Friday, October 5, 2018

The Delinquent Housewife Volume 1 - one trick pony or good setup? (Manga Review)

Nemu Yoko
The Delinquent Housewife volume 1 by Nemu Yoko (published by Vertical Comics) has perhaps the best cover art for a first volume I have ever seen. That's a great start. Ultimately, it's unclear if this is a one-trick-pony or the start of a really cool manga. It appears to be published in a seinen magazine, so it also will be interesting to see how it develops its primary female protagonist as well as how it handles her younger brother-in-law. I'm hopeful but weary.

The basic premise has a newly married couple moving into the husband's parents house temporarily. He has two younger siblings, a brother in high-school and a sister in middle school. The younger sister is immediately wary of Komugi, her brother's wife. Suddenly, Komugi's new husband Tohru is called off indefinitely to another country for construction work leaving his young new bride alone with her in-laws.

Tohru's younger brother, Dai, catches Komugi sneaking out and hanging out with friends. At first he thinks she's in a gang, working as a prostitute, and doing other unsavory things. Turns out, she's a former delinquent, on the straight-and-narrow, but is avoiding her in-laws so they don't find out that she has no housekeeping or cooking skills and isn't actually employed.

Here's what's good about this volume:

  • The art - it's got a nice mature style to it without being overly formal. In fact, it's almost simple in its forms while avoiding any cutesy stuff stylistically.
  • Komugi is endearing. She plays the "perfect" mild housewife but is secretly a rough-and-tumble reformed "delinquent."

Here's the longer list of "concerns." I call them "concerns" with quotes because it's too early to know what Nemu Yoko-sensei will do with these threads. They could be used to tell a thoughtful and original story, OR they could devolve into tropes, misogyny, or reification of dated gender norms. Some spoilers to follow.

  • Komugi's husband leaves her after only a few days and is gone indefinitely. She's still madly in love with him. My hope is that he proves to be an asshole and she leaves him. Anything less will be deeply dissatisfying. It's just not okay to lie to your wife and say you're going away for a few days, and when you get there to tell your bride via a cassette-tape that you'll be gone indefinitely. Let's hope that awfulness gets owned.
  • There is currently a lot of value placed on traditional notions of a woman's role and place. I truly hope this manga turns that on its head over time so Komugi gets to be valued for who she is and not her "failure" to match society's desire for what a woman "should be." The setup makes me think they'll do that, but it could go either way at this point. There is nothing in volume 1 that overtly suggests that the narrative will push against social norms.
  • Dai. The younger-brother. They have to be setting him up as a love-interest/love-triangle. We get one scene where they are close to each other while playing a game and we get a heart-beat sound effect and at the resolution of that scene, a view of Komugi seemingly through Dai's eyes that show some longing for her.
    • If I had to play my hunch, here's how I see this series unfolding: 1) Dai and Komugi hang out more and more and become good friends. 2) Dai falls in love with Komugi. 3) Tohru leaves Komugi for a woman he meets overseas. 4) Dai and Komugi get together. (The predictable ending). In this version, Komugi doesn't have agency, and they go with the obvious back-up love interest.
    • What I'm afraid might happen is: 1) Dai falls in love with Komugi, 2) Tohru comes back, 3) Komugi ultimately stays with Tohru and learns how to do chores. (The traditional ending). This is the version that just lives in the gag-world and is satisfied with making jokes about how bad Komugi is with chores and hiding it from her in-laws.
    • What I'd rather see is: 1) Dai falls in love with Komugi. 2) Komugi realizes that Tohru is an asshole and leaves him. 3) Komugi and Dai get together but Komugi ultimately leaves him because he's too young and she realizes he needs to find his own path and she needs to find her own. (The real-world ending) A bittersweet ending would be best. It also places Komugi with a greater sense of agency as she leaves Tohru and she leaves Dai so that she's acting out of respect for herself and her worth being defined by her person-hood and not her skill in the kitchen.
As I said earlier, it's hard to know where this series will go after just one volume. It will either be a fulfilling counter-narrative to the "perfect" wife or it will ultimately fall apart and Komugi will be "reformed" and the asshole husband gets to be an asshole husband because he's a man.

Back to the title of this review. It also is possible that this will be a one-trick gag-type manga. Komugi is bad at chores, must keep her mother-in-law in the dark until Tohru gets home, etc... OR it will slowly give us more background on Komugi, expand her personality, dive into other characters, have deep complex relationships, have people growing and changing, etc...Just hard to tell from this volume and being published in a seinen magazine rather than a josei one gives me pause that it will stay the purely comic route. This issue is so focused on the chores that it doesn't leave much room for character development.

So it's really hard to rate Volume 1 of The Delinquent Housewife, because at face value, it was fun, we like Komugi, the art is good. But I'm so leery of where it might go that I'm afraid to like this volume too much. I'm giving it a 6/10 for the promise it shows, knowing full well that the story will either get richer or poorer from here.


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