The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
Ne Ne Ne
What's It About?To seal a political alliance, teenage Koyuki is wed to a masked man almost twenty years older than her. Given responsibilities in running the man's household, Koyuki attempts to be a loving and supportive wife but is thwarted by the way her husband keeps her at arm's length.
A virgin with no experience with women, Shin abides by his father-in-law's request to love Koyuki only platonically until she comes of age. Focused on his work communing with paranormal creatures that most people can't see, such as faeries and dragons, Shin nonetheless finds himself falling for his endearing, eager-to-learn wife. However, he can't bring himself to tell her why they can't consummate their marriage yet—or even to show her his unmasked face.
Ne Ne Ne (12/11/18) is an original manga with story by Shizuku Totono and art by Daisuke Hagiwara. This is standalone volume that has been relaunched as an ongoing series in Japan. It is available in paperback for $13.00 from Yen Press and in serialized form for $0.99-$1.99 a chapter on Comixology.
Is It Worth Reading?
Ne Ne Ne is the story of the incredibly awkward marriage between a teenage girl and a man roughly twenty years her senior. It's also very cute and fairly sweet, and it gets a major pass for being set in either the late 19th or early 20th century, when such things were much more common/acceptable. (Not that they don't work out today – I certainly know a few such couples.) But the setting makes the story more appealing to a contemporary audience, or at least that seems to be the theory, and if you can get past the age gap, there's a lot of cute here.
Part of that stems from the fact that, despite his age, Shin's just as bad, if not worse, at the whole love-and-marriage thing as Koyuki is. That's not, despite what he seems to think, because he's a virgin; rather it's because as someone able to see spirits, Shin has lived most of his life behind both a literal and figurative mask. Rather than simply being a sexual novice, he's a social virgin, and while he's made a comfortable life in his small town, he's also clearly awkward at interacting with people. To suddenly have Koyuki living with him is a major upheaval, and while he welcomes it, he's also clearly not sure how to handle it.
For her part, Koyuki mostly worries that people don't see her as Shin's wife. She's also confused as to why he hasn't attempted to consummate the marriage (the answer: Dad), and she's worried that maybe it's because she's too young or not worldly enough. In her case, “worldly” also means her knowledge of the supernatural creatures Shin works with and for, and in reaction she throws herself into her housekeeping with a vengeance. Because of their mixed communications, neither Shin nor Koyuki is able to fully express their feelings, and so little things, like the mask Shin wears to protect himself from spirits or Koyuki wanting Shin to rest, get blown out of proportion.
While this isn't on the level of something like Horimiya (which Daisuke Hagiwara also draws) in terms of sweetness, it is still cute in the most awkward of ways. The period setting lends a nice timelessness to the story that works with the supernatural elements, and the dragon the couple hatch is pudgy and adorable, like a bad-tempered cat. The age thing may be a deal breaker for some, but if you don't mind it, this is the manga equivalent of a dollop of whipped cream you eat when no one's watching.
Ne Ne Ne reads as the pilot for a heartwarming, slow-burning romance—only it's a standalone volume, which means it feels abruptly cut off. The concept of the husband and wife married for political reasons falling in love with each other after the wedding is endearing, though it's questionable why Shin has to be twenty years older than teenager Koyuki, especially if one of the “jokes” is that Shin is also a virgin who's naïve when it comes to intimacy. There's the main, overriding conflict that Koyuki's father forbade Shin to touch his daughter until she's twenty, but that could have been accomplished with fewer than ten years between the leads. Besides, as the only real conflict of note in this volume, the dilemma proves rather aggravating because Shin never explains it to Koyuki, who's unaware that's why her husband keeps her at arm's length despite her desire for more. Simple communication could have solved everything in seconds.
That issue aside, both Koyuki and Shin are charming. Shin is kind in his dismissal of Koyuki's advances and is often more flustered about the romance than she is. There's the entire secondary plot thread that Shin works with supernatural forces and is forced to wear a mask at all times to keep unwanted spirits at bay, but despite some cute and wonderous moments, the supernatural element feels superfluous and never properly examined, as it might have been in a longer-running series.
Hagiwara makes Shin and Koyuki both stand out with expressive faces—they certainly know how to blush—and dynamic character designs. The setting is vaguely Japan of yesteryear and the backgrounds focus almost exclusively on the newlywed couple's home and occasionally the nearby town. The artist relies more on screentones for emotional emphasis than backgrounds themselves, but there's nothing much to see in the confined setting regardless.
Ne Ne Ne is a sweet, slow-building romance with likeable characters and intriguing supernatural elements that nonetheless fizzles out feeling completely unfinished. Romance readers who like a little bit of comedy and relish the awkward moments that make a new relationship great will enjoy this manga but wish there were more. Fortunately, it looks like the manga is relaunching in Japan as a longer series.
Securing two families' futures together, teenager Koyuki must marry a man over twenty years her senior. Ne Ne Ne is a one shot manga that focuses on Koyuki's feelings for her husband Shin. Each chapter is a lesson in marriage for the two clueless spouses along with some supernatural mishaps that come along with Shin's profession.
In theory, Ne Ne Ne would be really cute, except for the overwhelming fact that there's a 20 year age gap between husband and wife. I know this is fiction and not real life, and I know this is set in feudal Japan, but I'm tired of creepy age gap romances and I'd enjoy it way more if both parties were awkward virgins in their thirties instead of awkward virgins aged 16 and 37, or however old they are. Both Koyuki and Shin are bumbling inexperienced lovers; in fact, it's a part of the plot, but I think there's something to say about both parties being realistically embarrassed in romantic situations and I think a 30-something wouldn't naturally have that response.
Within the first chapter, Koyuki's father demands that Koyuki is not touched until she turns 20, clearly proving that Koyuki's father knows Koyuki is still a child! A few innuendos are made where Koyuki foolishly says something about “buying her husband's body” and the two get visited by a stork! Both Shizuku Totono and Daisuke Hagiwara knew what they were doing and continued to do it anyway, and frankly, it's a little creepy.
If you are one to avoid romances between naive children and more naive adults, then I suggest you avoid Ne Ne Ne. If you can grit your teeth and pretend that this is a pretty normal romance, then have at it, and laugh at Koyuki and Shin's romance.
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