Papillon 3 by Miwa Ueda: B-

papillon125Ageha grew up in the shadow of her beautiful twin sister, Hana, but lately, with the help of her school counselor, Ichijiku-sensei, she’s been gaining confidence. As volume three begins, Ichijiku and Ageha have begun dating, but it doesn’t last long, as devious Hana dupes Ichijiku into believing she’s Ageha and behaves obnoxiously on a date, causing him to call off the relationship. He eventually figures things out, but getting dumped (even mistakenly) is fuel for Ageha’s insecurities, and more drama ensues. Hana, meanwhile, continues to impersonate her sister, using that guise to test her boyfriend’s fidelity.

Papillon has some pretty significant problems. In this volume, for example, it’s completely ridiculous that Ichijiku does not recognize Hana for who she is. She dresses differently, addresses him informally, doesn’t respond to the nickname he’s given Ageha, and behaves like a selfish wench. Ageha and Hana’s boyfriend also fall victim to her tricks without hesitation. With everyone being so incredibly easy to manipulate, I find myself actually rooting for Hana!

The main problem, though, is that I just can’t cheer on the budding relationship between Ageha and Ichijiku because he is a school counselor and she is a student. When Hana’s ruse prompts him to suddenly become a stickler for the rules and declare that a relationship between them is impossible, I think he’s actually making the right call.

Despite these complaints, though, Papillon still somehow manages to be an entertaining read. Part of it is the art, which is quite attractive, and part of it is Hana. I simply must see what deceitful plan she’ll come up with next.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Papillon 2 by Miwa Ueda: B-

Shy Ageha has long dwelled in the shadow of her beautiful and popular twin sister, Hana. With help from her school’s new guidance counselor, however, she’s begun to transform herself. In this volume, she reconciles with her mother after years of feeling that her parents preferred Hana and even moves on romantically when she realizes that her feelings for Ryûsei might not actually be love.

Papillon is a pretty fun series, and I definitely enjoy seeing family issues get some attention in a manga. The reconciliation between Ageha and her mother is a bit too easily achieved, but when’s the last time you saw a shojo manga heroine enjoy a nice warm hug with her mother? Not often, I’d wager.

On the negative side, I can’t help but feel that the actions of Ichijiku-san, the counselor, are incredibly inappropriate. He has groped Ageha a couple of times (apparently accidentally) and playfully made pretend advances upon her that would get him fired about a hundred times over in the real world. It takes me out of the story that he’s doing these things and is seemingly unconcerned about the occupational repercussions.

What I liked best about volume one—the relationship between Hana and her scheming sister—takes a backseat in this volume, but the way Hana lurks about looking furious as Ageha reconnects with her parents suggests there’ll be more sisterly strife in the future, which is all the reason I need to read on.

Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Papillon 1 by Miwa Ueda: B+

When I was in the sixth grade, a particular series of books was very popular. It focused on a pair of blonde twin sisters, the older of whom was kind and thoughtful while the younger was selfish and scheming. Most of the time, the good twin allowed her conniving sibling to have her way, but when it came to a certain boy, she drew the line. Their names were Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield and the series was named after the school they attended, Sweet Valley High.

I mention this because the initial setup for Papillon is pretty similar. Ageha, a shy and bespectacled nobody, and her younger sister Hana, the most popular girl in school, are blonde twins who were raised by different relatives. The only person Ageha feels understands her is a boy named Ryûsei, and when Hana sees them growing closer she moves in to snag Ryûsei for herself. With some encouragement from a decidedly unorthodox guidance counselor, Ageha makes an effort to shed her meek persona and win Ryûsei back. (Her name means “butterfly.” Get it?)

While the concept may not be new, Hana and Ageha’s relationship is still fascinating. Somehow, the masterfully manipulative way in which Hana competes against her sister is more credible for occurring between siblings and hints at all kinds of intriguing psychological baggage. The relationship gives the character depth, as it seems she must have some deeper motivation for her actions than your garden variety Mean Girl. Similarly, Ageha’s powerlessness in the face of her sister’s devious ways also rings true. In the back of the book, Ueda-sensei thanks some relationship therapists for their input and advice; I’d say it definitely paid off.

Unfortunately, Ryûsei is not as well developed. He’s a typical adolescent boy: good-hearted in general but vulnerable when a pretty girl turns on the charm. Arguably, though, he was never meant to be more than a bone of contention between the girls and a catalyst for Ageha’s metamorphosis. The most vivid supporting character is actually Kanda, Ageha’s chubby pal, who betrays her friend when she sees an opportunity to gain attention from the more popular students, a classic maneuver among status-conscious high school girls.

While the term “soap opera” would certainly apply to Papillon, it also offers an insightful look at the relationships between girls. For that alone, this title is one that I will be following with interest.

Papillon is published by Del Rey. Five volumes have been released in Japan so far while the second English release is due in late January 2009.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.