Every once in a while I fall into a rabbit hole and can’t climb out. So I have a subscription to Crunchyroll, and there’s an app that gives me access to certain manga they support.
And I happened onto this little gem called Silver Nina.
Now, it’s kind of dumb and the art isn’t especially mind-blowing. Nina herself is a bit of a spoiled brat and a bit of a Mary Sue, and that’s not a combination that bodes well.
At the same time, the story, which covers about 150 chapters, about the equivalent of eight or ten tankoban volumes, managed to keep my attention because of the way the story was constructed. They showed you three plots, shoved them right out front, so you didn’t notice that the story was REALLY a fourth plot.
So you have this 10-year-old girl named Nina who is half Japanese and half Finnish. Because of her Finnish father she has blue eyes and platinum blond hair, hence “Silver” Nina. Nina’s Japanese mom has to work in Finland for a while, so she sends Nina to live with Nina’s grandmother, who lives in some little dink town in Japan dominated by cabbage fields.
Also in this little dink town is Nina’s uncle Shutaro, who was recently made unemployed by his company in Tokyo and had to move back with his parents. Being otherwise unoccupied, he gets to be Nina’s keeper.
In this little dink town Nina meets new school chums Arisa and Makoto and also Shutaro’s childhood chum Tomoe, who has grown up to be the heir to a giant cabbage field and also possesses a really giant set of AHEMs. (Her female friends are jealous of her endowments, and not one of them is talking about the cabbage field.)
OKAY, ready? Three plots:
One: Nina wants to be star when she grows up. At first she wants to be an idol and later a voice actor for anime, but show biz is what she wants. So that’s The Quest, right?
Two: Nina, Arisa, and Makoto have to get through school. You can argue that’s Overcoming the Monster.
Three: Shutaro had to get his hands on Tomoe’s goodies. No, not really. But there’s obviously a romantic plot there; that’s either Comedy or Tragedy depending on how it turns out.
Okay, three plots. That’ll do.
Number Two, the school plot, is pretty thin, although Makoto, Arisa, and Nina are a Mind-Body-Soul trio: Makoto, the class president, is a serious student who nags the others; Arisa is an athlete and tomboy the boys find challenging; everyone loves Nina and she cheers everyone on. So they run around and do school stuff, and help each other overcome their various weaknesses (Makoto can barely pass gym, Arisa hates to study, and Nina’s behind the others in Japanese). By the end of the story, POOF, they’re in Junior High, the monster of elementary school overcome.
Number One gets solved pretty easily: On a trip to Harajuku Nina is spotted by an agent who is taken by her striking and unusual appearance. Sure, how many Japanese girls with blue eyes and platinum blond hair have YOU seen, leaving the questions of contact lenses and hair dye out of it? So being a model gets her a leg up. (Since she’s 14 at the end of the story, she hasn’t finished this Quest yet, but it’s close enough for government work.)
The romance story (Number Three) is actually cleverly constructed as an Eternal Triangle where the third party is not a person but the bright shining future represented by Tokyo. Shutaro wants to go back and make his way in the big city; Tomoe is tied to her family farm and their small town.
See it? Shutaro loves Tomoe and loves Tokyo. Tomoe loves Shutaro and hates Tokyo. BOOM. Instant tension. If Shutaro goes back to work in Tokyo – and at one point he gets another job there – he has to give up Tomoe, because she’s not leaving her beloved cabbages behind. That would make the plot Tragedy from Tomoe’s perspective.
Of course, the story’s not THAT clever. You can see that Shutaro and Tomoe are going to hook up a mile (that’s about 1.6 kilometers) away. And so in the coda 14-year-old Nina is about to have a brand new baby first cousin. That makes Tomoe’s story Comedy. Yay for Tomoe! Oh, and her dad is showing Shutaro the cabbage herding business.
So you’ve got three plots stuck right in your face. None of them is really tough to work out and you think you’ve seen everything. I mean, the outcome of all three plots is obvious once Shutaro quits his new job in Tokyo. Is that all there is?
Because what they sneak in behind the three obvious plots is a fourth plot that’s not only less obvious (obviously) but really a lot more interesting. Ready?
Four: Nina has to learn how to be Japanese.
Right? Genetically she’s half-Japanese, but she was raised in Finland. She has to learn the Japanese culture from the inside.
In this all the other characters help her. They correct her grammar and teach her calligraphy. They explain manners and show her what to do on holidays. And the cuisine! Nina learns to cook (and we learn with her) all sorts of things and she eats everything in sight – she’s a Tiny Hungry Girl – and is shown what it’s made of and how it’s made. She gets a yukata and geta and learns how to wear them, attends festivals, visits Akihabara and Harajuku, rides the bullet train.
There are even times when she describes the Finnish equivalent of some of the things – Christmas, for instance – she experiences in Japan.
I enjoyed Nina’s journey to find herself, since I am trying to understand Japanese culture (since the culture contextualizes the anime and manga I like). I enjoyed it so much I didn’t even notice that it was the real story in the story until I sat down to figure out what the story really was.
Sure. She shows up as a Finnish girl and ends up on her way to idol-hood. Could she be any more Japanese at the end?
Cute. Cute and clever, and I likes me some clever, I do.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.