Tsubaki-chou lonely planet is a shoujo romance manga that began serialization in 2015 and only recently ended in 2019. Although online databases list it as having 85 chapters, in reality it’s 77 chapters with extra bonus chapters bundled in together. Initially after reading it, I thought, “this is probably the best romance manga I’ve read,” but I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s just “the best romance” period.
In this post, I’ll be going through a quick, brief of the premise of the story, then through some of the things that I think make it stand out on top of other romance stories, especially shoujo ones.
Eventually I end up talking about spoilers, but I’ve marked that point clearly in the post so that anyone can finish up to the point where I begin to show some more major spoilers.
Ohno Fumi is a female highschooler who finds out that she’s in a huge debt due to troubles concerning her father. In order to begin paying it off, she finds a job as a housekeeper for a novel author. Unexpectedly, the author, Akatsuki Kibikino, is a young and handsome man. He puts Fumi off initially with his rude and aloof demeanor, but Fumi soon finds herself falling in love with him despite their age gap and her role as a housekeeper.
Now that sounds like a pretty generic plot for a run of the mill shoujo romance, and it’s definitely true– Tsubaki-chou doesn’t have much going for it in terms of its initial premise. But the character building, excellent art and panelling is what makes it stand out to me.
I’ll put the first spoiler warning here. If you’re somehow already convinced that you want to read this manga, then go ahead. Leave this post and come back once you’ve formed an opinion on it. I won’t link any, but you can easily find translations online for free– though I’d strongly push that if you enjoy it at all, then you should buy some volumes online to support the creator. But since there’s no english release as of now, I personally think it’s okay to go wild. I’ve avoided using any photos of the manga until now, and I will continue to avoid adding any that have spoilers on them, but I’m an advocate of going as blind as possible into any storytelling medium.
The author and artist of this manga, Yamamori Mika, previously put out another manga called, “Hirunaka no Ryuusei,” localized as “Daytime Shooting Star.” Seeing the art for it, I didn’t go into Tsubaki-chou with high expectations. The cover art of the first volume definitely looked better than Hirunaka No Ryuusei’s art, but it didn’t look like anything to hit home with.
However, one of Tsubaki-chou’s greatest strengths ended up being its really nice art. There aren’t extreme amounts of detail like you’d find in something like One Punch Man, but the ways that the black and white is used along with a mix of thin and thick lines make the artstyle look really smooth, and I found the character designs really pleasing. I’m not too good at describing art and I’m not very informed on it so I try not to dwell on it much, especially with manga since there isn’t any coloring to speak of. But I do want to say that I think the art is just generally really pleasing and cute. There’s also occasional chibis that are done quite well, too.
Even more so than art, I think that paneling is quite difficult to explain how well it’s done. The best way I can describe the effect that Tsubaki-chou’s excellent paneling has on it is that it allows for a good ‘flow.’ Even with just one page, the viewer is able to easily visualize the entire scene that the author has in mind. The movement in between panels that’s going on in the world, what’s in the perspective of the character’s and what isn’t– it’s all communicated to the reader so naturally and well, it’s hard to not be immersed into the world of Tsubaki-chou.
The Story and Pacing — How Tsubaki-chou ‘goes against’ your expectations(sort of):
There’s common things that happen in Shoujo manga, and honestly most Japanese anime/manga stories that involve romance in general. And that’s artificial, bullshit drama. And they especially involve coincidences as the causes of drama. There’s countless anime and manga I’ve seen where there is some conflict between the male and female love interests where one of them sees the other with someone of the opposite sex, and misunderstands it as them being in love, and/or gets jealous. And they don’t just solve the issue between them for whatever reason, whether it’d be because they were in a fight before, or they’re just not going out yet and they can’t speak honestly with each other. Or you’re at a fireworks festival, and a character confesses, but it’s unclear whether the other person heard the confession or not. That’s the kind of drama that I often dislike. It’s both boring as well as frustrating to watch.
