Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tramps Like Us (manga, vol. 2) by Yayoi Ogawa

Sumire drives me crazy sometimes but... I can't stop reading. Gah...

Synopsis:

Sumire has been dating Hasumi for a while now, and the two of them still haven't had sex - it seems like the universe is against them. When Hasumi suggests that they spend Christmas Eve together, Sumire wants so badly to keep him happy and finally get a chance to have sex with him that she says yes, even though she doesn't normally celebrate Christmas. Unfortunately, Hasumi's work interferes, and Sumire is left with only Momo for company on Christmas Eve. This turns out to not be so bad (he made her a cake with a surprise in it, a toy ring, taking the idea from a story she told him about her childhood), and she enjoys her time with him enough that, when Hasumi calls to say that he finished his work early, she tells him that she can't meet with him because her sisters have come to stay with her for the night. Hasumi, it turns out, had planned to give her a nice ring that night - could it be an engagement ring?

In the next part of the volume, Sumire has to deal with her workplace's new non-smoking rules. She's already been lying to Hasumi, saying and making it seem like she smokes less than she does, because she knows he hates that she smokes. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, she decides to quit smoking cold turkey. Everyone at work has the usual response - "well, of course Sumire's quitting smoking, she's an educated career woman who spent time in America - I'm sure quitting will be easy for her" - at least until the lack of nicotine starts driving her crazy. Even Hasumi notices how on edge she's getting. The only thing that helps is petting Momo, but that's not something she can do at work.

While Sumire is still dealing with her nicotine cravings, Momo, whose real name is Takeshi, gets a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Rumi, who'd like to resume their relationship (or at least the sexual side of it). However, Rumi gets pissed when Takeshi tells her they have to be quick because he's got to get back to his mistress. In the end, Momo once again helps Sumire regain her composure, and Sumire decides to continue smoking (although she still has to pretend that she's quit when she's around Hasumi) because it annoyed her that her coworkers saw her decision to quit as a sign that she might be pregnant and marrying Hasumi soon (they still haven't even had sex yet).

Sumire's friend Yuri causes her to worry when she brings up the possibility that Hasumi might decide he's better off with someone else. After all, he might have a better chance at having successful sex if he were with someone other than Sumire. The same day Sumire promises Momo that she'll come home early (she's noticed that he's been feeling lonely and needy because she hasn't been home much lately, which reminds her of the dog she named him after), Hasumi invites her over to cook for him. She decides that she should be able to juggle both Hasumi and Momo if she leaves Hasumi's place early. Things seem to be going well, at first. The dinner she makes Hasumi goes over well enough, and things get a little steamy afterward. Unfortunately, both Hasumi and Sumire suddenly become accident-prone, and their romantic night together becomes slap-stick comedy. Mortified, Sumire goes home. She becomes even more upset when she discovers that Momo has fed and entertained himself without her. She worries that Hasumi is mad at her because she left and because the evening went so badly, but he calls her up that night and seems fine about the way everything went.

In the next part of the volume, Valentine's Day is coming up, and Momo is a little upset that Sumire has a nice gift for Hasumi and an afterthought of a gift for him. The last straw is when Sumire gets upset with Momo's complaining and tells him to "act like a pet is supposed to." To remind her of his value, Momo decides not to talk around Sumire for a while. It takes her three weeks or so to notice, but she begins to realize that she hates not having Momo talk to her. He may be her pet, but he's a person, too, and she likes that he can tell her "welcome home." Lots of great things happen to her, but she's stuck in a depressed funk until Momo speaks to her again. For White Day, Hasumi finally gives her the ring he intended to give her on Christmas Eve (and it's not an engagement ring, but still), and Momo gives her a lollipop. Hasumi's gift may cost more, but it's Momo's gift (the lollipop and speaking to her again) that makes Sumire the happiest.

