If there is one manga-ka that always sticks in my mind, it is Ai Yazawa. Her wit and superb style makes her unforgettable. So I find it a great tragedy that Neighborhood Story hasn’t seen a U.S. release yet.
Neighborhood Story relates the tale of budding fashion student Mikako along with a bevy of eccentric friends attending a high school for the arts. With Mikako’s energetic and enterprising nature, the group starts selling their various works (fashion, stuffed animals, video games, etc.) at a street market. Dreams grow bigger while others invariably change over the course of the story true to human nature. And the same can be said for the relationships swirling around it. Tsutomu and Mikako’s childhood friendship steadily grows into love but a few half-hearted and confused romances happen before they can get there. While Yuusuke and Mariko have an on again off again fiery affair for a while. It is actually quite impressive that Yazawa has characters break-up and date around, quite a rarity if you think about shojo series. Mikako also has some family issues like her parents divorce, her mother’s rather childish behavior, and her father’s distance in her life to come to terms with. Style plus a flair for the comedic and dramatic allows Neighborhood Story to weave a perfect tale of friendship, dreams, love, and life.
As an added bonus, Neighborhood Story ties in with Paradise Kiss; Mikako is Miwako’s older sister who appears as a famous fashion designer; Risa and Takeshi are Arashi’s parents. Neighborhood Story came out first though.