Now that being said, Tsubaki-chou is not free of these cliches. These kinds of cliches I’ve mentioned appear in this manga, more than once, actually. Hearing that you may think, “well how the fuck does it make sense that you like this story or its characters?” but how it handles these situations is what makes the difference. To be more specific, it’s how the characters handle this (bullshit) drama. Instead of spending 5 or 10 chapters on this crap, it’s dealt with in just 2 or 3. That quick of a resolution to the conflict may make it sound like cheap, pointless drama, and maybe with a different, less capable author, I may have felt that way. But in Tsubaki-chou, the characters struggle and feel strongly about the drama like in any other romance story, but they deal with it like adults(sort of). Which may sound funny, since Fumi is supposed to be a high schooler, but she’s constantly shown to be someone who is mature for her age due to reasons I won’t spoil.
I came into Tsubaki-chou with not too high of expectations, but after seeing the excellent art, paneling, and likable characters, I was pretty damn afraid of what was going to happen to the manga when the stupid bullshit cliché began to show up. There’s multiple manga I’ve read in the past where everything had been going really well and I’d been having a blast so far, but some cliché situations are presented and it goes on and on for 10 or 15 chapters. The words ‘boring’ and ‘frustrating’ are really the only words that I can describe my feelings concerning them with. But in Tsubaki-chou, after seeing the more mature ways that the characters deal with conflict and how honest they are to their feelings, it actually made me like them and appreciate them more by the time the drama ended.
And wow, I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far into the post without mentioning it. But a clear common factor between the two manga from Yamamori Mika I’ve read besides the genre is the surprisingly fast developments in the plot. I won’t spoil exactly how long it takes, but it doesn’t take until the 70 out of 77 chapters for any of the characters to confess. The manga covers issues within the relationship and develops that go beyond a confession, whether it’d be one-sided or mutual(trying to avoid giving spoilers).
Since I’m already this far into complaining about stuff I don’t like, I’ll also mention that Tsubaki-chou doesn’t have any love triangles. Love triangles aren’t inherently bad, but I personally just don’t enjoy them very much. So if you’re like me, then that’s another great thing about this manga.
It’s difficult to discuss the characters without going into spoilers, so I’ll just go on record saying that Fumi is totally adorable, and I found myself liking Akatsuki a lot more than I ever would’ve imagined. The way their relationship develops is also something that I never would’ve imagined feeling natural for many chapters, but the manga does a great job in revealing different sides of Akatsuki that while changing your perspective on him and his actions, doesn’t break his character or the reader’s sense of belief.
I’m going to have a second spoiler warning here, since I’ll actually begin discussing more major spoilers from here on out. No filter. If anything that I’ve said so far sounds interesting, then I highly recommend Tsubaki-chou. As I said previously, it’s one of the best romance stories I’ve ever consumed, and I’d highly recommend it to pretty much anyone who doesn’t dislike romance stories.
Characters(Well, it’s mostly just about Akatsuki):
Chapter 29 is probably one of the best chapters in this entire manga, and possibly my outright favorite. Chapter 27 and 28 are also incredibly good, for the reasons that I’ve gone over before. In the climax of 27, Fumi outright confesses to Akatsuki. There’s beautiful artwork of the fireworks and it feels impactful. I got goosebumps, cause I didn’t expect there to be such a fast confession from here. And then in chapter 28, Fumi runs away, and it looks like the manga is going to start this long series of chapters where the characters decide on what they’re going to do. Not that that is always going to be bad, but from the shoujo manga I’ve read, that’s fully what I was expecting. Fumi is crying in the majority of chapter 28, it’s a pretty heartbreaking episode from seeing how down she is and how she immediately distances herself from Akatsuki.
Now until this chapter, I had been having some serious doubts on how Tsubaki-chou was going to convince me that this romance was possible. Fumi’s side of the story is obvious– she’s head over heels for Akatsuki, it feels really believable and it’s adorable. I was rooting for her the entire time, though I wasn’t sure how that was going to be possible with the way that Akatsuki acts.
Throughout the manga until this point, he’s saved Fumi on multiple occasions and gotten angry at or for her. But it doesn’t feel like that’s really out of romantic love, but rather from a more of a parent’s perspective protecting their children. There was definitely some teasing on the fact that Akatsuki has feelings for Fumi, especially with Gorou.
