One of the trickiest aspects of reviewing comics for kids is knowing which titles they’ll actually like, as opposed to which titles well-meaning adults (like me!) think they ought to like. Case in point: in August 2009, I reviewed the first volume of ChocoMimi, a title I disliked for its rather dim, materialistic heroines. When my colleagues Lori and Krissy Henderson gave the series high marks in a subsequent mother-daughter review, however, I decided to check in with the series at volume four to see if I stood by initial assessment.
ChocoMimi, Vol. 4
By Konomi Sonada
Rating: All Ages (Recommened for girls 9-12)
2010, VIZ, ISBN: 978-1-4215-2900-4
184 pp., $7.99
To recap: ChocoMimi is a 4-koma manga, similar in tone and structure to an American newspaper strip. The series follows two eighth graders: Choco, the smarter of the two, is bossy and a stickler for the rules, while Mimi, the ditzier one, is cheerful, impulsive, and rather selfish. Most of the jokes revolve around schoolwork (neither is a genius), fashion choices (Mimi, in particular, goes to sartorial extremes), and boys (Choco and Mimi both like their classmate Ando). Interspered with scenes of shopping and studying are pin-up drawings of the two principal characters wearing elaborate outfits, with tips for "how to look sporty" or "how to wear a yukata."
In my initial review, I had high praise for the crisp, stylish artwork, but felt the author’s own attitude towards her characters was troublesome:
Though the artwork is button-cute and extremely detailed, there isn’t much substance to ChocoMimi; author Konami Sonoda devotes more attention to drawing hairstyles and au-courant outfits than developing Choco and Mimi’s personalities beyond a few stereotypical traits. Some of the humor is sweet and good-natured, especially the gags involving Mimi’s dog Chiffon… Some of the humor is more worrisome, however, as it taps into the zeitgeist’s rather dim assessment of young girls as image-conscious shopaholics who are more interested in clothes and boys than serious pursuits. Sonoda’s descriptions of Choco and Mimi are particularly telling in this regard: she informs readers that Choco “shows a lot of skin” even though “she’s not that hot,” while Mimi, an only child who’s “spoiled rotten,” “gets sillier as the story goes on.” About the best I can say for Choco and Mimi is that they remain loyal to one another, even though they both develop a crush on the same boy; Mimi’s “crazy antics” (to borrow a phrase from the back cover) aren’t mean-spirited, just a little desperate.
When Lori and Krissy reviewed the first two volumes in November, however, they gave ChocoMimi an unequivocal thumbs-up, attributing its appeal to a wacky, diverse cast of characters and its heroines’ distinctive fashion choices:
Krissy liked the books very much. She thought the stories were funny, and she liked the "Fashion Notes." She thought they were cool and would like to try some of the outfits. She liked Choco’s sporty style the best. Her favorite character was Mimi, because she thought she was weird. Mimi calls her dad "Glasses" instead of Daddy, and put toothpaste instead of mint into some chocolate she made. She also liked Chiffon, Mimi’s dog who thinks of himself as a Samurai and tries to be noble. Mumu was her favorite boy because he acts a lot like Mimi, and is always stealing her clothes. She didn’t like Jun, Choco’s little brother. She thought he was bratty and annoying. In Krissy’s opinion, everyone would like this title, and it was appropriate for ages 8 and up.
ChocoMimi is a title that would make a good addition to both elementary and middle school libraries. The stories are short and sweet, and there’s nothing objectionable in them. The emphasis on friendship and getting along is a message everyone can agree with.
Given Lori and Krissy’s enthusiastic endorsement, I decided to give volume four of ChocoMimi a try. (The series’ episodic nature makes it easy to read the volumes in any order, or skip volumes altogether.) As in volume one, the series’ friends-first message remains front and central; though Choco and Mimi are beginning to explore the world of boys and dating, their loyalty and concern for one another trumps their interest in male classmates. The cast has been expanded to include more characters — including Bambi, a rival for Ando’s attention — but the basic formula remains the same: slapstick humor, comic misunderstandings, and plenty of special occasions necessitating elaborate outfits (e.g. a yukata for a summer festival).
Much as I like the series’ emphasis on friendship, I was bothered by how many strips featured Choco and Mimi bemoaning their weight, contemplating hare-brained dieting schemes, and pestering their male classmates for affirmation of their thinness. (Neither character is plump; both are stick-thin.) More frustrating still, Choco and Mimi are forever doing ditzy, stupid things — wearing a frilly sundress and a big handbag on a vigorous hike, trying out for the kendo club just to be near the class hottie — only to be called out on their behavior by the boys. It’s certainly possible to wring humor out of these situations, pointing out the absurd lengths to which some girls go in pursuit of looking stylish; done right, in fact, such gags can be teachable moments. When the "don’t do ditzy things" message is usually delivered by the male characters, however, one has to wonder why the boys’ habits are never scrutinized with the same zeal. By denying Choco and Mimi more opportunities to be the voice of reason, the author is unintentionally playing into the popular stereotype of teen girls as materialistic, ditzy, and uninterested in school.
The bottom line: Girls may adore the outfits, the humor, and the friends-first message of ChocoMimi, but parents should be mindful of the uncritical way in which Choco and Mimi are held up as exemplars of feminine foolishness.
Review copy provided by the publisher.