Manga Made for Theater: Maku Musubi

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Whether it’s Glass Mask or Beastars, there’s something exciting about seeing theatrical performances in manga. Perhaps it’s because we’re viewing a medium that thrives on ingenuity in presentation and strongly projected emotions through the lens of another that emphasizes dynamic page composition and intense closeness. A recent genre work, Maku Musubi by Hotani Shin, stands out because of how it delves deeper into the process of creating a play, told from the perspective of a girl discovering her potential as a scriptwriter.

The plot: When she was little, Tsuchikure Sakura loved to draw manga. But now, as she starts high school, Sakura sees her childhood art as a hurtful and embarrassing part of her past. When one of her old drafts inadvertently ends up in the hands of the school’s drama club, Sakura gets drawn into their world. While her drawings don’t make for the best manga, they might just be the perfect material for theater.

It’s always a little heart-wrenching to see someone’s dreams get shattered, and Maku Musubi goes in depth on just how much drawing manga meant to Sakura. It was her way of letting her imagination flourish, unbeholden to the judgment of others, but it’s also due to past criticism that she feels unable to keep making comics. This is not uncommon in stories both fictional and real about creators, but I find the angle about Sakura’s pivot towards theater to be filled with storytelling potential. 

Many works would keep her on a path towards pursuing a career in manga with a “never give up” theme. Maku Musubi instead presents the interesting notion that its heroine isn’t necessarily untalented as an artist, but rather just hasn’t found the avenue of expression that best fits her. Although a story about teenagers, I think it has the power to resonate especially with adult readers, who might look at their own lost childhood aspirations with a bit of regret, but who could find inspiration in channeling those dreams in a different but still fulfilling direction.

This manga also has a great cast of supporting characters, especially the members of the drama club. A mix of experienced but eccentric upperclassmen and newcomers looking for change in their own lives, it greatly reminds me of the club aspects of Sound! Euphonium and even Kannagi to some extent. The introduction of a nationwide competition between school drama clubs also brings it away from a slow-paced slice-of-life feel and towards challenging its characters to change and grow. 

Maku Musubi was actually on my radar for a while, and I’m actually kind of mad that I didn’t get around to it sooner. As of Volume 1, Hotani’s work really appeals to my taste and aesthetics, especially with its cute yet striking depictions of both inner and outer human emotions. Consider me a fan, and I can’t wait to see these characters on a bigger stage.

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