No mangaka is perfect. At some point they will produce a less than great work, and it's worse when they work in comedy manga.
THE GORGEOUS LIFE OF STRAWBERRY-CHAN (Strawberry-chan no Karei na Seikatsu), by Ai Morinaga. First published in 1999 and first published in North America in 2008.
Strawberry-Chan is a pet frog belonging to the callous high-school student Akiyoshi. Strawberry loves his master desperately, but Akiyoshi only loves torturing and smacking Strawberry around for his own amusement. In contrast, Akiyoshi's roommate Masayuki has a fanatical crush on the frog, while the freshman girl Kaoru has her own desperate, masochistic obsession with Akiyoshi. Life is so hard for a little frog when they have to face boys in frog suits, mad scientists, soul transfers, and the ever-present threat of Akiyoshi blowing him up like a balloon via a straw up his butt.
This is not the first time I've encountered an Ai Morinaga manga. I was rather fond of both Yours and Mine Secret and Duck Prince, and she even managed to turn a ordinary sports story into a fun farce in My Heavenly Hockey Club. So why didn't Strawberry-Chan tickle my funny-bone in the same way the previous ones did?
Maybe it's because the story here is less linear than those previous manga? Being a pure gag manga, the chapters here tend to be pretty short and the jokes don't tend to carry over from one part to the next. The few that do are arguably the best (or at least most memorable) gags in the entire book. Even then, they tend to end not so much with a punchline as they do an indifferent shrug.
Maybe Morinaga realized that mining humor from animal abuse was maybe not the best idea. There's plenty of slapstick in this book, but Strawberry is such a defenseless creature that Akiyoshi's treatment of him shoots straight past slapstick into outright abuse. Thankfully, that's not the only source of humor to be found here. I suspect Morinaga was using this series to make fun of BL, which is why there are so many boys crushing on boys (or boy frogs) in such a farcical sort of way. Even then, she's too focused on gags to do much in the way of mocking the conventions of that genre.
I think the real answer to a lot of this manga's problems can be found in the author's notes. In there, Morinaga notes how it took her years to make enough chapters to compile into a book. Strawberry-Chan was never a priority for her. It was always a side project, something to dash off between her other works. That explains why it's so short, so lacking in comic continuity, so lacking in character, and thus so lacking in laughs.
Thankfully, Ai Morinaga didn't slack off when it came to the art. The character designs are all very rooted in late 90s/early 2000s shojo with their heavily pointed chins and generic good looks, but Morinaga is good at pushing these pretty boys' faces to the extreme for the sake of a wild take. Strawberry doesn't so much look like a frog as he does like a frog-shaped squeaky toy. This might be on purpose, as the cast comments on this more than once and there are a few gags that rely on this. If only she didn't drown out all the slapstick and crazy faces with so much screentone and sound effects, they might shine a little more It would definitely help if the pages were scanned better, particular those pages that used to be in color.
This book was published by Media Blasters. It is currently out of print.
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