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Peach Girl article published in Animerica Vol. 10, No. 6, June 2002
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.

Will good triumph over evil!? This question may seem best suited to action and adventure series, but it's just as applicable to the romantic plot of Miwa Ueda's Peach Girl.

Sometimes the villain makes the series. As Peach Girl's heroine, Momo Adachi may be an interesting character --with her insecurities about her easily tanned skin and her inability to confess her feelings to the guy she's liked since junior high-- but it is her "friend" Sae which makes the series so highly addictive.

"All that glitters is not gold." "Wolf in sheep's clothing." "With friends like these, who needs enemies?" All of these apply to Sae. On the surface, she seems sweet as a lamb, but Sae will and does do anything to grab attention. Knowing this, Momo tries to outsmart her. One such attempt is how the whole tangled romantic mess gets started.

EVER ESCALATING ANGST

Shopping after school, Momo spots a cute bag. Sae convinces her not to get it, then goes back for it herself so people will fawn over her stylish new bag. Such an annoying but small incident, this is how Ueda sets up the pattern for things to come. Momo sees something she wants, and Sae scrambles to get it first.

Momo has had a crush on Toji since junior highschool. Knowing Sae's habits, when Sae attempts to figure out who Momo likes, what choice does Momo have but to throw her off the scent? So Momo points to the most popular guy in school, Kiley Okayasu. Much to her surprise, Kiley winks at her! But that's soon forgotten, for within minutes, Sae has approached Kiley with a gift of cookies. Kiley is not so easy to catch. Unbeknownst to Momo, Kiley observed the whole "bag incident" and rejects Sae.

Although Momo is herself misunderstood (thanks to her easily tanned skin), she accepts Kiley's reputation as a shallow playboy. So when she hears of his rejection of Sae, her low opinion of him improves. That would have been the end of Kiley's involvement, except someone writes "Kiley + Momo" on a blackboard. Sae indignantly denies she did it, but no matter who did do it, Momo's in a bad situation: What if Toji saw?

This predicament pales in comparison to the next blow. Someone's been spreading the rumor that Kiley and Momo have kissed! Then she finds out it's Kiley himself who's saying it! In desperation, she tracks Kiley down, hoping to convince him to squelch the rumor. It turns out the reason Kiley's been saying such things is because Momo once rescued him from drowning, and he believed she gave him CPR. Ever since, he's had a thing for Momo. In reality, it was a lifeguard who have him CPR. To resolve the situation, Kiley kisses her, turning the rumor into truth.

Her first kiss stolen --the kiss she'd been saving for Toji-- Momo is mortified. Worse, no matter how she tries to beat him off, Kiley won't leave her alone. The crowning glory of her grief is that it's plain Toji has heard the rumors. But this is where Toji becomes a person instead of a plot device. He's known Momo since junior high and knows she's a good girl, not the shallow beach bunny her dark skin suggests she is. Toji confronts Kiley, threatening him not to toy with Momo. Intrigued, wily Kiley taunts Toji, implying he might go steady with Momo to ease Toji's concerns. Toji's response is explosive, leaving no room to doubt his disapproval.

Wanting to know more, Toji asks Sae about it just as Momo, followed by Kiley, walks by. In true weasel fashion, Sae drags Toji behind some shrubbery so they might eavesdrop. What they hear comes as a shock to both. In an attempt to get Kiley to leave her alone, Momo tells him there's a guy she likes. Kiley instantly figures out it's Toji and wonders why Momo's never told Toji how she feels. Momo explains that a friend told her that Toji said he doesn't like dark girls, so she's waiting until she's pale enough before confessing her feelings. This is why she quit swimming and is addicted to sunscreen.

Isn't that pitiful? And that's not even halfway through the first book! It's from here on out Sae starts doing her worst.

First she plants notes so Momo and Kiley will meet, then she pretends to be a concerned friend, leading Toji to the illicit rendezvous she's coordinated. This backfires when Kiley, going after a mysteriously meaningful photo the wind has blown into the pool, falls in and nearly drowns. Naturally Momo saves him, making her a hero and prompting Toji to confess he likes her. The next day, after rescuing Momo from Kiley, Toji declares that Momo is his girl. Unfortunately, in a foolish attempt to keep Sae from knowing and messing with their relationship, Momo asks that she and Toji keep their relationship a secret.

