Manga series depicts the best example of the bookish girl, Maria Kodama

© Yoshiharu Mishima
The cover art of the first volume of “Kodama Maria Bungaku Shusei” (The Literature of Maria Kodama)

Simply put, I would say that “Kodama Maria Bungaku Shusei” (The Literature of Maria Kodama) is, as of 2021, the best-ever manga about bookish girls.

Maria Kodama is president of her high school’s literature club, as well as its sole member. Her classmate Fueta wishes to join the club, but to do so, he first must pass Maria’s entrance test. The subject of the first test is metaphors, but as Maria explains to the prospective new member, simply explaining something’s appearance is not a literary metaphor. She gives a few examples such as, “A leaf like Jupiter,” “A cat is as cold as curry rice,” “The sky is as meaningless as a music box.” She then asks Fueta: “Give me a metaphor that describes me.”

While it isn’t really clear just when book-loving girls became a mainstay in otaku culture, the introduction of Yuki Nagato in the anime version of “Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu” (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya), broadcasted back in 2006, undoubtedly had a huge impact on its audience. Since then, beautiful and quiet girls who spent their time reading books in the club room have become a standard character in manga and anime.

Previously in this column, I hailed the manga “Hibiki” by Mitsuharu Yanamoto as a masterpiece. I think the unexpectedly violent personality of its female lead, the titular Hibiki, was also a variant of the Yuki Nagato archetype.

Strictly speaking, such book-loving female characters were the type who only looked knowledgeable. That, however, isn’t the case with “Kodama Maria.” I believe that Maria’s numerous literary discussions on various subjects are the real deal. I feel this manga explains in the simplest and most comprehensible term, the concept of how “the world is made up of words,” and, therefore, “literature is born from a skepticism of words.” I’ve never read another manga that explains this concept so clearly.

I was impressed by the brilliant ending and fantastical idea represented in one particular chapter, in which Maria and Fueta have a conversation using Lego blocks as a substitute for the Japanese alphabet. Maria confidently declares that words are just mechanical parts of a machine, and literature is all about how that machine is put to use. This idea corresponds with a concept introduced in the Akutagawa Award-winning novel “Higanbana ga Saku Shima” (The island where the spider lily blooms) by Kotomi Li. In an essay commemorating her winning the literature prize, Li boldly wrote that “the Akutagawa Award itself is fiction.”

The art style of “Kodama Maria” utilizes rough, bold lines reminiscent of woodblock prints. This was devised as a visual narrative technique. Although Maria is depicted as a girl with long, white hair, this is only how she is seen through the eyes of Fueta. The “real” Maria seems to have a different appearance. As the story progresses, we gradually discover that Fueta lives in a world of delusion, and Maria sees the literature within him. I think this manga is an excellent example also of a rather distorted romantic comedy.

One volume of “Kodama Maria” is published every year. Because the third volume has recently been published, now is a good opportunity to read and enjoy all three volumes in one sitting. I found Fueta’s response to the query, “Doesn’t manga count as literature?” to be very nice, as well. He said, “There are a number of theories on that.”