Wataru Yoshizumi’s Marmalade Boy is considered by many to be a classic in the shojo area. It originally ran Japan from 1992 to 1995; Tokyopop published in the now-defunct manga anthology Smile from 2001 at 2002, before releasing the 8 individual volumes. Trivia note: this was one of the first series the company released in the US in the original Japanese reading orientation of right-to-left.
The series has also been adapted into a 10 volume light novel series, a 76 episode anime series, a prequel anime movie, a dating simulation game, and a Taiwanese live-action television series. In 2013, Yoshizumi started a sequel series, Marmalade Boy Little, which is set 13 years after the first and features the young siblings of Yuu and Miki (the central characters of Marmalade Boy). Currently of all these adaptations, only the long anime series has been licensed here, and personally I don’t recommend it at all. Messed up a lot of the good stuff of the manga and stretched things out way too far.
Marmalade Boy starts out with a “different” sort of premise: Miki’s parents come home from a vacation to announce that they are getting divorced and swapping partners with another couple they met while away. To avoid breaking up either family, the two couples are going to live together in one big house including Miki and the other couple’s same-aged son Yuu. At first Miki is not happy about the situation all, but she also doesn’t want to stand in the way of her parents’ happiness. Though Yuu likes to tease her, he is kind when she needs it and helps her comes to terms with things. He’s also easy on the eyes, and despite warnings not to fall for him, Miki can’t seem to help liking him.
Miki is an honest and straightforward girl who struggles to accept the change in her family and her unexpected attraction to Yuu. She also now finds herself dealing with her best guy friend Ginta, who rejected her years ago, suddenly deciding he wants her now that there’s competition. While Miki is still reeling from her unexpected love triangle, she has a jealous ex of Yuu’s to deal with and a scandal breaks at school centering around none other than Meiko, Miki’s best friend.
With that kind of set up, you might almost expect this to be more hentai than straight manga, with the characters engaging in all sorts of fun after school activities, but instead Marmalade Boy is a very sweet manga that maintains a delicate air of innocence despite some of the heavy situations the characters must deal with. Even with Meiko’s affair, the romance between herself and the teacher is well handled, including having realistic consequences (for Japan) rather than being played for titillation.
Considering when it came out, it probably isn’t surprising that Marmalade Boy is a dated. Some elements, such as the love triangle and are clichéd, and may now feel unoriginal. Even with the set up, the overall themes and tropes are relatively common for a shojo series, though it does break an interesting bit of new ground towards the end while also being frustrating in refuses to fully break it.
Despite that seeming negativity, I love this series and I have read it over and over. There’s just something about the characters that makes them really engaging and I love the overall way the story is handled. I felt Yoshizumi did a great job of balancing the comedic and the dramatic elements and kept the story moving along instead of constantly trotting out the same rinse repeat issues that you might feel a longer series (or in the again horrible anime adaptation). The situations that come up with are often handled with realistic responses for the character’s ages and a more straightforward approach. No excessive overreactions and long, drawn out drama. And something that seems rare in romances – often times the characters are encouraged to just talk stuff out! 😯 Communication! Who knew!
Even the artwork reflects the somewhat softer more innocent approach share takes to the story line. The covers feature soft pastels with simple compositions that feature Miki in various poses, except the final volume which features her with the guy she ends up choosing. The character designs are simple, yet well drawn with clean lines. All of the characters are easily identifiable and their designs are reflective their distinct personalities. Certainly worth checking out if you missed it when it first was released.
Marmalade Boy is out of print, but easy to find used online for low costs, and even new at nearly the same cost as it was when it came out.