Suppli is a smart, funny manga about the dilemmas of single life in the twenties. Although manga-ka Mari Okazaki uses exaggerated emotions and gestures to establish her characters, the core of the story is very believable: a 27-year-old woman emerges from a stale relationship to find the whole world of experiences that she had been missing. She gets caught up in her job, experiences bursts of insecurity, starts a relationship but sort of wonders about someone else… It’s chick lit at its best, with a gentle bite and a lot of attitude.
The story opens with a two-page spread that sets up the themes for the rest of the volume: First we see 27-year-old Fujii Minami getting dressed for work, muttering “Battle preparation complete” as she sweeps up her hair into a ponytail. Her boyfriend sits up in their futon, sulky and tousled, and grumbles that she is working on his day off. “Which is more important to you—work or me?” he asks. Fujii doesn’t reply; a question like that is its own answer. Instead, she goes to work and mulls a bit about whether she should break up with her boyfriend. A few pages later, he solves the dilemma by dumping her.
That’s the prelude. This volume of Suppli is really about how Fujii copes with her new freedom. As before, her life centers around her demanding job at an advertising agency, but now she can go out for karaoke with her co-workers after spending all day at the office. Work keeps her from brooding for long, but it leaves room for little else; her introspection is invariably cut short by someone demanding that she do something (usually three things) right now. And while Fujii really enjoys the creative aspects of her job, such as working with an innovative costume designer, she is also frustrated when her most original ideas are shot down by conservative higher-ups.
It doesn’t take long before two co-workers emerge as potential love interests: the hunky but quiet Ishida, who is slow to profess his feelings, and the dreamboat Ogiwara. Work throws Fujii and Ogiwara together, but Ogiwara pushes back a bit—he’s still vulnerable after his last relationship—which just makes him more attractive. But Fujii keeps ending up sitting next to Ishida, blurting things out to him or sharing awkward moments of silence. Her other co-workers are actually more interesting, serving as foils for her anxiety (a 40-year-old woman who never married) and providing a running commentary on her life.
One aspect of Suppli that really rings true is the self-deprecation of the single female. Fujii doesn’t take care of herself. Her apartment is a cluttered mess, her refrigerator is empty except for a metastasizing potato, and her coat is full of holes. She’s not one of those women who is happy in her own skin, who would buy a house or even a good set of dishes before she’s married. She has no life outside her relationships with others.
By the end of the first volume, Okazaki has set up a mildly interesting romantic triangle and a much more interesting office ensemble. The characters and situations are exaggerated, but a lot of it feels real—the office banter, the deadline pressures, the anxiety of being 27 and still single.
Okazaki’s art fits her story well, often reflecting and enhancing the mood of the characters. Everyone has the attenuated look and swooping gestures of a fashion drawing, but the art is not generic; each character has a different style and manner. The office scenes are often cluttered with people and details, but at moments of strong emotion, the backgrounds drop away and the characters are alone on the page.
The one drawback to Okazaki’s art is the flip side of its strong point: Her complicated composition. She quickly shifts point of view and switches from one character to another. She stacks horizontal rectangles on top of one another and scatters small panels across a larger scene. When this works well, it builds excitement, keeping the eye moving quickly across the page and building a sense of excitement and action. Sometimes it gets to be too much, the page explodes with speech balloons, and the story gets hard to follow.
In terms of production, Tokyopop put a little extra into this book: The cover is gorgeous, and there’s a page of cultural and translation notes in the back. Other than that, it’s standard Tokyopop quality, which is fine for a book like this, although a color page or two would have been nice.
Suppli is a promising story with interesting art, but what really makes it work is the emotional authenticity that Okazaki achieves. There’s something very believable about Fujii and her co-workers, their conversations and their attitudes. Toward the end, Suppli takes a turn toward standard romance. Not to wish Fujii ill, but I hope her life stays messy—it’s more interesting that way.
This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.