You’re My Pet by Yayoi Ogawa

May 10, 2020

B

You’re My Pet, Vol. 1

by Yayoi Ogawa
June 12, 2019
Contemporary RomanceComicMangaRomance

Sometimes a series is just exactly what you thought it was going to be and what you were looking for, and the josei manga series You’re My Pet! was that for me. This 14-volume manga series is comedic, soap-operatic, a little weird, romantic, and hopeful. While I can’t say it’s flawless, I nonetheless loved it.

This series was originally released in the US as Tramps Like Us in the 2000s by Tokyopop (although I think You’re My Pet is much closer to the original Japanese title) and it’s recently gotten a digital-only rerelease by Kodansha through Comixology. I tore through all 14 volumes within a couple weeks back before my state went on lockdown, stealing minutes here and there to charge through chapters on my phone.

The premise of this manga is that gorgeous, super-accomplished career woman Sumire, who is single and approaching 30 after a bad breakup, finds a much younger guy sleeping in a box on her doorstep one night. She takes him inside, feeds him, and lets him sleep at her place. When it becomes clear he doesn’t want to leave, she somewhat jokingly tells him he can stay if he will be her pet–and he agrees. Sumire decides to call him “Momo” after her beloved childhood dog and they carry on from then on as mistress and pet.

While everyone around them who finds out Sumire is keeping a young man as a pet initially assumes it’s a sex thing, it’s not a sex thing!! It’s actually a pretty literal analogy to a human-animal pet relationship. Sumire gives Momo food, shelter, and snacks; she shampoos his hair; she is worried about leaving him alone at home for too long. Momo provides the kind of total acceptance of Sumire ( when she’s at home in sweatpants, watching trashy television, and in the throes of perpetual anxiety) that a pet does, demands to be patted on the head, and tries to sneak into Sumire’s bed at night for cuddles (okay, that last really does sound kinda sexual but I SWEAR it mostly is not). The manga is about both of them having a lot of personal growth separately and together and how their relationship eventually shifts beyond the confines of the initial pet paradigm.

If you think, “haha, that sounds kind of funny and weird!” you are the target audience for this manga. If you are really squicked out by the idea of someone keeping a human as a pet, no matter how beloved and pampered, I think this is probably not for you as it is a pretty essential element of the story and character arcs.

Assuming you are on board with the pet thing, there is so much to enjoy in this manga. First, the art is GORGEOUS. I mean, this is the chapter art for the very first chapter:

Chapter title image.
Hi, can I join this cuddle puddle?

I also loved most of the characters, especially Sumire, who may be my favorite josei heroine of all time. Sumire is gorgeous, accomplished, and successful in her career. Unfortunately, she also has incredible social anxiety that makes her come across as cold and snooty, when she’s really just desperately shy and afraid of doing the “wrong” thing. She is also terrified of showing weakness or vulnerability even when she actively wants to. A lot of the series is about her struggle to open up to people, but it also explores quite seriously the idea that people around her have been wrong to misjudge her. The exploration of how hard it can be from a social perspective (particularly romantically) to be a successful woman or woman-presenting person really resonated with me.

I also loved Momo, who is a bit of a feckless ne’er-do-well, but he knows it. I enjoyed the way he represented a more nontraditional masculinity. He’s slight, sweet, mischievous, and sensitive, but still portrayed as a desirable man even though he meets none of the typical romantic criteria of Sumire’s echelon, e.g. older, taller, and more professionally successful in an office-type job.

Momo dancing for Sumire.
I love the way Ogawa renders Momo’s dancing.

To that end, I loved the relationship between Sumire and Momo. While I initially thought the “pet” element of things might involve some sense of a power imbalance, it does not come across that way. Instead, it seems like Sumire and Momo need each other equally.

Sumire needs Momo because she needs someone (other than her best friend from childhood, Yuri) that she can be fully herself with. By setting Momo up as her “pet” she can relate to him as she did to her childhood dog, e.g. with the knowledge that there is nothing she could do that would make her unacceptable to him.

Obviously Momo gets free housing and food from Sumire, but it’s about more than that. At the outset of the series, Momo is a budding professional dancer, but also a bit of an aimless itinerant. Getting close to Sumire motivates Momo to make more mature decisions and to take control of his professional life. They both change each other for the better, and they both need the support and stability the other person brings to their home life.

