by Rebecca Silverman,

Moonlight Moratorium

GN 1 (ebook)

Moonlight Moratorium GN 1 (ebook)
Despite his cute face and petit stature, Saku Tsukimiya has never considered himself less of a man, even if those physical traits cause others to do so. That means that he's absolutely aghast when one day a random bird flies into him and starts calling him “princess!” It turns out that Saku is actually Princess Kaguya, the moon princess, and due to internal affairs, she had to be hidden on Earth for seventeen years…in a male body. But now that Saku's true identity is revealed, his body changes overnight to female, which sets off events put in place the first time Princess Kaguya was on Earth thousands of years ago. There's no making the best of this – Saku just wants out and to go back to living his life as a boy. If only that were possible…

Gender-bender manga does not always require a whole lot of sensitivity. Series like Hana-Kimi or Girl Got Game use the device as a means of getting characters into a romantic situation, while other titles like Tomo-chan is a Girl! or some BL series tread closer to the line of “is this really okay?” Moonlight Moratorium, Saki Aikawa's second series to see an English language release, takes things even farther into not-really-great territory, and while it uses the legend of Princess Kaguya from the folktale known as “Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” in interesting ways, it ultimately may not be quite enough to make this palatable for all readers.

The plot follows seventeen-year-old Saku Tsukimiya, who, despite his somewhat feminine appearance, has always thought of himself as an alpha male. (That's even how he introduces himself to the readers.) His looks do give him trouble, mostly in that he gets hit on and groped on the train, but he's basically a happy guy who is happy to be a guy. It's this total comfort and confidence in his gender identity that makes the major event of the volume feel at least a little off-putting: one day a bird flies to him calling him “princess.” The bird turns out to be an emissary of the moon, and he informs Saku that he's actually a she - the legendary Princess Kaguya, in fact. After returning to the moon back in the Heian(ish) era, court intrigue forced Kaguya's return to Earth, but because of the differences in how time runs between the fantasy kingdom and our world, thousands of years had passed on Earth to the mere months on the moon. Still, the idea was to hide Kaguya for seventeen earth years in a male body to let things die down, and the minute Saku hits that magic age, the disguise fades away.

To say that Saku isn't happy about this is to understate it. Even with a female body, he clearly identifies as male, and when he discovers that Princess Kaguya gave a piece of her power to five men back in the day and that this has essentially landed him in a reverse harem story in the present, he's even more upset. It's hard not to empathize with him – his entire sense of who he is has been ripped to shreds in no time flat. That it's intended to be funny is…let's say a bit problematic.

It isn't difficult to see how Aikawa intends this to be a funny story. Saku's intense reactions to everything are a hallmark of comedic manga, and most of the boys who are descended from the men Princess Kaguya initially gave her power to fit very smoothly into established character tropes. That they've all been fed a family legend about Princess Kaguya's love for their ancestors actually is kind of fun, because the truth is so very firmly something else – or at the very least that Kaguya was actually building herself a harem of hot human men. There's also something heartening in the fact that the presumptive actual romantic interest clearly liked Saku before the physical sex change, which is perhaps a small thing to hold on to, but worth noting nonetheless.

That this doesn't quite succeed as a romantic comedy is a bit surprising given the amount of series Aikawa has under her belt, and the fact that all of those that I've read have been much more ably done than this one. (For the curious, The Fox's Kiss has also been released digitally in English and many of her works are available in French; a time travel romance is being digitally published in English in late March 2020.) The signs of a capable manga creator are absolutely present, too – the use of the Princess Kaguya legend is well-thought out and interesting, the art is attractive and shows a nice difference between the moon people and those on Earth in terms of culture, and each character has their own distinct personality. There are even parts of the book that are genuinely funny or sweet. It's just that the central theme won't sit comfortably with many readers - this stuff is extremely sensitive and is worth being sensitive about - and it hangs over the rest of the volume like a storm cloud at a picnic, ruining the day without needing to actually rain.

If gender issues aren't a button for you, there's a decent chance you'll find a fair amount to enjoy here, and Aikawa is a good enough creator that it may be worth giving this a second volume to see where it goes. But if the very idea of a self-identified boy being told he's really a girl sticks in your craw, I'd hazard a guess that Moonlight Moratorium is not the manga for you.

Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B

+ Some genuinely good moments, art is lovely. Interesting use of an old folktale.
Persistent re-or-misgendering of Saku is off-putting and may ruin the well-intentioned premise.

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Story & Art: Saki Aikawa

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