Daru-chan: Haruna Lemon

I’m sure I’m not the only book nerd out there who falls in love with a new author and then immediately buys every single other thing said author has done. It’s such an easy way of acquiring new books you’re basically guaranteed to like. With manga, this can be a bit more of a pricey/harrowing process than with novels and other books, though, since you’re likely looking at shelling out for a pile of books just to read one story. On more than one occasion, I have abandoned a promising series because I simply cannot commit to anything that is already ten volumes long and still ongoing. I have a day job, people. Translating those ongoing series. I need to do something else in my off time. 

After reading Fashion, I was eager to check out some of Haruna’s other work. But my reading of Fashion came toward the end of my three-month stay in Tokyo, and there were already a worrying number of books scattered around my apartment that needed to somehow cross the ocean back to (icy, snowy, terrible) Toronto with me. (Fun fact: I ended up needing a whole extra suitcase! That’s how many books I bought. I am out of control.) So I was reluctant to try and hunt down ZuccaxZuca, the title that had originally been recommended to me. At ten volumes, it’s not unreasonably long, but there was no way I was going to be able to cram that many books into my suitcases, which were already bursting at the seams. (Fun fact: This is even after I got an extra suitcase to cram them all into! I am out of control.) 

So when I was wistfully browsing the shelves of my favourite bookstore to find one last treasure to buy to make my attempt to complete a bookstore challenge and thus win an important prize less awkward and embarrassing (an attempt which failed, by the way), I came across Daru-chan and decided that this was an acceptable second foray into the world of Haruna Lemon. It’s only two skinny volumes long! Perfect for overstuffed suitcases!

Sadly, I only picked up the first of those volumes (see: overstuffed suitcase), so I don’t know how this one ends. But the first volume left me dying to know, and that’s always a good sign. Also, in an extremely weird coincidence, I was flipping through My Alcoholic Escape From Reality the other day, and I came across the bit where she references this. very. manga! Right down to drawing panels in Haruna’s style. 

I’d completely forgotten about this, and it was disconcerting somehow to read about a manga I’d just finished reading in a manga I translated years ago. I even looked up Daru-chan at the time to make sure my translation of the panels in Nagata’s book worked with the original manga. And yet I didn’t go so far as to actually read the manga. But I believe that books need to be read when you’re ready to read them, so maybe I was not ready for Daru-chan back then. 

I wasn’t even sure if I was ready now when I started reading it. The cover promises a…lady slug? And the first few pages lean into that. Daru is an alien from Darudaru, her true form a flesh-coloured blob with a cute bob and a red ribbon in it. Somehow, she was born to utterly normal human parents, but she is no human being. She had to work hard to learn the ways of human beings and form herself into the proper shape. The second page shows us just what goes into the making of Maruyama Narumi, the 24-year-old supposedly human office lady. She’s put in the effort and been rewarded for it with a place to call her own at a company that works her like a dog. She’s happy there, though. She knows the rules, what she’s supposed to do, how people are supposed to behave. 

Her trouble begins at an office party where the rules are unclear and her coworkers change under the effects of alcohol. When one of them gets handsy with her, she tries to copy the flirty deflections of a nearby woman coworker, but grows increasingly uncomfortable as he becomes more and more aggressive. Finally, Sato, another coworker Daru barely knows, comes over to her with a glare and insists that they are leaving. Outside, the woman tells her that she can’t let men just walk all over her like that, that that guy was being extremely disrespectful and she needs to stand up for herself. Daru—naturally—comes to the conclusion that Sato is the jerk in this situation, and this is when I was well and truly hooked. 

I’ve seen this more than once, and to see it depicted so honestly, so raw in the pages of a manga honestly knocked me right over. The message that women receive is that male attention is the best, most important attention, and we are so often pitted against each other in competition for that attention. I’ve seen more than one woman have the exact same reaction as Daru does: that woman doesn’t get it, he likes me, he wants me, he doesn’t want her, she’s just jealous, etc., etc. until the end of time. But of course, Sato does get it. She was once where Daru stands. She’s just trying to keep Daru from suffering in the same way she did. 

The way Daru perceives herself as an alien outside of human society reminded me so, so strongly of Murata Sayaka’s work, especially and most obviously Earthlings. But so many of her stories feature women and girls who don’t fit into larger societal expectations and try to whittle themselves down to fit those moulds, only to find the task impossible. The alien metaphor works in Murata’s books, and it works here in Haruna’s. I really need to find out how the whole thing turns out, but of course, I am back on this (cold, windy, bad) side of the ocean, and the post is still not back to pre-pandemic levels of promptness. So it looks like I will be waiting a while to find out how Daru-chan’s story ends. If only I had added just one more book to my poor, long-suffering suitcases!  

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