Kyoko Okazaki’s series Pink, collected into one volume by Vertical Comics, tells a story of–as the book’s back cover emphasizes–“love & capitalism” through the daily life of Yumiko, a full-time office worker and part-time call girl doing her best to keep her bills paid and her pet crocodile fed. It takes a lot of meat to keep a crocodile content in a Tokyo apartment, so Yumiko works both her jobs as well as she can to keep him happy and herself outfitted with any little pleasure she desires. Does the series tell a compelling story and convey its themes effectively?
It does all that and more. I can’t recall a manga series that handles themes like sex work and casual sex between adults in as frank and mature a way as Okazaki does. Yumiko’s part-time job as a call girl is treated as just that: a part-time job to earn some extra money to keep her pet fed and let her treat herself to whatever clothes or food she wants. There’s no shaming, no framing her story as tragic, no othering of Yumiko or her profession. Though there is a brief moment of the media using sex work in order to craft a juicy story, this moment is part of the social commentary Okazaki employs throughout the volume.
Though this is a comical, slice-of-life story about a girl and her crocodile, the series has a running subtext about the kinds of socially engendered beauty and behavioral standards women of all ages have to meet. Yumiko, her stepmother, and her little sister all comment on or even subscribe to societal norms that are the byproduct of capitalistic advertisements which define what a beautiful or successful woman looks like. This idea is often highlighted by the chapter title pages which feature drawings of staple images of culturally defined beauty like Barbie or Tinker Bell. Most of the commentary on capitalism is kept in subtext like this and I appreciate that Okazaki lets the themes develop naturally through the reader’s own analysis rather than feel heavy-handed and distracting from the humor.
Speaking of Okazaki’s art, the series is drawn in a simple, cartoony style that juxtaposes the series’ mature themes and keeps the tone light and easygoing throughout. There’s less attention paid to accurately rendering the bodies of people or reptiles and more to conveying an exasperated sigh or cheer of delight. One of my favorite details about the series’ art is the little notes the author occasionally pens next to panels, commenting on how a hand she drew looks off or how Croc’s head looks more like a frog than intended. These notes make the series feel personable even on a structural level and made the artistic style all the more likable. Even though Croc isn’t the most realistic-looking crocodile in manga, the simple style makes him adorable and convincing as a pet Yumiko would love.
The other major cast member throughout the series is Haruo, a young man who claims to be an aspiring novelist while also coming across as aimless and unmotivated. Of the cast, his character feels the least nuanced, serving more as a “straight man” character to react to Yumiko’s ridiculous pet and occasionally quickly change moods. Yumiko’s personality, on the other hand, is layered with desire, stubbornness, enthusiasm, and disinterest. She’s a complicated character that feels very real whereas Haruo is a bit less nuanced. Though he has interesting characteristics like his position in an affair with a married woman, he feels comparatively flatter next to the women of the series. Though this isn’t a big enough issue to make his character completely uninteresting, there is a conflict near the end that holds a degree less weight because I am slightly less interested in him and more interested in how Yumiko feels about him.
Overall, Pink is an excellent gem of a series that I would recommend to any reader looking for a mature yet comedic manga packed with social commentary. When I finished the volume, I both wanted more and was completely content with the chapter of Yumiko’s life I was shown. I was left with a lot to think about with regards to how much agency a person has over their outlook on life after growing up in a capitalistic society and whether or not one can get by on life’s simple pleasures like pink roses and a crocodile’s gaze.