Sae is not fooled for an instant. Foiled in her first attempt to keep them apart, Sae tries a new tactic. This time Sae causes Momo to cast doubt on Toji by suggesting a guy tried to have sex with her then revealing the guy is Toji. Although Momo instinctively doubts her, Sae is clever enough to plant a condom in Toji's wallet for Momo to find. Later, Sae convinces Toji to practice kissing with her in order to prepare him for kissing Momo. Naturally, Momo has the bad luck of seeing them.

Like a spider gleefully trapping insects in it's web, Sae's schemes ensnare her victims more securely the more they struggle. When appendicitis puts Toji in the hospital without Momo's knowing, Sae's innocent act and clever lies eventually get the whole class to side against Momo, and that's just the beginning of Momo's misery.

Peach Girl has been hitting the top of sales charts in Japan, and it's definitely become a fan favorite in the U.S. The furor is understandable; it's the kind of story you just can't put down. If you're into stories of teen angst, if you like a good villain, if you find complicated, misunderstanding-riddled romance addictive, then get yourself a copy of Peach Girl and enjoy!

CHARACTER PROFILES

Momo Adachi
Momo's not tan because she spends a lot of time at the beach but because she tans without even trying. Most people don't know that, so they assume she's a beach bunny or a shallow "ganguro gal." Although she enjoys swimming, she avoids it like the plague to avoid tanning because she was told the boy she likes doesn't like tan girls. She is still too young and naive to appreciate any love which requires you to change yourself so drastically is neither genuine nor worth having.

Sae Kashiwagi
Momo's so-called "friend," Sae may look sweet and innocent, but she's one of the most evil little conniving back-stabbers ever. Sae will do whatever it takes to leach away Momo's happiness and claim it as her own. What's really sad is that even though Momo knows Sae is a manipulative weasel, Momo is too nice to blow her off, and Sae is too twisted to appreciate this.

Kazuya Tojigamori
More commonly known as Toji, he's been friends with Momo since junior high school. Quiet, sincere, athletic, but a little slow when it comes to romance, Toji's pretty much a normal guy. He has no clue Momo likes him and is too honest and straight-forward to perceive Sae's deceptions. Although initially a pawn in Sae's evil schemes, Toji eventually gains a more active part in the plot.

Kiley Okayasu
One of the hottest guys in school, Kiley comes off as a shallow flirt, and he does nothing to discourage his playboy image. Momo unwittingly draws him into the plot when she tries to distract Sae's attention from Toji by claiming she likes Kiley. Unbeknownst to Momo, Kiley's been interested in her for a while and is more than happy to pursue her. But like Sae, Kiley is not what he seems. Secretly chivalrous, Kiley offers support in Momo's times of need --at one point he's her only friend. He's even willing to help her try to win Toji's affections. Goro Oji Who's this guy? This beautiful young model goes by "The Gigalo" and enters into the plot at the end of the fourth book. Famous, rich, and fairly influential, will The Gigalo be a player or a pawn?

SIDEBAR

WHAT'S A "GANGURO GAL"?
There are a lot of extreme fashion styles in Japan, and "ganguro" is one of them. A ganguro girl is one who wears a lot of makeup and goes to tanning salons to make her skin look very dark, then she applies very pale makeup to her lips and around her eyes. This kind of makes her look like she's wearing "blackface," which is what ganguro literally means. Bleached and even afro-like permed hair are also parts of the ganguro look. And of course, you have to be sassy to carry off such a look. This is why Momo is often mistaken for a ganguro girl. Because the ganguro look can be so expensive (up to $400 for a perm!) and there are businessmen who don't mind paying to go out with young women, some ganguro girls will date for money (as can be seen in the first episode of Serial Experiments Lain). That ganguro girls have a reputation of enjoying partying reenforces the idea that they are shallow and easy. This is why lecherous old businessmen keep hitting on Momo throughout the series, much to her disgust.

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