When male lead Rintarou sees protagonist Maria’s blonde hair and blue eyes for the first time, he remarks she’s like the Little Mermaid. But the better comparison for Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance is Cinderella.
Of course, almost every story featuring a commoner or servant falling in love with a rich person is going to bring up that comparison. But despite Golden Japanesque‘s Cinderella parallels, author Miyasaka includes a few spins on the setup. For one, Maria’s biological mother is alive, and there are no stepsisters. But just having Mom around doesn’t make Maria’s life a happy one.
But backing up for a second. In the late 1800s, early 1900s, Japan underwent some massive societal changes as it underwent Westernization. But just like today, a lot of people hate the idea of outsiders “dirtying” or “ruining” their culture, and that includes having a child with a foreigner. Maria, with her blonde hair and blue eyes, has had to deal with a lot of harassment because of her Western, non-standard-Japanese appearance.
Which brings us back to Mom. She does appear to care about her daughter, but she also seems to resent Maria. Mom doesn’t dye her hair just for Maria but for herself. Maria may also have some loose lips at times, but Mom constantly criticizes and talks down to Maria. When the dye washes out in the rain, Mom’s panic causes a near-hysterical Maria to apologize for making her mother mad.
Fortunately, Maria’s grandmother takes on a Fairy Godmother role, scolding her daughter for not thinking more about Maria’s wet clothes and chilled body instead of her hair. It’s not the only instance of Grandma defending her granddaughter, but it’s interesting that Grandma has less of an issue with Maria’s foreign blood than Mom, who presumedly fell in love with a non-Japanese person. The backstory between Mom, Dad, and Grandma is one I’m looking forward to.
But as far as the main plot goes, Maria tends to avoid interacting with anyone because of all the harassment she’s faced. But she keeps bumping into (or forced to meet with) Rintarou, the son of Mom’s new employer. He is a bit of a prankster, trying to sneak bugs and frogs into things he hands over to her. At the same time, his straightforward words about wanting to get closer to her even though he doesn’t know why move Maria.
This is Miyasaka’s second work in English, and it’s been a long time since Kare First Love. Despite the 15 year age gap and modern setting versus historical, the two are more alike than not. Maria will no doubt transform into a more confident, fashionable self, and Rintarou is actively encouraging that. The journey so far is a little forced, with Maria dropping her hanky, being asked to deliver things, and nearly being assaulted all over the course of a few days. Their ages aren’t given, but Rintarou sounds and acts more like a middle schooler thanks to his practical jokes and bluntness, and I can’t help but wondering if the series might have been better with a more cute couple rather than trying to be fashionable (or, to be accurate, splendid).
But don’t expect Maria to be dressed like she is on the cover. She ends up in a dress once after her clothes are ruined, but otherwise, either one of the three Maria versions are in simple Japanese attire. There’s dark-haired, eyes hidden Maria, dark-haired, eyes visible Maria, and golden haired Maria. With her low self-confidence, that may be necessary, but this also means Miyasaka’s art is rather restricted since Maria doesn’t show her face a lot. Unlike Kare First Love, I don’t know if the story will work in a fashion aspect outside of Maria dressing up for events (which she is likely to do in volume 2), but I can see some readers feel like the cover is misleading and it’s a rich girl falling in love.
At this point, Golden Japanesque: A Splendid Yokohama Romance volume 1 isn’t nearly as grand as the title suggests. The couple’s meetings don’t happen naturally, and while seeing each other more than once may be a step up from many love-at-first-sight Cinderella stories, that alone doesn’t make a great romance.