When it comes to Japanese period romances, I haven’t read anything quite like Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance. Created, written, and illustrated by mangaka Kaho Miyasaka, the series follows Maria, a 16-year-old who wishes more than anything to change how she looks. In this period, shoujo romance, we see Maria as she discovers young love and self-esteem.
Golden Japanesque is localized in English, distributed in the United States by Yen Press, translated by Taylor Engel, and features lettering from Lys Blakeslee. In this first volume, we’re introduced to Maria, a young girl with blond hair and blue eyes, and is the daughter of a servant to a prominent family in Meiji-era Japan. But, her appearance is a constant point of contention. Terrified that her mother will be thought a whore for sleeping with a foreigner and giving birth to her, Maria has to color her hair and keep her eyes hidden.
Deeply troubled by her own appearance, Maria is soft-spoken and desperate to blend in. Then, she meets a handsome and annoyingly mischievous boy named Rintaru, the young master of the family her mother works for. After he inadvertently discovers her true appearance, Maria is terrified while Rintaru is enamored. The two begin a relationship that begins to impact how Maria sees herself. Ultimately, her story is about becoming confident and ultimately beginning to change what she sees as beautiful.
Like many period pieces, Golden Japanesque directly confronts the impact of Westernization on Japanese concepts of beauty and success. While some move freely and with excitement to Western clothes and technology, others push hard against it. But the one thing both of the sides agree on, Western things, people, and standards aren’t Japanese. For Maria, this is a story about identity as much as it is about romance. By the end of the volume, Maria has begun to feel comfortable in her own skin, but that doesn’t stop her from questioning her Japanese identity given the other girls around her.
While the back half of Golden Japanesque Volume 1 is wholesome and loving, the first half isn’t. In fact, we see Maria ridiculed and bullied by others her age that she happens to meet, including Rintaru. Now, Miyasaka does write Maria as a character speaks loudly once she feels comfortable; initially, readers have to watch as she’s bullied. But, when Rintaru takes an interest in her, we’re also supposed to accept that Maria holds no ill-will and doesn’t even need an apology. It’s that piece of the story that doesn’t sit well with me.
Beyond that, the larger question of whether or not Rintaru is attracted to Maria because of her Western looks or because of who she is remains up for debate, especially as he showcases how he and his family embraces Western dress and customs. That said, and despite the bullying, I’m rooting for a relationship between Rintaru and Maria—though I want one of platonic friendship and not romantic love. Or at least not yet.
Overall, it’s easy to feel for Maria in Golden Japanesque. She’s a character that may speak softly but has much to say. Once this volume wraps, it’s easy to want to see more of her development. I want to see Maria become confident in herself, and because of that, I’ll pick up volume 2.
Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance Volume 1 is available now, wherever books are sold.
Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance Volume 1
It’s easy to feel for Maria in Golden Japanesque. She’s a character that may speak softly but has much to say. Once this volume wraps, it’s easy to want to see more of her development. I want to see Maria become confident in herself, and because of that, I’ll pick up volume 2.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.