This week I’ve been rereading the first volume of Papillon by Miwa Ueda. I read it many years ago, and enjoyed it so I thought I’d give it another go.
My opinions of it have actually changed significantly since then. Not to say that I no longer like the series, I still enjoy it, but there are some key things in the plot that I find slightly problematic…and I don’t think they really add much to the story.
Papillon is about twin sisters Ageha and Hana Mizuki, who are polar opposites. Ageha was raised in the countryside from birth by their grandparents while Hana remained with the family, because their mother was fairly ill after giving birth to the twins.
As a result, the two don’t have a close relationship and Ageha often feels like her sister’s shadow both at school and at home. On top of that Ageha’s best friend at school constantly berates her, comparing her to her sister and telling Ageha that she has no chance of being anything like Hana or accomplish anything.
When Ageha finally musters up the courage to tell her childhood friend, Ryuusei she’s in love with him, Hana snatches him first and the two start dating.
Ageha is devastated. To make matters worse, a random stranger named Hayato writes something embarrassing on a photo in her school planner about her and her friend, which her entire class sees after Hana and Ryuusei start dating. Ageha runs out of the classroom to the roof, where Ryuusei finds her and tells him that despite being flattered she likes him, he can’t return her feelings.
After he leaves, Ageha begins to climb the fence with the intention of jumping from the roof, when the mysterious Hayato appears out of no where and tricks her into coming down. He then tells her that he’s the schools new guidance counsellor (in training) and takes her to his office to talk. He encourages her to go back to class and Ageha returns only to discover that it was her so-called best friend who showed the photo to everyone.
Ageha stands her ground and faces the teasing bravely, causing several of her other classmates to rally behind her, arming her with a new set of friends. This enrages her friend, who in retaliation goes to Hana to tell her that Ageha has plans of stealing Ryuusei from her. Hana pretends not to care, but shows her true colours at the end of volume 1, when she sabotages her sister’s meet up with Ryuusei.
First off, I’d like to say that I liked the fact Ageha ditched her toxic, so-called best friend. The girl was constantly belittling her and adding to her insecurities. When Ageha finally stood up for herself I was relieved.
I actually felt like there was a lack of emotional build up to Ageha going to the roof. That scene felt rushed…and more like a quick decision made by Ueda to help move the story along. Mental health at this point in the book is very glossed over and because of this, that entire scene reads more like “This boy doesn’t like me. My life is over!” which I find very problematic. I wish that there had been a little more emphasis on Ageha’s mental state at this point, and how much her toxic relationships with family and friends has effected her. Still I’m thankful that the guidance counsellor was there to stop her. However, at this point in the series I don’t like his character. I don’t hate him, don’t get me wrong…I just…am not a fan. There isn’t much to go off of in volume 1 with Hayato, so I don’t think it’s fair to pick on him. He’s just under developed here, but I do like that he encourages Ageha to be herself and get out of her comfort zone. I find some of his behaviour a little questionable but thankfully Ageha points out.
As for Hana, although other readers dislike her, I’d say I’m more neutral.
I think it was wrong of her to go and snatch Ryuusei before Ageha had a chance to confess to him, but her anger towards Ageha wanting to still pursue Ryuusei after that is justified. Ryuusei is Hana’s boyfriend. She has every right to be upset about that.
Still, Ageha is the main character and you can’t help but root for her. She’s trying her best to be more secure in herself and part of that journey is being truthful about how she feels. This journey not only includes how she feels about her childhood friend Ryuusei but also being honest with Hana about her feelings towards her. Thankfully throughout the first volume, Ageha is slowly learning with the help of her new friends, how beautiful and strong she is and that she doesn’t need to compare herself to her sister.
In this first volume there is a scene where their mother begins complimenting Ageha, only to then compare her to Hana saying something along the lines are, “You look so much like Hana now!” Which clearly makes Ageha and Hana uncomfortable. It is the first instance where Hana shows a hint of jealousy…or perhaps insecurity. I wish their parents and peers wouldn’t constantly pit these two sisters against each other, but this longing is built on Miwa Ueda’s ability to draw the reader into the plot. This feeling is created by both Ageha and Hana. It is clear in this scene that even Hana hates being compared to her sister, as if they’re supposed to be the same. Just because they are twins doesn’t mean that they should be “identical” in every aspect of their life, however this seems to be the expectation of the other characters in this book. That is everyone aside from the two sisters and the guidance counsellor Hayato.
Overall I would rate this first book around 4 stars. I debated giving it a 3.5 but am settling for 4 mainly because I like the series so far and the concept…but I do see some patterns between Papillon and Miwa Ueda’s series Peach Girl. There is a running theme in many of her series, where the female lead goes on a journey of self-discovery. There also seems to be many mentions of feeling and looking different…and having those physical differences pointed out by everyone. Many of her stories have her female leads being judged solely on a surface level, that is until they learn to accept themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like this theme and I think it is a good lesson…if one were looking at the moral of the story. However, there are times when I feel she throws things into the plot for shock value or added drama. I adore her artwork. I actually have her art book…but because I’ve read so much of her work, I am aware of which tools she tends to use as a crutch to move the plot along.
So, Papillon volume 1 is getting 4 stars from me. Which in this case is simply because of these crutch tools that I’m aware the author uses from time to time to move thing along…and I feel like there could have been more time spent on Ageha’s actual situation. I wanted to connect with her more before having her thrown into that situation at the climax.