Honorifics Guide
Translation Notes
Preview of Volume #2

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REVIEW – Rating: 7/10
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Pastel in many ways is just another romantic comedy, just another manga that places a teenaged boy in close with a teenaged girl during the summer months, and ultimately, just another manga. But after wading into the first volume a little bit, Pastel slowly emerges as the kind of comic you can, but probably should take as likely as you would prefer. There are some fine intangibles to this comic, from what I can see, however it would also appear that for the majority of the time I was searching for them, the “tangibles” tended to get in the way a bit too much.

Here at the center of this manga is Mugi Tadano; your average love sick teen whose trying to forget the loss of his girlfriend (now moved to Tokyo), a loss that was, by the way, entirely his fault. Mugi isn’t shy and he isn’t too extroverted, but he is tentative, and it’s this tentative disposition that ultimately makes him who he is. Mugi lives alone because his father always works, and is employed at a small dining hut that his best friend’s (Kazuki) Aunt owns. “Work to forget the pain” is pretty much Mugi’s code of conduct for the summer months. Kazuki of course, is brash, somewhat lazy, and spends more time ogling the girls in swimsuits nearby than actually helping out around his Aunt’s place. And since one of the larger, broader themes of Pastel is to enjoy youth as it is and not to overcomplicate things, don’t be surprised with the amount of girl-watching, double-entendres and fanservice that you get in this manga.

Mugi is just about used to the life of the workingman when all of a sudden: Yuu Tsukisaki appears. Incredibly attractive, a sharp minded and with a generous sense of humor, Yuu is the perfect girl–whether or not Mugi can capitalize on his own love troubles and win over Yuu’s heart however, is something to look forward to. Fortunately, these two characters don’t “just so happen” to mesh perfectly with one another. While Mugi hasn’t any mother, has a useless father, and lives independently, he struggles terribly with honesty, mostly in being honest with himself. Yuu herself, recently lost both parents in an accident, and has to take care of herself and her incompetent younger sister all her own. She’s had more brushes with reality at its darkest moments than Mugi. Mugi of which rarely thinks, much less imagines, of a world that Yuu has struggled through.

Yuu is ironically a little simple-minded as a result of her family tragedies, and so when she meets the soft-spoken Mugi, she’s impressed by his independence, his not needing of others in order to survive. Well, maybe “survive” is a rather extreme interpretation of Mugi’s circumstances, but given how troublesome his last girlfriend turned out for him, if he could live without the guilt, he most certainly would. While Kazuki and Mugi’s father are more concerned with how our protagonist can get into Yuu’s pants, Mugi himself is just happy that he can… well… be happy with someone.

Pastel isn’t ground-breaking and it isn’t hugely unique in its artistic revelation of the nude, showering figure–which we find a lot of in this manga–but it does offer up some interesting tropes and themes to which we rarely see addressed in the traditionally comedy-laden Romance Comedy genre. For example, we are often given a fairly straight and clear parallelism between Mugi’s relationship with people, that is, him chasing after a loved one whom is leaving for good. Mugi is still very much a kid at times, and as a result he must learn to take responsibility for himself.

Another notable aspect of this manga is the concept of child-independence, or of no [dependable] parent figures. Kazuki Sanmiya, Mugi’s best friend, is a carefree (and careless) young man with no work ethic and prides himself in voyeurism and girl hunting. Mugi has been living on his own for several months now I presume, is motherless and has a workaholic father. Yuu and her little sister are orphaned. The complete lack of a reliable parental figure, outside of Kazuki’s shop-owning Aunt, forces these characters to grow up and mature in a way they otherwise would not have. Mugi himself can cook, clean and maintain a house just as good as any housewife–he jokingly claims at one point in the comic that he’s the best housewife in all of Japan. On top of that, Mugi works hard to support himself.

This particular manga offers its reader a fairly interesting metaphor for the current generation’s disposition towards work ethic, living situations and much more. Here, teenagers have to rely on their own skills and ingenuity in order to get ahead… they cannot rely on the gifts of favorable fathers any longer, and must rise above the sorrow each has been dealt to meet if not create a new destiny worth looking forward to. Pastel may look like a generic romantic-comedy manga, but it also works hard to show you that even the most average-minded youth still sees himself as needing to work hard in order to get somewhere in life.

Visually, Pastel is fun to look at for a number of reasons. There is a bit more fanservice in this manga than I would have liked; but considering that this is pretty much a summertime-story, or at least has begun as such, it doesn’t surprise me how many bathing suits, beach girls, wet t-shirts or the lack thereof are actually in this comic. Also of note, are the ridiculously high number of bath scenes in Pastel. I don’t know if this was a trend when the comic was first published or what, but there are a ton of “accidental” peeps in this comic. Additionally, Pastel offers readers a plethora of one page layouts (single-page, single-panel). With the most that I’ve seen in any manga that I’ve read in a long time, this manga offers a lot of one or two-page layouts to draw in your eye.

Another potential downside to this manga is its incredibly limited cast. Pastel doesn’t take place in a school, where relationships are implied; between a group of friends, where a relationship is implied; or elsewhere, where a ready might presuppose the connection between characters. As a result, each character has to have more than a namesake only introduction; each character has to give us their background info, current living situation, likes and dislikes and family pedigree if necessary. Through this entire first volume of manga, the only character I feel I actually know is Mugi. Yuu is obviously a central character and Kazuki is an important member of the supporting cast, but right now they both feel empty. The only other characters that appear are Mugi’s father, Yuu’s sister, Kazuki’s cousin and aunt, each of which have very limited panel-time. In many respects, Pastel is a one-man show; and no matter how good that one man is, he isn’t worth much in the end if he isn’t surrounded by other, similarly interesting personalities.

If you are looking for a summertime comic to help you relax, which has a lot of half-naked photos in it, then Pastel may be something worth investing in. If you are also looking for a story that has the potential to blossom into something more meaningful, then Pastel is still something worth investing in. My worries with this comic is that it will tailor off into your traditional; “I-like-her-but-I-can’t-tell-her” and “She-likes-me-but-I-don’t-know-it-yet” type of storyline, which at the moment, looks entirely possible.