A series about geeks, by geeks, for geeks. That’s the best way to describe Akiko Higashimura’s Princess Jellyfish.
The story follows Tsukimi, a young, socially awkward jellyfish geek living on her own for the first time. She rooms with a group of other socially awkward geek girls in a women’s-only apartment building in Tokyo called Amamizukan. One day, Tsukimi sees a little jellyfish in danger at a local pet store. Desperate to save the jellyfish, but too terrified to talk to the “stylish” clerk, Tsukimi is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Then, out of nowhere, a beautiful woman appears. She’s brave and bold and has no trouble helping get the little jellyfish a safe new home with Tsukimi. Her new savior is actually Kuranosuke, a young man with a passion for getting dolled up in dresses, wigs, makeup, and shoes. Tsukimi has never so much as talked to a boy, but now she’s developing a friendship with the most stylish one around. Kuranosuke pretends to be a girl so he can keep hanging out with Tsukimi and her roommates at Amamizukan. Everything goes (more or less) swimmingly until the girls’ beloved home is threatened with demolition to make way for a newer, fancier building. The only way to save Amamizukan is to buy it, but since the girls are all unemployed NEETS, all hope seems lost. That’s when Kuronosuke proposes a plan to save their beloved home: start a fashion line featuring jellyfish dresses! None of the girls are particularly thrilled about the prospect, but they try anyway. Building a fashion line, however, is much more difficult than any of them could have imagined. Will they save Amamizukan, and will friendships survive, or possibly turn into something more?
I’m a geek girl, so I have to geek out about how much I love this series. You’re in store for lots of energy and fun with this one. It’s light-hearted with just enough romance in a slowly unfolding love triangle between Tsukimi, Kuranosuke, and his older brother, Shū, that will keep you in suspense. The contrast between the girls’ unwavering natures and Kuranosuke’s ever-changing styles keeps things lively. My favorite part of this story is how I can relate to these characters on so many levels. I know what it’s like to be a completely obsessed geek with social anxiety. I know what it’s like to feel safe and happy surrounded by a small group of close friends. And I know the emotional roller coaster of tackling a big, independent project. The characters are this story’s greatest strength because the mangaka herself is a geek, so they feel genuine. Her art also shows off her passion and dedication. Her style is uniquely her own, with comedic moments that are fun and funny, and the simple, everyday moments take on a tender beauty. Even the title chapters are full of clever pop culture references that are sure to delight. And the in-between bits where she lets her geekiness shine through are the cherry on top.
The English translation volumes from Kodansha are a gift to geeks, too. They have lots of chapters, so you’ve got about twice as much story to read compared to traditional manga volumes. The translation notes at the end are fantastic. There’s quite a bit of culturally specific stuff, but the notes have got you covered. They’re very thoughtfully written, and readers can learn bits about Japanese language, entertainment, politics, and culture. Maybe it’s just me, but an opportunity to learn something new is a welcome treat.
This is an all-around enjoyable feel-good series. There’s comedy, romance, geek outs. What’s not to love? The first five volumes are available in the U.S. right now, with volumes 6-8 set to be released in September and December of this year, and March of next year. An anime series originally aired in 2010, and is available in the U.S. through FUNimation. If you’re looking for a story that’ll have you smiling and happy the whole way though, definitely read this one.