There’s something about Mame Coordinate‘s worldview that I just can’t like. Yes, it’s a story about the modeling industry, something I personally am not terribly invested in, but a well-written and drawn story should be able to rise above petty things like a reader’s personal interest in the subject matter – and as any omnivorous reader can tell you, it frequently does. No, the issue here is that Mame herself It also seems like she couldn’t care less about becoming a model – at one point she even admits out loud that she feels like maybe selling bento is what she’s meant to do in life because she’s enjoying it so much. In part that’s because Mame didn’t set out to become a model; she was scouted on the street after moving to Tokyo from Tottori only to be treated like garbage by her agency when she didn’t live up to their expectations. This puts her in the position of a protagonist who is framed as spurning the chances she has been given, as if she’s ungrateful, and that’s not a comfortable angle for the story to take.
That only gets worse from where the introductory pages leave us. Enter Kisaragi, the rookie manager who gets saddled with Mame as part of the agency’s efforts to get rid of both of them. While the agency’s issue with Mame is that she’s costing them money by not getting jobs (although we later find out that she’s likely cheaper than other models because she’s so naïve about the business that she’s not even getting what she’s worth from them), Kisaragi, on the other hand, is simply too enthusiastic for their liking. She’ll file papers for hours before eagerly jumping on another task, menial or otherwise, and she’s either exhausting or annoying for the less motivated male higher-ups. Therefore, they hatch a plan: give the too-motivated employee the unmotivated model and watch them destroy each other. There’s a slight feeling that at least one high-ranking manager is looking forward to the show as much as he is getting rid of both women.
Still, he’s not entirely wrong about the oil-and-water quality of Kisaragi and Mame’s relationship, although in a large part that’s because Kisaragi’s concept of what it means to be a woman is incredibly short-sighted and constricting. She’s got a very traditional view of what women in general and models specifically ought to be like, based equally on social views and her own preferences. It never crosses her mind that she’s not the end-all-be-all way of womanhood, and therefore doesn’t take into account things like “different people have different metabolisms” or “not everyone who identifies as female enjoys shopping.” When she tells Mame that clothes shopping should be “blissful,” it’s a perfect example of how narrow her view is – they’re shopping for work because she doesn’t approve of Mame’s clothes. Not only do work and fun not need to go together, but she’s also in the midst of destroying Mame’s own sense of style and what makes her comfortable. Yes, the outfits she favors skew towards the immature, but she’s allowed to wear what she wants when she’s not on the job. Telling her that her comfort clothes are somehow wrong and bad isn’t likely to make her want to shop for trendy outfits that stand to make her uncomfortable – it’s not like she didn’t have a choice of clothing prior to moving to Tokyo.
Kisaragi does eventually start to get a clue, but that’s still very much buried under her desperation to make Mame a mistake so that she can keep her job. She resorts to tricking Mame with food (while also depriving her of her favorite fried and meat dishes for a week prior to an audition; she’s shocked when Mame doesn’t have enough energy during this time) and at one point lies to her face by Telling her that she’s fine the way she is, something contradicted by her efforts to change Mame on virtually every other page of the book. Even if she doesn’t realize it, by denigrating everything that makes Mame feel safe and comfortable when she’s on her own time, she’s trying to remake Mame into her idea of what a model should be, even off the clock. (Admittedly, “off the clock” does not seem to be a concept Kisaragi understands.)
Am I making too much of this? Very possibly. It is, after all, intended to be a slightly amusing slice-of-life story about two very different women, and this is only the first volume, which means that things could change substantially as Kisaragi learns to calm down and be more flexible. And the art is nice, especially the color pages, occasionally showing elements of Akiko Higashimura‘s work. But the execution feels like a cat being petted in the wrong direction while simultaneously being held too tightly. The humor is so focused on the fact that Mame (who, let’s remember, never really chose this career) is doing things “wrong” that it becomes grating, and that Kisaragi doesn’t even want to let her be herself when she’s off- camera is a major problem. This is compounded by a couple of panels that imply that Mame may have been bullied for her looks back in high school; While it would be nice to see that modeling allows her the self-confidence that was taken away back then, Kisaragi’s methods don’t feel much better than what the mean girls did in school. There’s just too much bitter in this sweet to really make it work.