Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Days of Love at Seagull Villa
Mayumi is looking for an escape. Her fiancé has dumped her after getting her (former) friend pregnant, and she just can't bear to be in the same city as them anymore. Inspired by a TV ad, she takes a job as a middle school teacher on a relatively remote island and arranges to live at a boardinghouse called Seagull Villa. Her first impressions of the place aren't wonderful – her landlady Rin initially thinks that Mayumi's going to jump off a bridge – but the longer she stays on the island and the more she gets to know Rin's story, the more she starts to wonder if maybe she hasn't found the place she wants to be after all.
Days of Love at Seagull Villa is Naoko Kodama's third title (not counting short stories in anthologies) to be translated into English, and it almost feels like she's reworked elements from both of those other two titles into this one: Mayumi's fiancé and her best friend have been sleeping together behind her back (NTR) and she's quickly developing a relationship with Rin, her new landlady, in a way that feels very reminiscent of I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up. But even if you didn't like either or both of those books, Days of Love at Seagull Villa's first volume is still enough of its own story that it isn't worth dismissing out of hand, even if it does have what might charitably be called a slow start.
The main protagonist of the piece is Mayumi, a woman in her late twenties who has just suffered a severe emotional blow: her fiancé broke up with her after cheating on her with her (former) best friend and causing the other woman's pregnancy. Hurt and horrified, Mayumi decides to buy into the TV ads she's seen advertising the peaceful and beautiful life in the country and flees, taking a job at a middle school on what appears to be a fairly remote island. Rather than renting a house – if this island is anything like the ones I know, there are no apartments – Mayumi arranges to live at Seagull Villa, a (the?) local boardinghouse. The establishment is run by a woman named Rin, and she, Mayumi, and Rin's toddler niece are the only residents of the building.
That, however, doesn't prevent Mayumi from being thrown in at the deep end of island life. While the claims about plain old rural life she saw on TV may be true, living on an island, even one with a ferry to the mainland, is an entirely different thing, because the options for gossip and entertainment (which are basically the same thing) are so much reduced. Everyone knows about the new teacher who's come from the big city; every single person Mayumi meets is fully versed in as much of her biography as she's made public, and all of them have advice/admonishments/thoughts that to her feel intrusive. It's a very real picture of island life in that regard, and one Mayumi is utterly unprepared for. In part this is because of her own biases – she makes a lot of assumptions about the place and people that are completely wrong, and one of the undercurrents of the story is that both Mayumi and the townsfolk are all learning that they really don't know a whole lot about others.
Rin is the focus of Mayumi's thoughts and actions for the most part. They get off on the totally wrong foot when Rin tackles Mayumi on a bridge, assuming that she's about to throw herself off of it. It's a short bridge and the tide is high, so this says more about Rin acting before she thinks things through than anything. Mayumi, for her part, decides that Rin is either a delinquent (she has short, bleached hair) or a local loony, and both women are surprised when they discover that they're landlady and tenant. Things don't improve when, upon arrival at Seagull Villa, Mayumi sees two kids and assumes that they're biologically Rin's, Rin barges into the bath to share it, and then Hinata, the younger child, latches on to Mayumi in a very literal and inappropriate way. When Rin then turns out to have arranged a welcome party for the very overwhelmed Mayumi, things have basically hit rock bottom.
The romance, therefore, has a lot of work to do to conquer the women's assumptions about each other and to steer them in the right direction. They both eventually realize that they've gotten off on the wrong foot, and Mayumi is the first to acknowledge that she may have made some very poor guesses about Rin when someone mentions that she's raising her niece. Hinata and Rin are all that's left of the family after the rest died in an accident, which makes Mayumi really think about her own situation and how, hurtful and terrible as it is, it may also be stopping her from looking at what others are dealing with. The same goes for Rin, whose brash exterior is at least in part a shield to keep her safe from a world that let her down very badly.
All of this does make for a very slow story build, because there's a lot to set up. Before anything can really happen, Rin and Mayumi need to understand each other, and that's not something that can be rushed if the love story is going to work. The unfortunate side effect is that Kodama tries to flesh things out with “humor” along the lines of an older man patting Mayumi's butt and telling her she has good birthing hips (Rin thankfully shuts him down) and Hinata trying to nurse because her late mother had large breasts like Mayumi, which doesn't make any sense even if Hinata wasn't a bit old for nursing and certainly hadn't nursed in the past year. There's also a subplot about the other girl who was at Seagull Villa when Mayumi arrived, a middle schooler who lives down the street with her father's wife and daughter (she's illegitimate) and who seems to have a thing for her half-sister. While presumably it's meant to inject some sexiness into an otherwise fairly tame volume and to give us a third person who feels like she doesn't quite belong in her life, it's mostly just distracting and a little off-putting.
There is enough here, however, to make for a good reason to pick up volume two. Days of Love at Seagull Villa feels like it may be biding its time a bit, and with the unsettling end to this book and the groundwork it lays down, this may be one of those series that gets better as it goes on.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Island life rings true, Mayumi and Rin feel like a couple we'll be able to get behind.
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