Most sixteen year olds would choose to hang out with people their own age, but Nobue Itou is a little different. She would much rather spend time with fifth and sixth graders from elementary school- to be precise, her sister Chika, next door neighbour Miu, and friends Matsuri and Ana. Join this unlikely group as they while away the days amusing themselves with games, banter and all the other minor diversions that crop up in day-to-day life.
Easy as it is to dismiss Ichigo Mashimaro as a series for those who, like the lead, have an unhealthy interest in little girls, the anime showed us that you didn’t have to be a lolicon to enjoy it. A charming tale of the often amusing and ironic trivialities of everyday life, Ichigo Mashimaro may have made you feel a little guilty and afraid of arrest whilst watching it, but chances were that if you were a fan of slice of life series, you would enjoy it anyway. Would the manga have the same effect, or would it just be an even more blatant loli-fest?
As it turns out, the loli factor of the IM manga does indeed seem far higher than the anime- not due to anything adult, but simply because of such unnecessary inclusions as the girls flicking each others skirts up to see their panties. Such things could be forgiven if the content was up to the standard of the anime, but unfortunately, this is not really the case. It is only in the most recent volume that the mangaka really gets into his stride and manages to produce something comparable to the animated version, with earlier instalments feeling a lot rougher around the edges. Where the anime polished the stories and gave them impeccable delivery and timing, these earlier chapters often feel more meanderingly pointless than simple and charming, even though they largely cover the same content as the animated version.
At the heart of the series lies its five main characters, who, as individuals, can be summed up very easily as “the lolicon”, “the straight foil”, “the irritating one”, “the shy meganekko” and “the foreigner”. Since they are rather basic personalities on their own, it is only their interaction as a group which makes them worthy, as they play off each other and spark the events and conversations that drive the series forward. Unfortunately, the main impetus for the series also happens to be the most annoying one- namely Miu, who is the sort of heedless, hyperactive and insensitive child that most people would want to give a good slap. Although her presence is undoubtedly necessary to the series, her generally irritating nature does reduce the overall enjoyment of the series somewhat.
Since the first chapter of IM was produced over a year before subsequent instalments, the artwork, like the story, takes some time to find its feet. In the earliest chapters, Nobue and Miu bear little resemblance to their later forms, and it is generally quite difficult to tell characters apart at first. Fortunately, the artwork improves over time, whilst cover art and various bonus pages showing the girls in different costumes are always well drawn and visually appealing.
Since it is not really up to the standard of the animated version, I would hesitate to recommend the Ichigo Mashimaro manga as readily as the anime. If you’re a lolimoe fanatic or a huge fan of the franchise, then you’ll want to read this regardless of anything I say, but for everyone else, the anime is the way to go.