Minami's Lover cover art

Minami’s Lover

Writer/Artist: Shungiku Uchida (the pen name of Shigeko Uchida)
Translator: H. Paige

Publisher: Fantagraphics
Publication Date: June 27, 2023
Rating: Mature
Genre: Mature Romance, Comedy, Slice of Life, Fantasy

In the opening chapter of Minami’s Lover by Shungiku Uchida (the pen name of Shigeko Uchida), published by Fantagraphics, we are immediately thrust into the unusual relationship of the high school couple, Chiyomi and Minami. It’s unusual because Chiyomi has shrunk to six inches tall!

There is no mention of how Chiyomi came to that miniature state; it’s something you simply accept. She is, however, considered “missing” by everyone else. The police have been alerted, and her parents are worried. Because of an old entry in Chiyomi’s diary that states they’re dating, Minami is grilled about her disappearance, and their classmates wonder why he isn’t more upset by her sudden absence.

Rather than returning home or even going to a doctor, Chiyomi secretly moved in with Minami, living in his bedroom—in a doll’s house, no less. Not only do they have to adapt to this new hurdle in their relationship, but they also have to ensure Chiyomi is not swatted by the house cat, squashed under Minami in bed, or seen or heard by his parents or others as he slips her in his pocket while at school, or on a walk. But the burning question on both their minds: can they still have sex? They try outlandish ways to satisfy their sexual needs with each other and with themselves. And as the story progresses, I am left wondering whether things will go back to normal for these two.

Although the black-and-white and screen-tone illustrations are simplistic, loose, somewhat cartoonish, and childlike throughout, Uchida doesn’t shy away from depicting the sexual desires of pubescent teens here at all. She also draws attention to the responsibilities that can arise from a relationship, who is nurturing who, and the dependence one partner can have on the other. In this case, Chiyomi feels guilty for relying on Minami in all aspects of her everyday survival: eating, bathing, going to the toilet, and so on. She is both a burden and a convenient sex toy when Minami feels horny. Given the circumstances, it’s sad to see how little choice Chiyomi has, although it’s not always one-sided; she also has her needs!

Uchida weaves these issues of gender dynamics and stereotypes seamlessly without being overbearing. And I wonder if this story is a subtle commentary on Japan’s patriarchal society.

More Manga by Shungiku Uchida, Please 

This is my first encounter with Uchida’s works. After reading Minami’s Lover, I want to read more by her! I discovered she is a celebrated manga-ka who wears many hats: novelist, essayist, actress, and singer. She is known for her frankness on issues of feminine sexuality and sexual violence. The latter was explored in the semi-autobiographical novel, Fatherfucker, which details the sexual abuse she experienced from her stepfather. This book and her manga series, We Are Reproducing, about pregnancy and single motherhood, both won a Japanese literary prize.

Minami’s Lover was originally serialized in the alternative magazine Garo in the 1980s. Over the years, it has also been adapted into a television series many times.

Overall, I found the story quite amusing. Despite the absurdist take on the situation, the dialogue between the couple felt honest and sincere. I felt for these two. Even though I was sometimes annoyed with Minami for his disregard for Chiyomi, their devotion to each other came through in many ways. The story culminates in a conclusion I was not expecting. I won’t spoil it, but it left me a bit emotional.

While Minami’s Lover offers a pronunciation guide at the end, I would have loved an essay introducing Uchida, as it would’ve been nice to have a primer for those unfamiliar with her work. But that is something I can also research on my own. A small flaw in a very bold, entertaining, and heartbreaking book that explores themes of connection and intimacy regardless of age (or size) between a couple just figuring things out.

This book came to me at a time when I’ve been discovering and reading more alternative manga by Japanese female artists, like Nazuna Saito, Kuniko Tsurita, and Murasaki Yamada, and I am happy to add Uchida to this list.

Here’s hoping more of Uchida’s work will be translated into English.

Minami’s Lover is out now in print form from Fantagraphics.