“What must she be thinking and feeling… after learning that she’s based on someone else…?” Dr. Hebinuma, musing about Reiko Kujirai.
Kowloon Walled City. At the start of Volume 4, we join Kudou playing mahjong with the cheerful group of old men who have befriended him, watched over by Kujirai… but this is a flashback to Kudou’s past and the smiling, supremely self-confident Kujirai is not the one we know now. Cut to Hong Kong and Dr. Hebinuma sharing drinks with his lover Gwen. Gwen lets slip that he’s spoken to Kujirai in Kowloon which doesn’t please Hebinuma at all! But it’s when he mentions that Kujirai was exactly the same, right down to the mole beneath her left eye, Hebinuma reacts with considerable surprise, saying, “Clones don’t replicate moles.”
Flash forward to ‘our’ Kujirai telling her friend Maomay that it seems that Kujirai B has ‘passed away’ and Maomay freaking out. How can Kujirai bear to live in the apartment of a dead person? The conversation eventually moves on to Kujirai’s determination to become ‘her absolute self’ and then to Maomay’s new earrings made from cubic zirconia to look like diamonds. “Don’t forget there are also people like me,” she tells Reiko who is admiring them. “People who can feel a genuine shine in the fake sparkles.”
The narrative returns to the mahjong players at the end – a clever framing by Jun Mayuzuki as the game is missing one player: Mr. Chan. Kujirai, who’s watching, has no clue as to how to play (unlike her ‘earlier’ self) so can’t help out. And where is Mr. Chan? With Dr. Hebinuma, it turns out – but why? Something distinctly nefarious is going on…
This fourth volume of Kowloon Generic Romance is filled with hints and clues that might be red herrings as to what is really going on in the Kowloon where Reiko Kujirai, Kudou and Maomay are living – and what Dr. Hebinuma and his clinic might have been dabbling in. But tantalizingly, it poses more questions than it provides answers. In the meantime, it’s impossible not to grow more attached to the cast of bewildered characters – even to the smiling, fork-tongued doctor who conceals many secrets of his own.
A fascinating theme that runs through these chapters is that of identity and authenticity. On a field trip to Kowloon with Dr. Hebinuma, Gwen goes in search of a little cat shelter he constructed at the back of the bar where he worked – and, not finding it, tells the doctor bluntly, “This isn’t the Kowloon I know.” Which then re-ignites his concern that Hebinuma might meet his ‘other self’ and fall for him instead! And these questions that keep re-surfacing are a part of what makes this manga such a compelling read; not many series manage to combine science fiction themes such as cloning, doppelgangers and time travel with philosophical concepts of the exploration of self and identity. None of this would work without Jun Mayuzuki’s storytelling skills and her characters, from Maomay who’s utterly reinvented herself through plastic surgery (although we don’t yet know why) and is living her best life, to outwardly insouciant Kudou who is concealing we can only guess at what sadness or guilt beneath his jaunty exterior. The terrifying confession he makes to Kujirai at the end of Chapter 34 is not at all what it seems to be (see Chapter 35) but we believe it, because it kind-of makes sense in context. This vital conversation is played out mostly in close-up, intercut with a conversation taking place elsewhere between Hebinuma and Gwen. It’s a brilliant sleight of hand by the mangaka and makes the need to read on in Volume 5 (due out in October 2023 from Yen Press) all the more pressing. Meanwhile, the main character is still Kowloon Walled City in all its versions; the one currently inhabited by Kujirai, Maomay and Kudou is as vividly presented as before with its bustling streets and narrow alleyways. And how many other manga have nearly a whole chapter told from a goldfish’s point of view? See Chapter 33 for many watery panels…
As before, the translation for Yen Press’s edition of Kowloon Generic Romance is expertly handled by Amanda Haley with a short page of translator’s notes and the translation is well lettered by Abigail Blackman. There are two pages of ‘Super-Meta Kowloon Generic Romance’ at the end in which the mangaka offers some interesting and amusing insights into her thought processes. The colour plate at the front carries on the lilac/pink theme from the cover with a portrait of smiling Kujirai: but which one? The series retains its Mature rating but, again, there’s nothing that – to my eyes, anyway – truly merits it; the relationship between Gwen and Dr. Hebinuma is the most ‘unusual’ aspect of this volume but many manga with MM relationships are published in the US with Older Teen ratings. (Perhaps there are more explicit scenes to come in subsequent volumes and it was thought best to keep the age rating consistent throughout.) Above all, if you’re as hooked by this addictive and many-layered manga as I am, this is a volume you really won’t want to miss!