For some reason, thoughts of her former fiance are bothering Sumire again. While all that's circling around in her brain, Hasumi tells her about a woman in a situation similar to the one Sumire is in with Momo - like Sumire, the woman is keeping a young man as a pet. He's a struggling artist she supports financially. When Sumire asks Hasumi what he thinks about the situation, he says it's disgusting. It's not the woman that disgusts him, so much as the young man - Hasumi dislikes that the guy is mooching off of her, since he'd never do that himself. The response upsets Sumire, but Hasumi, of course, has no idea why. Hasumi's not the only one who has trouble understanding the dynamics of a relationship like Sumire and Momo's. The other dancers at Momo's studio are shocked when he confirms that he's Sumire's pet, and they don't understand why she's not having him trade sex for food and a place to stay. They think it sounds like an easy and cushy deal. When Sumire comes home drunk that night, after overhearing her former fiance refer to her as "a loan that was way beyond my ability to repay," it occurs to Momo that things aren't as easy as the other dancers might think. It'd be easy for him to take advantage of drunken Sumire and sleep with her, but he doesn't do anything beyond kiss her.

Later, Sumire's ex-fiance visits her to tell her that he's going to be transferred to a new location soon. His visit pisses her off enough that she tells him that Momo is not her second cousin, as he believes, but rather her pet. Her ex is shocked and gets upset with Momo for being a freeloader, which only pisses Sumire off some more. She finally tells him off, something she never even really did when they broke up. Before Sumire's ex leaves, Momo lands the final blow by telling him that he's her pet because he wants to be with her - she said he could stay if he stayed as her pet, so that's what he is. As a sweet ending for this part of the volume, Momo promises Sumire that he'll stay until she tells him to move out, even if that's ten years from now or even if she gets old (both her questions).

The volume wraps up with a bit that focuses on Sumire's belief that she must live without depending on others, especially men, because no one can be depended upon to help her. She deals with a pervert on the train on her own and doesn't think to tell Hasumi later because she doesn't see what he'd be able to do for her (hurting his feelings, of course - Yuri tells her that she needs to get better at playing the weak damsel in distress for him). When she's given a ton of extra work, she takes it on without complaining. Unfortunately, all this stress is having a seriously bad effect on her health. She throws up at home, making Momo worry that she might be pregnant (he doesn't know that she and Hasumi haven't had sex yet), she faints (but doesn't call Momo because she figures he wouldn't be able to help and would just panic and make things worse), and she throws up blood in the bathroom at work. Rather than tell Hasumi, who has noticed that she looks paler than usual, she pretends she's fine. Whereas other women at work seem stuck on the idea that they can't survive without depending on a man, Sumire is determined not to ever depend on one, so much so that she believes she's alone with all her problems right now. In an attempt to prove otherwise, Momo makes sure Sumire gets some decent sleep and fixes her a nice dinner.

Commentary:

Here's hoping that Sumire at least confides in Momo about her health problems. If she really threw up blood and wasn't just exaggerating, then it's kind of worrisome. No matter how common this sort of thing appears to be in manga (*cough*Eiri Yuki*cough*), it's something that any halfway realistic character should be concerned about.

I started this post off by saying that Sumire drives me crazy, and the main reason is that she's so rarely without her public facade. She tries crazy hard to be self-reliant, not letting anybody know that she might need a bit of help, and the one person she can rely on is someone she doesn't realize she can rely on, because she thinks of him as a cute pet. She only ever lets her guard down and lets herself be who she really is around Momo. Around Hasumi, she tries to be someone she thinks Hasumi would want to be with. Around her coworkers, she tries to be cool and flawless. While it's possible it may be with good reason, she just doesn't trust anyone besides Momo to accept her as she is.

As perfect as Hasumi currently seems, he's not going to be perfect for Sumire until she can relax around him. She's still not herself around him, although she's better than she was with her other boyfriends - I can't help but think that she'd probably be more content with Momo. First, though, they'd have to get over the whole "pet and mistress" thing.

