Plain-Looking Heroine is Radiant Star of High School Comedy

The cover of the first volume of “Skip to Loafer” (“Skip and Loafer”) by Misaki Takamatsu, published by Kodansha

Skip to Loafer (Skip and Loafer)
by Misaki Takamatsu (Kodansha)

“Paying pilgrimage to sacred places” is a hobby of one of my otaku acquaintances. He recently published a doujinshi (manga and anime fanzine) titled “Skip to Loafer Junreibon” (“Skip and Loafer pilgrimage book”), so I got a copy from him. Needless to say, “pilgrimage to sacred places” in this context means traveling to places that have been used as settings for manga and anime.

His doujinshi is a travel book for the manga “Skip to Loafer” (“Skip and Loafer”), in which there are two “holy places.” One is in western Tokyo, where the protagonist, Mitsumi Iwakura, attends high school. The other is in the city of Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, which is the model for Ikajima, Mitsumi’s hometown where she lives until she graduates from junior high school. Suzu is a small city at the tip of the Noto Peninsula. I learned from this doujinshi that Suzu is experiencing much excitement thanks to the popularity of the manga.

The story is about Mitsumi, a rural child prodigy, who enrolls at a prominent Tokyo high school with the grand ambition of “being admitted to the T university, the top educational institution of the country, and becoming a bureaucrat.” On the morning of the day of the school’s entrance ceremony, however, she loses her way at a train station, trips and falls down on the street, runs barefoot, and vomits in front of all the students of the school. She therefore becomes widely known, but in a bad way.

Yet Mitsumi happens to have formidable talents of her own. She is straightforward, tough as Teflon and clueless to the point that she is unaffected by the spitefulness of others. Various types of boys and girls, whose personalities seem incompatible with each other, gather around Mitsumi: A handsome but hard-to-pin-down boy, a pretty but aloof girl, a cutesy girl with a two-faced personality, a bookish girl with a strong inferiority complex, and so on. They start building a miraculous circle of friendships.

When I bought and read this manga about three years ago, it had only just begun, and I did not quite understand what was so interesting about it. This time, I read all nine currently published volumes in one go and was deeply impressed, albeit belatedly.

A goofy country girl gives inspiration to city kids and spreads happiness. When summed up like this, the story may sound like a Japanese rendition of “Heidi.” But the thing that sets this manga apart is Mitsumi’s character design. Her face is far from that of a manga protagonist. She looks so plain and so ordinary that she could be one of the mob characters. This ordinariness is even more striking since she is always surrounded by good-looking boys and girls.

Nevertheless, Mitsumi is radiant as the heroine in this story, capably occupying the center stage. She has really cool lines, such as, “I fall down a lot, Shima-kun, but I’m also super good at getting up!” which she says to the aforementioned handsome boy Sosuke Shima in the fourth volume.

Her friends are all sensibly drawn in different styles. Cute-acting Mika Egashira is introduced as a nasty girl, but hers is a character that is probably closest to the readers, and she shows a remarkable transformation throughout the manga. The lack of emphasis on romance is also unusual for a comedy manga of this kind. Nothing spectacular happens in the story, but the author’s skillful storytelling and deep observation of people makes it such a compelling read.

Mitsumi aspires to become a bureaucrat because she wants to do something for her depopulated hometown. Even so, she begins to consider Tokyo her second hometown. Mitsumi says, “I think the memory of any particular land is the memory of the people there … So I will surely fall in love with this place.” This manga is not only a comedy about high school friends but also a masterpiece about people and places. I’m starting to fancy making a “pilgrimage” to Suzu myself.