But personally I never really fully bought into the idea that Akatsuki was in love with Fumi. And I think a large reason is that Akatsuki himself doesn’t realize it, either. Until this point he’s never once blushed and shown any indication of romantic interest towards Fumi, and that’s brought to even more attention through juxtaposing it with how reactive Fumi is during their interactions.
Chapter 29 starts with some flashbacks of Akatsuki in the past where he’s failed in love. It’s not completely clear whether it’s him failing to communicate his feelings or if it’s him just not truly being in love(or both), but being in his perspective makes it a lot easier to understand and sympathize with him. A lot of viewers, including me, have been in love with someone before, so normally this kind of thing would be really hard to empathize with, but Tsubaki-chou manages to pull it off pretty well I think.
We then cut to a scene in present time, where Akatsuki takes out some food that’s been pre-made by Fumi. He silently eats it on his table alone with the same blank expression he has in his flashbacks. After this we continue with more flashbacks, except we finally have some narration by Akatsuki himself. I think it might be the very first time we ever see his inner thoughts directly, and it’s incredibly effective. We get to see how he has failed to communicate many times in the past and properly make an emotional connection with girls he’s dated before. We see what’s led to him giving up on ‘love.’
Then we cut back to Akatsuki eating Fumi’s food again. He swallows, and stares silently at the favorite dish of Fumi’s that she called beautiful. We see glimpses of the past where he remembers his experiences with Fumi. He says he began to consider her family, and then suddenly stopped doing so at some point.
Flashbacks keep continuing between his experience with Fumi and his experience with his past girlfriends, except the ones with Fumi are so light and bright, while the others are much darker.
He claims that ‘the answer is clear,’ and stares at the camera(or the reader, I guess). And in the last page of this chapter, we see untidy dishes and finished meals that Akatsuki has eaten over the past few days. The door is open, presumably with Akatsuki having left the house.
This entire chapter, especially the last few pages, is absolutely incredible. The entire manga is black and white, yet it feels like there’s colors here from just how much emotion you can feel in the drawings. The flow between the panels and narration is so god damn smooth, it feels like a fucking movie.
Reading this chapter was the first time I ever felt like ‘pacing’ could have a huge impact on a story. When I finished this chapter (and thought about it later on after finishing the whole manga) I had a difficult time pinpointing what exactly about it made it so good. This chapter, and this manga as a whole, doesn’t have a spectacular story. In fact normally I’d think that ‘I don’t understand love’ would be a boring, trite, and most likely cringy thing to read. But the emotion that you can feel and the fast pace towards the end where Akatsuki comes to a realization and leaves for Fumi is so damn good, I finished this chapter smiling. I came into the chapter thinking, “how are they going to deal with this? Will Akatsuki just awkwardly be presented as being in love with Fumi out of nowhere? Or is he going to reject her?” But I left the chapter completely convinced that Akatsuki is in love with Fumi.
The pay off in the next chapter is great too, and the relationship that develops between Fumi and Akatsuki is adorable, wholesome, and lots of fun to witness. I’d discuss it more, but this post has already overstayed its welcome for most of you I think. Sorry for rambling a bit, but I wanted to provide some more evidence to try and show what I meant by excellent pacing and panelling that I mentioned previously. It’s really hard to do since I can’t just outright show all the pages of the manga, but hopefully I’ve conveyed my feelings from reading that chapter. Also, as I said before, chapter 29 is just one of my favorite chapters from this manga and I wanted to rave about it for a bit.
If you’ve come this far into the review and haven’t read Tsubaki-chou yet, I still strongly recommend it to you. Though I am a strong believer of no spoilers, I think this manga is good enough that it can be appreciated and enjoyed thoroughly regardless of if you know anything about it or if you know that a confession happens early on. The characters are endearing, the art is spectacular and nothing short of beautiful, and… well, I think I’ve already said this before.
There’s some issues about Tsubaki-chou that is minor in the face of the strengths of it that I’d like to discuss sometime, but not in this post, at least.
I’m not the biggest fan of numeric scores, but I’d give Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet a 9.5/10, maybe even a 10/10.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear any thoughts if you’ve read Tsubaki-chou before. Feedback is also greatly appreciated! See you on another post~