Monday, May 20, 2019

Maiden Railways - short love stories on trains (Manga Review)

Asumiko Nakamura
Maiden Railways - 7/10

I don't know where I came across "Maiden Railways" to think to add it to my Amazon wish list, it might have even just been a recommendation by Amazon. All I knew going in was that it was something about romance and trains and maybe yuri stories. And in the end, that's more or less what it was, a collection of several romance-ish stories, in a handsomely printed volume, with uniquely pretty art. Not bad actually.

The first story is about a young female pickpocket getting caught up with a feuding couple on a train. It's got some cute moments, but the couple really just needs a good therapist to teach them how to talk to each other, and a less meddlesome brother-in-law. It's not really a believable story, and I'm a little creeped out at the suggestion that the brother-in-law and the pick-pocket might end up together, she seems too young for that, but overall, it is mildly entertaining if a bit silly.

The second story is a more high-school romance story, or more properly put, its about what probably happens after every high-school romance series ends. This is the story of a young lady on the day of graduation (I think) or maybe just the day she moves away (to Germany - do Japanese parents really go overseas for work as much as they do in manga?). She has broken up with her high-school boyfriend because she has always secretly loved another boy and is going to confess, even though she is going away. It's definitely romantic and a little sentimental. And even though I liked it, I must say that it feels like unburdening yourself at someone else's expense to confess on the day you are moving away.

The third and fourth stories are connected. This is really the closest to yuri that the volume gets and it's unclear exactly where it's going. In the first story, one character has lost her girlfriend who is now marrying a man, and the other character has to turn down a female friend who has confessed to her. But somehow, these two characters end up together despite what seems like a big age difference and also that character two doesn't seem to necessarily be into girls romantically. This story takes place on a rail platform, almost exclusively.

The second of their stories concerns the older one watching the younger one in her school baseball game, and it's just a little quick story. Still unclear if they are actually together or hanging out as friends, but something about the pairing doesn't feel right (it's mostly the age difference).

The fifth story is about another married couple who needs to learn how to communicate, but the underlying cause of their mis-communication is an old model-railway that the community now tends after its original owner passes away. It's got a few nice moments, but also a bit unrealistic in how the characters act.

The sixth story was my favorite, and I won't spoil the twist ending for you, but it involves two women, worried about their relationships, with some interesting connections that come about through their conversation one night on the rail platform.

The final story adds an element that slightly ties together all the other stories around the life of a station attendant. It is a slight and minor story.

The mangaka, Asumiko Nakamura, must either love trains or have wanted to really study them, because the technical detail of the lines, the trains themselves, some of the history, the stations, etc... is evident in the writing and art. The art itself is relatively simple, but it has a loose, languid geometry to it that separates it from other styles. At least this isn't cookie cutter art. It's also not cute or moe, thank god. I would overall describe this as a josei genre set of stories and the art appropriately supports that. It isn't really detailed art, there isn't much screen tone use, the backgrounds are almost non-existent, but it works overall.

This is also the first release by the manga publisher Denpa that I have purchased. It is well constructed with fold around thick glossy color covers and the quality of the interior paper is quite high. I like that the interior paper has good tooth as well as not being stark white, but also clearly above the average quality of tankobon paper. I don't like the stark white of some high end releases, I like the more newspapery coloring with the black and white art. Here, we have high quality paper that is just a touch grayed, so it's perfect.

I like that Maiden Railways is a self-contained volume, that overall (other than age gaps) it isn't very problematic (oh, there is one panty shot, crap), that it focuses on women's points of view, that it's josei and not shoujo so the characters are older and the experiences aren't all in high-school. The art is okay, at least it's lines are quite different than other mangakas. I didn't feel particularly moved by the stories, but they were pleasant. And I think that's how I would sum up the whole volume, pleasant, but not amazing. I'm going to give this a perfectly nice 7/10.


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