KANTA ON MANGA / Dystopian rom-com engaging in more ways than one

© Musawo 2015/Kodansha

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterA dystopian world similar to that in George Orwell’s “1984,” where governments interfere in romance and marriages, would be truly horrible. Recently, such worlds have served as backdrops to otherwise carefree romantic comedy novels and TV shows. I personally classify such works as belonging to the “lighthearted dystopia” genre.

This week’s manga, “Koi to Uso” (Love and Lies), is undoubtedly the best work from this genre. It has already been turned into an anime and live-action film.

The story is set in Japan, where the so-called Yukari Law — which mandates that marriage partners be selected by the government based on genetic information — has taken effect. At age 16, every citizen receives a government notification of their officially appointed partner, to whom they must become engaged.

High school student Yukari Nejima confesses his love to classmate Misaki Takasaki the day before his 16th birthday. Immediately afterward, two government officials visit Yukari to inform him of his official partner — who turns out not to be Misaki.

Although the manga’s world is Orwellian-like, the plot unfolds as if it were a mainstream romantic comedy. Yukari’s designated partner, Ririna Sanada, is a beautiful girl who appears to be cold but has an affectionate side. She understands and offers support regarding Yukari and Misaki’s forbidden romance.

The manga does little to evoke fear of a Big Brother government or ultra-regulated society along the lines of “1984.” Rather, the story focuses on the thrilling love triangle between an indecisive boy and two beautiful girls. What a dystopia!

On the other hand, the story occasionally offers sharp, convincing counter-perspectives. For example, it is quite likely that some people would accept having an “ideal partner” identified by artificial intelligence on the basis of genetic information, so long as the pairing wasn’t mandatory.

In this manga, the government creates such catchphrases as “Choosing your partner based on good looks alone is what monkeys do,” and “It is much easier to let someone else choose your partner rather than doing it on your own.” Both sound very persuasive. The popularity of this manga makes me feel as if a highly satirical world, like the one portrayed 68 years ago by Orwell, may be taking shape in reality, albeit in a more desirable way.

I’m contemplating such matters while enjoying reading this manga, the debut work of artist Musawo, whose gender is unknown. I hope this ongoing story doesn’t end like any other ordinary love comedy would.

Misaki’s behavior has been a little mysterious — I’m intrigued, and eagerly look forward to a surprise ending.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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