Crocodiles are an Office Lady’s best friend.
I’ve read a lot of manga this year, and I’ve read a good number of top-notch titles (Wandering Son, Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths, Blue Morning, Utsubora, to name a few) as part of that. Yet even when I was just a third of the way through pink, it already surpassed anything else I’ve read this year. I think a lot of this has to do with the simple fact that it was utterly unlike anything else I’ve read this year thus far, as well as being fairly unlike anything else I’ve read of manga at all before – while some of the elements call to mind Hataraki Man or Erica Sakurazawa’s works, other things are wholly their own thing, like the fact that our heroine works as a prostitute in addition to being an Office Lady because she would otherwise have difficulty feeding her pet crocodile.
pink stars the aforementioned OL/prostitute (generally referred to as a ‘call girl’ in-text), Yumi, who likes pretty things, loves her pet crocodile, Croc, and lacks ambition to much else since she’s pretty satisfied with her life as it is. She doesn’t like her stepmother at all, but adores her younger half-sister, Keiko, who frequently treks across Tokyo in late-night cabs to visit despite clearly being no older than perhaps fourteen or thirteen. College student Haruo manages to trip into all their lives, starting off as a “manstress” for the stepmother whom only knows Yumi by her stepmother’s complaints, and who aspires to be a great novelist despite having no ideas worth writing about. At one point Croc attempts to eat him. At an earlier point, Keiko totes a neighbor’s yappy dog across town and she and Yumi feed it to Croc.
pink ultimately reminds me a bit of the old career girl genre of fiction that had its heyday in America in the 50s and 60s. Yumi doesn’t have the motivation most of the characters populating those pages did, but its still that ‘slice of women’s life in capitalist boomtimes/a rapidly changing society’ feel to it – Caroline of Rona Jaffe’s ‘The Best of Everything’ might have a strong desire for a serious career, but she and Yumi certainly share an affinity for snubbing societal standards that is borne out of their own pursuit of happiness rather than a thirst solely for rebellion (and if you enjoy pink, you’d probably enjoy that book, too).
Its a bit difficult to explain exactly what about pink is so enthralling. Yumi makes for a fairly compelling character, which feels a bit odd considering that she’s generally such a satisfied character – one is more accustomed to being pulled in by characters who aren’t entirely happy with their circumstances, who persistently dream of something better, something more. Yumi has moments where she thinks of things she may wish to do, too, like go live in a jungle, but it comes across more as, “Wouldn’t that be fun?” rather than, “Sighhhh I wish I could do that because this sucks!” Even a more morose span toward the end of the story is a blip compared to the rest and unsettles another character because of how truly contrary it is to her usual nature. I think that Yumi’s sense of satisfaction ends up being compelling, though, because she is a female character, and as a consumer of pop culture I’m utterly unused to the notion that a female character could have a sense of contentment while being the main character – contentment in female characters in fiction is largely the province of peripheral grandmothers and very tiny children, after all.
Yumi’s contentment also stands out because of her secondary career as a call girl. She never agonizes over it – she doesn’t get worried that she is somehow unworthy as a result, nor is she saddled with some soppy romance storyline with a customer. Sometimes she’ll see a customer on TV afterward, as they tend to be powerful men, but she watches it as anyone might, just with some added observations, like how a man who speaks of animals’ rights had a crocodile skin wallet with him. Nor is she punished for it, which is rare when not dealing with a ‘hooker with a heart of gold’ scenario. Prostitution is simply a job for her, much like how her work in the office is simply a job.
An aside – I have a strong suspicion Inio Asano read this manga at some point, although I refuse to say why. If you read both, or you’ve read both already, I’m sure you’ll know what I’m referring to.
I was quite pleased with Vertical’s release. The cover art is crisp-looking and the pink color of the title suitably neon. It’s also a good size – larger than the ‘standard’ (i.e. the size Yen and Viz use for the majority of their releases) releases in North America, making for a reading experience that is kind to the eyes. And while it feels like I just say the same thing over and over again when it comes to Vertical’s releases, I can’t assume you’ve read them so – as usual for Vertical release, the transliteration flows smoothly and completely avoids becoming mired in slang that is destined to be outdated by this time next year.
Anyway, I looooooooooooooooooooved pink, and you should buy it, too, because I want more Kyoko Okazaki in English from Vertical. Highly recommended for anyone whose approach to manga for adults in North America is to grab everything while shrieking, “MORE MORE!”, amid promises to chuck fistfuls of money at anyone who will license Collectors or Hikari no Machi.