Miwa Ueda’s Peach Girl, launched in the late 90s and published in English by Tokyopop a few years later, was one of the early shojo manga available in the US about ordinary, nonmagical teenagers and high school drama. And what drama. Though the series begins from the mildest, most innocuous premise imaginable—teenage Momo is worried that her tan will make people think she’s a flashy Shibuya girl when it’s really because she’s on the swim team, OMG!—it rapidly escalates into increasingly outrageous soap opera plotlines. The puppetmaster behind everything is Momo’s frenemy Sae, a creature of pure malice who, behind her winning smile, exists solely to make Momo’s life hell. Sae was magnetic enough to get her own spinoff manga, Peach Girl: Sae’s Story, in the 2000s.
Peach Girl NEXT continues this saga, picking up 10 years after the events in Peach Girl. The characters are in their late 20s, older and at least a little bit wiser. Momo, still looking like an adorably big-eyed Barbie doll, is a scuba instructor living with her longtime boyfriend Kairi, who runs a beachside soba shop. (Tokyopop changed Kairi’s name to “Kiley” in Peach Girl, which Kodansha notes in NEXT while returning to the Japanese name.) Their idyllic life becomes downright perfect when they decide to get married at last. This is, of course, Sae’s cue to reenter Momo’s life and inject the manga with an overdose of drama. Now a successful actress, Sae has no apparent reason to devote herself once more to Momo’s destruction, something the other characters point out to no avail. Her only given motive, as of Volume 1: “Where’s the fun in Momo-chan getting married so effortlessly?”
And so Sae builds a house identical to Momo’s next door, convinces Momo’s hunky ex Touji to move in with her, manipulates the horny soba waitress at Kairi’s shop into seducing him, and on and on. One volume alone has enough melodrama for three or four telenovelas: drugged sexual assaults, tragic deaths, estranged children, infertility, scuba diving emergencies. It’s all utterly ridiculous and as irresistible as a bucket of cheese popcorn.
The spectacular art helps: Ueda’s characters are simultaneously cute, sexy, and stylish, and their adventures are drawn with energy and emotion. The chibi Sae who periodically appears in the margins of the pages, watching the action through binoculars with a kittenish grin on her face, seems like a stand-in for the reader. Watching the soapy drama feels like a guilty pleasure. But when it’s this well done, surely there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Recommended.
story and art: Miwa Ueda