Sumire Iwaya, the protagonist of Tramps Like Us by Yayoi Ogawa (licensed in North America by TokyoPop), is an ambitious and attractive journalist who has found herself isolated by her success. She returns home at the end of a particularly bad day to find a young man sleeping in a box near her doorstep. Exhausted and lonely she invites him to live in her apartment on the condition that he assumes the role of being her pet. Sumire even going so far as to “name” him Momo after the dog she had as a child. (The original Japanese title is Kimi wa Petto, literally, You Are My Pet.)
The premise seems potentially risqué and, indeed, much visual and textual tension is generated by the odd proximity this living arrangement creates but this manga is not particularly explicit and the adult themes are handled with a lot of nuance and humour.
Tramp Like Us has all of the narrative tropes that make josei so enjoyable and relatable. The complexities of office relationships and the tensions between personal expression and social expectation endlessly vex Sumire. Romantic relationships and her ability to negotiate them are far from idealized.
The manga-ka of the series, Yayoi Ogawa, is talented and prolific and her work continues to gain popularity in North America. Her art work is very distinctive. The line work in particular is an extraordinary balance of elegant fluidity, expression and simplicity and Ogawa’s page designs are effective without being distractingly over-executed.
This manga is an illustration of how public libraries could expand their collections to include titles that would appeal to older female readers while also enhancing quality and diversity. When purchasing for public libraries a bit of extra time taken to read a few online reviews would clarify the quality and content of what might initially seem merely a lascivious amusement. There is a lot of bluntly pornographic manga available and public libraries have to act judiciously in selecting more adult material. Increased knowledge of josei and awareness that the genre has a lot of merit should help to insure that josei titles are not dismissed along with other more shallowly explicit titles. Tramps Like Us is a series for adult readers but, particularly when the quality of the story as art and entertainment are considered, it seems a good candidate for public library collections.
aside: Why was Tramps Like Us chosen as the title for the licensed translation in North America? It makes this series sound really questionable and is also, well, lame. Is it a reference to the Bruce Springsteen song that also comes up when Googling this manga? Double lame.
another aside: Ogawa does seem to have a unique ability for choosing subject matter that looks really incendiary at first glance. (The links in this section are all over the place…) Some of the plots of her josei titles are a bit eyebrow-raising; Baby Pop “cool and gorgeous Nagisa paired with her perverted and stupid step-father Ryunosuke”(!), Candy Life “39 year-old man or the hot 19 year-old guy which is the 39 year-old’s sort of adopted son?”(!), Extra Heavy Syrup “Yuki and Emiri are staff at Syrup Cleaning Service, but they actually only have one true goal… and that is to find their long-lost boyfriend, Akira.”(!?). (I’m really hoping that this is a gonzo-josei riff on Katsushiro Otomo’s Akira.) Needless to say, it may be a while before Ogawa creates another series as amenable to public library collections as Tramps Like Us.
Images: panel from Tramps Like Us, Extra Heavy Syrup (cover image) by Yayoi Ogawa,