Why do I love this manga so much?
Taiyou no Ie (たいようのいえ, House of the Sun) by Taamo (タアモ) is an award-winning shoujo manga that happens to be my favorite manga, above all others. I mentioned it when I reviewed Hinamatsuri, saying that although I’d call Hinamatsuri the better series, Taiyou no Ie was the one I liked more. Generally speaking, my favorites don’t speak to how “good” or “bad” I think things are, just how much I, myself, like them (which is how stuff like citrus has ended up in my top 5). That said, Taiyou no Ie is still very obviously one of the best manga I’ve ever read. While it is a shoujo series — targeted at young women/girls — that’s practically just a technical definition. Anyone can appreciate this series, of that I am certain. Unsurprisingly, it’s a love story, but more importantly this is a story about family. I could say the series is in equal parts about romance and family, but after rereading it for review I can definitely say it’s more about the latter than the former. This subject matter, and how it’s handled, is what convinced me that the manga was my favorite among all I’ve read. That aside, this is a funny and lovely tale, which helps a ton. It has some hangups here and there, but nothing to really harm the overall experience. It’s just really, really great; seriously.
Motomiya Mao is a grade-schooler who spends most of her time at the Nakamura household where her friends Hina (a few years younger), Daiki (same age), and Hiro (seven years older) reside. Of the kids, she seems to like Hiro the most. The Nakamura family and their home are wonderful. The parents are friendly, nice, and caring; their kids are playful and fun — it’s generally easy to see why Mao likes to hang out there. Knowing the situation of her own home makes it even easier.
Mao’s home is no warm and inviting place. Her parents are often out and in some ways seem to prefer Mao going off to be with the Nakamuras instead of being at the house. We later learn that they fight a lot, yell at her on occasion, and that Mao was invited into the Nakamura home after Hina detected that the child was often miserable and depressed. Nonetheless, Mao believes in her parents and diligently returns home in the evening should she ever be out. She believes both are only out from home because of work, all for her. The truth is not very nice, though.
This is, of course, exactly what it looks like.
Mao’s mom has spent most of her time with her new partner, and her dad has spent most of his time away from Mao because for some reason he does not seem to like her very much. Her parents will be getting a divorce.
After realizing this, Mao runs off to a shrine in the neighborhood to cry alone, something she apparently does a lot because Hiro knows to find her there. She reveals to him that her parents are getting divorced, she gets to choose who she’ll live with, and in either case she’ll be moving. Hearing this, Hiro offers a third option:
It’s something Mao really needed to hear, feeling rather unwanted at the time, but she can’t thank Hiro due to her shyness and time moves forward. Mao chooses to live with her father, who says nothing, and they move. She’s now two train stations away from the Nakamuras, but she visits them whenever she can. She still has some light in her life — light she very much appreciates. Even if her mom and dad don’t seem to love her, someone still does.
Then the parents of the Nakamura household die in a car accident.
There’s a funeral, the Nakamura children split apart.
Mao refers to this as her “punishment” for denying her real home over theirs.
Years pass, we meet Mao again in her senior year of high school, seventeen years old.
Her situation hasn’t really improved. She has a best friend at school, Chihiro, but no other friends otherwise. She makes sure to bother Hiro often because she figures he’s lonely, and she cherishes these moments because she very obviously likes him likes him, but she returns every day to a house where she feels out of place. As for Hiro, he’s been working hard at an office ever since he graduated school (and has been working jobs since high school), but his home is still empty. He’s been trying to get his siblings to come live with him in the old house, but has been unsuccessful — UNTIL THIS DAY. When we meet Hiro and Mao again Hiro reveals that his younger sister’s coming back, so he’s in a good mood.
Back to Mao: very recently, her father remarried and his new wife moved in. Mao’s stepmother brought with her a stepchild, Mao’s new much younger sister, but the new parent doesn’t seem terribly interested in her new daughter. She makes a halfhearted effort to engage Mao, but clearly doesn’t feel comfortable with it. Basically, nobody feels comfortable in that house with her around. When she’s not around, she can hear her dad and his new wife and daughter laughing and having fun. One night she takes the observation of her new sister taking her seat at the dinner table as a sign that yes, she has effectively been replaced, so she leaves the house and nobody seems to notice or care when she does. She goes off to eat a convenience store dinner at that shrine where she likes to cry, and Hiro stumbles across her on his way home from work. Detecting standard “miserable Mao” vibes, he takes her out to eat at a diner.
