From the nimiety of shoujo manga out there, Toru Fujieda-sensei scores with a refreshing past life-troped offering, starring a wimp who prevails over a prince in the "who’s really her soul mate now?!" duke it out. And they’re fighting over a heroine who’s the farthest from the breathless, "I can’t graduate until I tell him what I really feel for him" chara type.
(From my description of the heroes, you get a hint of why Oyayubihime Infinity—spanning six volumes—is different. Now let me go into more of what makes it special.)
Kanoko, a seemingly shy, bespectacled girl could’ve been the girl you passed by in the halls with a pitying or anxious look, depending on your disposition (unless you get moist-eyed over meganekko—which I sometimes do). But don’t worry about Kanoko; she’s actually the Machiavellian power behind superstar Maya, her older actress sister who is the 180 degrees opposite of Kanoko when it comes to confidence. Aside from blood, the siblings share butterfly-shaped birthmarks on their thumbs that they mark down to some genetic quirk. So imagine Kanoko’s consternation when a guy at school—who has been constantly after her to let him paint her nails (“She’s the only one I haven’t manicured yet!”)—shows off a similar birthmark.
The popular and engaging Tsubame believes that the birthmark brands him as the soul mate of Agemaki, a geisha who lived during Japan’s Tokugawa period, with whom Tsubame in his past life committed couple suicide. His manicuring thing is just a cover (notwithstanding his actual love for it) to look for Agemaki’s reincarnation. But as two sisters possess the same butterfly birthmark, who is really Tsubame’s soul mate? Kanoko gets to hold hands with Tsubame and flashbacks to the time of her drowning; after that unsettling experience, she realizes that she is NOT Tsubame’s fated partner.
So is it Mayu (her sister’s real name)? If so, with whom did Kanoko commit suicide? Furthermore, how come there’s a Mayu stalker, claiming to be the one who threw himself in the river to drown with Agemaki? How come Tsubame’s closest friend Mike also remembers a past life with Tsubame? And as if that’s not enough, how come Tsubame remembers his past life when he accidentally touches someone’s hand during a school concert—hinting at one more prospective Agemaki?
Some of the questions that fly won’t be answered until around the third volume, but the complex back story encourages continued reading; that is precisely this series’ key charm point. The emotional investment, though, rests squarely on the characters.
Speaking of characters, where does the prince come in? While she was illustrating this series, Fujieda-sensei admitted that the reaction to Tsubame as a hero had been lukewarm, so perforce she had to include a character who would become Tsubame’s foil and deliver the shoujo hero readers expect. That is Arata, leader of boy band Splash, who also insists that he is Agemaki’s soul mate. Although he didn’t kill himself with her, Arata used to be Agemaki’s (Kanoko’s) most ardent patron, and, having lost Agemaki in the past, Arata is not about to lose Kanoko in the present.
That I’m one of those fangirls who went squee! over Arata has no bearing on my eventually realizing that Kanoko should be with Tsubame. I agree with what Kanoko said to Arata: there’s nothing more egregious than being pursued because "it was meant to be." Sure, in the beginning, that was also Tsubame’s agenda, but, after meeting his Agemaki, Tsubame cottons on the fact that for him, in the present, no one else would do but Kanoko. Disarming destiny is a position that endears and, ultimately, makes this low-key shoujo series (the art is very spare, almost minimal in its use of angsty angles) precious.
I’m also grateful to Fujieda-sensei for knowing when to stop giving characters past lives. Laudable restraint.
Even though some people maintain that you shouldn’t base your manga buys on the manga-ka, I look forward to other shoujo titles by Toru Fujieda-sensei.