The way that their relationship shifts into a romantic one felt very nuanced and beautiful. For Sumire especially, the gradual realization that Momo is not just the one who she can be completely herself around and give and receive comfort with, but a person she desires and loves is a satisfying, slow build. Momo seems to develop romantic feelings for Sumire quickly, but mostly suppresses them because a) he knows that is not what Sumire needs from him and b) he does not think she will return his feelings. But when the time is ripe, so to speak, it is ultimately Momo (whose real name is Takeshi, BTW) who realizes that he has to essentially sever the pet relationship so that a new and different relationship can form. In some ways it is like friends-to-lovers (pets-to-lovers?? I’M SORRY EVERYONE) except they become friends because they are in some kind of bizarre live-in LARPing scenario together.

Momo tells Sumire all the reasons he needs her.
SWOON.

Another strength of this series is the way that it artfully mixes genres. There is a decent amount of situational comedy, especially in the early volumes, including plenty of workplace comedy. There are also soap-operatic twists like scandalous photographs, dramatic marriage proposals, and blackmail threats. Still other plot arcs have a slice of life feel with the daily vagaries of living for Sumire and Momo. There are even elements of magical realism in some volumes. It all weaves together into a rich, full story.

While overall, I loved this manga, there were pacing issues and some plot elements around the handling of consent that I did not love.

In terms of the pacing, in the late-middle volumes (around 7-11) the plot starts to drag somewhat. Sumire spends a lot of the series in a hot-and-cold dating relationship with an older man named Shigehito who represents everything Sumire has been told to want all her life. In spite of a lot of mutual effort, it becomes clear within a few volumes that they aren’t actually all that compatible. In the late-middle volumes they are in a barely-there long-distance relationship that drags on for quite a bit longer than it needs to as Sumire angsts about both being with Shigehito and giving him up. I think at least an entire volume’s worth of material, maybe even 2, could have been cut and I would not have missed it. (FYI, I don’t think there’s anything I would characterize as cheating on Sumire’s part, but her relationship with Momo is deepening and shifting while she does still technically have a boyfriend in case that’s a big no-go for anyone).

The other thing that I felt was a bit hit-or-miss was the way the series handles consent. Now, dubious consent is unfortunately a staple of a lot of adult-audience manga, and I felt that in the overall universe of sexually explicit manga, You’re My Pet is actually quite low on the dubious consent spectrum (how sad that this spectrum is a thing!).

However, there were a couple of times when characters (even “good” characters like Momo) would spend a couple of pages considering taking advantage of another character in a way that momentarily inspired gross and uncomfortable feelings in me. For example, there’s a brief subplot where Sumire gets amnesia and Momo considers telling her that he is her boyfriend so that he can sleep with her. While he ultimately does not do it and specifically thinks to himself that he would never take advantage of her that way, it’s definitely weird. It does feel like the message is that a man is Good and Trustworthy if he decides not to assault you when he has the opportunity, even if he has to…think about it??? Needless to say this way among my least favorite chapters in the entire series.

There’s also another situation between two characters (not Momo and Sumire) where a woman who is sort of a recurring antagonist in the series drugs a man and then tells him that they slept together in order to blackmail him. While this is definitely not treated as an acceptable action in the narrative, and it is eventually revealed that she did not actually assault him, I did not feel like she faced sufficient consequences. There seemed to be a bit of a muddled message in this particular character’s arc along the lines of “we all make mistakes and hurt people!” Okay, but most of us don’t have drugging and blackmail among our mistakes that have hurt people.

In the general vein of consent in this series, I also want to mention that there is a kind of running bit where Momo often tries to kiss Sumire and she avoids or otherwise rebuffs the kiss. I personally read this as somewhat of an inside joke between them and not as Momo actually expecting or seriously attempting a kiss, as when Sumire does not rebuff a kiss attempt later in the series, Momo is actually confused and concerned. However, I can certainly see how it could be read more troublingly as consistent, low-level pressure.

So while I think You’re My Pet handled consent better than a lot of josei manga does, I can’t say that its handling of consent issues was stellar. Yellow flag from me on consent-related content; nothing that made me feel like I could no longer root for the main couple, but certainly no plaudits.

With all of that taken into account, in spite of its (sometimes quite noticeable) flaws, I devoured You’re My Pet. I would give the best volumes of this series an A, hands down, and the worst ones a C, so it all kind of averages out to a B for me. If you want an adult audience manga with a combination of wacky contemporary comedy and offbeat romantic drama, I don’t think You’re My Pet can be beat.

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