This post is part of the 30 Day Manga Challenge series. Day 1: Your Very First Manga
One week back in 2006, the Scholastic Book Fair set up shop in my middle school’s library. I had $20 to spend, given to me by my mom on the condition that I buy actual books instead of those wacky pens and bookmarks they sold each year.
Somewhere among copies of Harry Potter and Captain Underpants, I found my very first manga: Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode. I distinctly remember seeing the cover—featuring a bright pink, bunny-eared girl—and immediately grabbing a copy.
As a standalone story, Tokyo Mew Mew a la Mode follows the formulaic pattern of most magical girl narratives: ordinary schoolgirl gains extraordinary powers, fights a slew of bad guys, and falls in love. After an incident at Cafe Mew Mew, our ditzy protagonist, Berry Shirayuki, becomes the newest Mew Mew, a half-cat, half-bunny hybrid. Faced with new responsibilities, she joins forces with the rest of the Mew Mews (sans Ichigo, who’s studying abroad for the first half of the series) to fight a new threat, the Saint Rose Crusaders. Oh, and there’s also Tasuku, her childhood best friend. You see where this is going.
Where the original Tokyo Mew Mew excelled at developing compelling characters and a rich plot over its seven-volume run, a la Mode falls flat. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a two-volume series, but honestly, that’s not a good excuse. The supporting cast lack all personality. Tasuku’s clingy attitude towards Berry is super cringey. And Berry herself? Well, she’s the ultimate Mary Sue, written like a gratuitous self-insert. Things picked up when Ichigo appeared back on the scene, but with Berry hogging the spotlight, the plot didn’t get much better.
But as a kid? I loved it. When it came to Japanese media, I was clueless. I had an inkling of what anime was, having grown up watching what I could on cable TV and buying Ghibli movies on VHS. At the time, Mew Mew Power aired on 4Kids. Tweenage me was a fan, despite the terrible dubbing and heavy-handed, Americanized censorship. (I didn’t really know any better, honestly.)
So getting to learn about the Mew Mews through a new medium, especially one that felt so different, was a treat. I didn’t understand why the book was printed backwards, or why all the characters I recognized from the show had different names. Even so, I read through it once, then twice, and before I knew it, I was dragging my mom to Borders to buy Volume 2.
Twelve years later, a la Mode still rests on my bookshelf. I’ve since given away the rest of the series, but this book, despite all its glaring flaws, holds a special place in my heart.