Words and Art: Ai Yazawa

Publisher: Viz (Shojo Beat)

Translation: Andria McKnight

Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Michelle Phang

Design: Shawn Carrico

Editor: Karla Clark

I finally got around to reading the first volume of Ai Yazawa’s Neighborhood Story, finally released with an English language translation late last year. At 312 pages, I remember reading it in one sitting on a train home after a fun night out and wanting more of a coming-of-age tale from the creator of Nana! The first volume of the series introduces us to Mikako Koda: a super cute, super creative, and super energetic teenager who loves fashion and one day wants to make it big as a fashion designer. She lives a pretty colorful life with a mom who is a Shojo mangaka and Mikako attends Yazawa Arts Academy, a prestigious art school that she attends that celebrates the arts. 

Mikako also has friends she adores and a pesky male childhood friend who complicates things tremendously. His name is Tsutomu and his sudden popularity (and his handling of it) bothers her for a reason she can’t quite name. While she’s attempting to figure out why, the two of them, along with classmates and friends from school, work together to form a club and do fun things to elevate their crafts and talents like sell and display their hard work at a local flea market.

The first volume has lots of heartache, hijinks, and moments of hilarity among the pages as the teens go from amusement parks to school events to motorcycle shops–all in style and dramatic fashion. As a series that Yazawa published in the 90’s, it is thrilling to see not only her earlier work but the archetypes of later characters in works like Nana (Bubbly and vulnerable Mikako will definitely remind you of our beloved girl boss failure icon Hachi, or maybe more in the vein of Miwako of ParaKiss) and more.

While the first volume of Neighborhood Story wraps up the beginning of Mikako and Tsutomu coming to an understanding, well–Tsutomu–more so on his feelings of love for his childhood friend, Mikako is still wrapping her head around the revelation. The second volume opens to Mikako at school, observing friends like the ever cheerful P-Chan and realizing that she is due for some growing up and maturing and it is up to her to take the first step. She is also coming to a bigger realization that she doesn’t truly know the people she cares about most in her life like her friends.

Like in the first volume when the big revelation about Risa blindsided her, in the beginning of this volume, she is startled when she realized that she doesn’t even know what type of classes or projects that Tsutomu, her crush and lifelong friend takes at their school (she’s in the fashion section, he’s in the visual aid classes). This adds to her vulnerabilities and insecurities, and she lashes out in the worst ways early on. This is intensified when Mikako notices Tsutomu has gotten close to their new classmate and member of their club, Ayumi, and begins to grow jealous. This all plays into the narrative as Mikako continues to juggle school, romance, and getting her brand Happy Berry up and running.

Neighborhood Story
Neighborhood Story Vol 2, Ai Yazawa (Viz)

Neighborhood Story really successfully dives into the messy, complicated girlhood of a teenage girl grappling with everything all at once. This version of girlhood means she disappoints friends and loved ones. It means she projects her insecurities. It means she has big, big feelings about her parents, being a child of divorce, and feeling that her family is less than whole without her father–is valid and all incredibly relatable feelings for readers old and young of Shojo. I give Mikako grace now as I would have given it to her if this manga series were published in the days when I was the same age as she is. I must clarify: while I give her grace–I still hold her accountable for her actions that hurt and affect others. Maturing as a young adult looks different for everyone, fictional characters included, and it is not a one size fits all for anyone.

This volume of the series also dips into the lives of the friends and classmates of Mikako and Tsutomu: unrequited love, competitive attitudes, feeling validated, and anticipation for big events all stand as pieces of the plot that help move the story ahead. There was a tradeoff with certain characters who received more of a spotlight, unfortunately. I wanted to know more about P-Chan and Risa–Mikako’s female friends first introduced in the first volume and saw them shuffled to the background for newer female characters. I was, however, very impressed with the mangaka showing readers more of the mother and daughter relationship between Mikako and her mother, Ruriko. I think readers will be in for a real treat to see just how alike the two are and how they deal with their fears and shortcomings when it comes to their loved ones.

Just like in the first volume of the series, this second volume of Neighborhood Story reminds me that the fashion via the artwork looks timeless. Timeless in the way that this manga’s artwork and the fashion herein, don’t necessarily look dated and still chic. There were so many emotional moments in this volume that the mangaka crafted with love and skill like the reveal of the teens’ club sign/mascot. I was also especially moved by a newer character’s flashback on being moved by someone’s art and being motivated to one day meet the artist behind it. Yazawa as usual does a superb job in illustrating emotions through the volume. The emotional highs and lows in just in the Flea Market weekend field trip for the teens is worth buying this volume for and is the well-paced conclusion to Mikako’s family drama towards the end.

Neighborhood Story
Neighborhood Story Vol 2, Ai Yazawa (Viz)

I’ve missed Ai Yazawa’s striking artwork as I recently gathered all twenty-one volumes of her Nana series via reprints during the pandemic–reliving my teenage years. Seeing this earlier work of hers with characters that are unfamiliar to me, that I did not bring along to the manga club in high school, feels thrilling. On that note, I really appreciate the love and hard work behind the adaptation of making these English language versions look great: from the inclusion of the color pages and related back matter and promo pages to the attention to detail to the book design and flaps on the physical copies. (I am especially in love with the Kinokuniya Exclusive cover for volume one, we are doing it big, Shojo Beat!)

 If Neighborhood Story as a series had its English language translation published instead of Paradise Kiss or Nana years when I was first introduced to Yazawa’s work as a teen, I would have held this series as one of my faves, for sure. This strikes me as serendipitous as Neighborhood Story and Paradise Kiss are set in the same universe as ParaKiss is apparently a sequel of this earlier manga series!!!?? Again, it is so bizarre that we all had to wait over ten years for more of Ai Yazawa’s work to be translated and Neighborhood Story seems like a great series to start with if you are new to her work. I am excited for newer readers of Shojo and Yazawa to follow Mikako’s journey to make a name for herself in the fashion world with more of Yazawa’s work to be translated soon.

If you are looking for more teen appropriate series that deal with romance, school life settings and drama, I’d recommend this series where as Paradise Kiss and Nana venture to the older Teen leaning series with more toxic (and sometimes waaay more problematic) relationships. Overall, Neighborhood Story is a mostly solid series that Shojo fans will welcome from the house of Ai Yazawa. While this second volume punches up with the drama and theatrics, it does not move out of the lane of memorable, hilarious, and both heart-warming and heart-wrenching young woman centered stories that celebrate fashion and relationships–that the mangaka is so well known for. Neighborhood Story remains a Shojo page turner of a series that I am overjoyed that we fans, are finally getting access to, translated.

Neighborhood Story Volume 2 is published through Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint and can be found where comics and manga are sold. Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to have a review copy!

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  • Carrie McClain is writer, editor and media scholar. Other times she's known as a Starfleet Communications Officer, Comics Auntie, and Golden Saucer Frequenter. Nowadays you can usually find her avoiding Truck-kun and forgetting her magical girl transformation device. She/Her

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