This month marks the long-awaited English language debut of this much loved romantic comedy manga exploring the life of fangirls in Tokyo.
Aspiring illustrator Tsukimi Kurashita has a strange fascination with jellyfish. She’s loved them from a young age and has carried that love with her to her new life in the big city of Tokyo. There, she resides in Amamizukan, a safe-haven for girl geeks who regularly gush over a range of things, from trains to Japanese dolls, and share her social awkwardness and NEET status. However, a chance meeting at a pet shop has Tsukimi crossing paths with one of the things that the residents of Amamizukan have been desperately trying to avoid – a beautiful and fashionable woman! But Kuranosuke Koibuchi is hiding a few secrets! The number one being she is actually a he! This odd encounter is only the beginning of a new and unexpected path for Tsukimi and her friends.
NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) are a touchy subject in Japan with people of different generations having vastly varying views of who classifies as one. As a result, their portrayal in different manga can vary anywhere from struggling people of a younger generation trying to find work, to lazy freeloaders, to shut-ins bordering on agoraphobics. Princess Jellyfish is not as clear cut. On the one hand it is exploring some quite sensitive topics including NEET culture, social awkwardness, gender identity and gentrification, but at the same time, the series’ main strength is in its comedy. Playing off the incredibly awkward Tsukmi against the in-your-face Kuranosuke never gets old. Tsukmi is early established as not the most outgoing and confident person, and now she finds herself being constantly visited by a flamboyant transvestite and at the same time keeping her neighbours who share her awkwardness about men from finding out his true gender and overcoming her own insecurities about sharing living space with another man. Tsukmi’s neighbours are also a ton of fun, sharing her level of obsessiveness – only instead of jellyfish they are into things such as traditional Japanese clothing, specific periods of Chinese history, and even trains. Now they too suddenly find themselves having to cope, and at the same time bond, with the outgoing Kuranosuke – despite going against their aversion to those they perceive as attractive people.
Akiko Higashimura’s ability for drama and touching moments must not be downplayed; she skilfully weaves the comedic moments with the more serious moments such as the reason why Kuranosuke cross-dresses, the residents of Amamizukan uniting with Kuranosuke to stop their home from being demolished, and the love triangle that forms between Tsukmi, Kuranosuke, and his half-brother Shū. This is greatly assisted by Higashimura’s wonderful art which excels in depicting the zany antics of Kuranosuke and the Amamizukan residents (with wonderfully distinct character designs for each of them), but also for the theme that develops later of not judging purely by looks (Kuranosuke who is used to being popular with pretty girls struggles to come to terms with being attracted to someone as plain as he deems Tsukmi to be).
This award-winning manga has already had some exposure to English speaking audiences via its release on Crunchyroll’s digital manga service and its fan favourite anime adaptation has been available in the UK since 2012. This edition is however the manga’s first physical English language release. And with Kodansha Comics’ editions collecting two volumes in each edition, this is the ideal way to enjoy the series.