Even though I'm not entirely sure Hasumi is the guy for Sumire, he's still fun to read about. There's one tiny little bit in this volume where you get to read Hasumi's thoughts, and it's hilarious. When he upsets Sumire by saying that the guy being kept as a pet disgusts him, he starts panicking and wondering what he did to upset her, because he knows from what he learned about her body language in college that she's pissed at him (she got pissed at him then for criticizing people who watch pro wrestling, probably because she enjoys it herself). His thoughts: "Quick--change the subject by giving her something!!" I love that, even though it also kind of annoys when I think about it too much - man panics and throws angry woman a bone, and, look, it works! The bone, in this case, is jasmine tea, which opens up in hot water like a flower blooming.

Another thing I'm having lots of fun with - Momo's sexual frustration is going to drive him crazy. He doesn't touch her inappropriately when they sleep together because he doesn't think he'll be able to stop at just a touch here and there. He has a hard time stopping himself from going to her when she's drunk. I wonder what he'd think if he knew that she hasn't had sex with Hasumi yet? And, gosh, both he and Hasumi are gorgeous. Hasumi's just hot all the time, but Momo has flashes of hotness. A lot of the time, he looks like a cute kid, a bit rambunctious, but there are times when he just becomes mouthwateringly gorgeous. And he's at his sexiest when he's dancing. Gah. So, the romance lover in me is really enjoying all of this so far, although I'm not a huge fan of drawn-out romantic indecisiveness - we'll see how I feel about things a few volumes down the road.

One of my favorite funny lines in this volume: "I wonder if companion animals, which are kept by humans, are aware that they are pets... and if so, do they try to impress their masters? For instance, in the case of a rabbit: 'I'm cute, but I'd better not move my nose too much, or it'll annoy my master.' Or in the case of a fish: 'I should poop out as long a piece of excrement as possible. That would really please my master.'" The whole "pets give you what they want most" thing was kind of cute too.

While certain aspects of this series annoy me, there are still more than enough things I enjoy about it that I plan on continuing the read it. Hey, I even own the last 5 or so volumes of the series now. That makes it really hard not to read how things end...and I haven't really resisted. I haven't read the volumes yet, just sort of flipped through them, but I've got a more-than-general idea how things end.

Extras:

Another one page comic featuring Ogawa and her editor, a one-page thing with information about all of Ogawa's staff members, and SumiRanger line art that you can apparently color if you want to. Very sad. Although SumiRanger is kind of cool.

Sometimes it's easy for me to come up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for things; sometimes it's not. In this case, it's not.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Anyone But You (book) by Jennifer Crusie - After Nina gets a divorce, she finds she's finally on the road to being happy and free to live her life the way she wants to live it. Alex, her downstairs neighbor, is an emergency room doctor who wants to make a difference in people's lives. He's attractive, but he's 15 years younger than Nina - only he doesn't seem to worry about the age difference nearly as much as Nina does. Alex wants to convince Nina that they belong together, but first Nina has to get over her hangups about the age difference and Alex has to get past the pressure his family puts on him to be something he's not, someone he mistakenly believes Nina might prefer to be with. Something about the feel of this book seems similar to Tramps Like Us.
  • NANA (manga) by Ai Yazawa; NANA (anime TV series) - [There's also a live action movie, but I'm not sure if it goes far enough to really deal with all of the boyfriend storylines.] Two young women named Nana meet in Tokyo and end up becoming roommates. Nana Komatsu is a naive girl with a somewhat childish outlook on life. She frequently falls in love with guys she meets, but things don't always go well for her. Nana Osaki is the lead singer of the band Black Stones (Blast, for short). Both Nanas have to work through relationship problems - Nana O. has additional complications stemming from her past and the future she is trying to build for herself. Those who'd like another series with complex relationships and lots of drama might want to try this.
  • The Aromatic Bitters (manga) by Erica Sakurazawa - Sayumi and Hide are two friends stuck in dead-end, long-term relationships with men who cheat on them. When they decide to go to Hide's country home for the summer, they end up learning a lot about life, love, and each other. The characters are similar to Sumire in age and the feel of this work seems to be similar to Tramps Like Us.

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