Here we learn it’s been a bad night for both of them. Hiro says Hina reneged and won’t be coming home, Mao says she doesn’t have any place in her home. They’re like two stray animals suffering together, so Hiro figures they may as well rely on each other as well. He extends the offer he extended so long ago, asking if Mao might come live with him.
And with that, we have the basic premise. They don’t start living together officially just yet, but soon after this they seal the deal. This is a series about two childhood friends from broken families who come back to the house where they once found joy in hopes of recovering, soon deciding to make mending their old and severed ties their goals.
So yeah, Taiyou no Ie is a story about family–
Okay fine, yes, like I said at first it is also about romance. Still don’t really want to talk about that just yet.
Let’s talk about characters first, and in a rare act let’s start with the main characters. In my opinion there is a lot to like about both of these people, but what I personally like the most about them is that they each have my respect and admiration. Both Hiro and Mao are impressively determined to restore their families, impressive because their family members don’t seem to want restoration. Honestly, reading Taiyou no Ie is often painful because Taamo doesn’t pull any punches in the portrayal of broken relationships. She doesn’t resort to cheap physical abuse to get across the “oh, it’s a mess” feeling but instead depicts the honest, harsh opinions and thoughts of the other family members.
This hurts, and it hurts more should you be able to at all relate to the situations portrayed. Yet in spite of how much it might hurt them, Hiro and Mao keep picking themselves back up — often because one helped the other — and they try to reach out and reconnect again. Mao in particular is pretty much a hero to me for how much she can endure, dust herself off, and move toward her goals. I have been in her position and couldn’t resolve myself like she could. She’s not a real person, sure, but her reasoning for moving forward even though there was a lot of gloom and bad feelings that could hold her back was very convincing and heartening. While I can’t say I was able to do what she did in her story, I can say that her character helped me put things in perspective and reconsider how I felt about my own muddled family situation.
Also, Mao is awesome herself. She’s a great girl. She’s an introverted protagonist with a lot of issues and weird tastes, but she gets by and can find happiness in her life with the ties she has and can treasure. At the start of the series, she’s writing a cellphone novel (based on her life situation) to try to fantasize and escape reality, but over time she finds more happiness in her real life than the one she’s been making up. She’s a little bit of a tomboy, liking games and not fitting with girls her age due to her bizarre opinions on what “cute” things are, so naturally I like her a lot more just for that. Not terribly fit for traditional “womanly” roles (she’s an awful cook and is horribly messy), she nonetheless attempts self-improvement whenever she can if it means she can be someone others can rely on. I also love her sense of humor and occasional deadpan. Although she often attempts the tsundere routine with Hiro, she does a lousy job of it and it’s made obvious very early in the series how she feels about him (and shortly after that, how he feels about her). Their interactions are great, overall, so that’s nice.
Hiro himself is quite a well-rounded character, too. I’m thankful for this since he’s not some hot/nice/mysterious love interest, and is instead a decent looking guy who’s nice, has his own problems, and has great chemistry with the main character such that you can understand why they’ll eventually be getting together. Basically, he’s human — he feels like a real person, just like all the other characters in the cast. He’s got guilt with him over not becoming a true pillar of support for his younger siblings, making the mistake of refusing to cry to seem strong when his parents died (which just made him seem cold/unfeeling), and generally feeling like a failure because he couldn’t figure out how to go about healing his mourning brother and sister. He also feels strongly negative about Mao’s parents, who he doesn’t like and does a poor job of hiding that dislike. You could interpret this as a character flaw, since while he’s supportive of Mao’s choice to reconnect he can’t fully understand it. To him, her parents are just not worth the trouble. It’s nice how he eventually comes to terms with that, though, and on the whole he’s pretty much just a dork instead of a brooding sort. Good stuff, I say.
There are other characters, and I like them all for how they operate and what they mean for the story, but I don’t think discussing most of them will serve much purpose. I will briefly talk about Mao’s father, but other than him I only think Daiki might be worth talking about in this review context. Despite that, I don’t think there’s much to say about him here. He’s Hiro’s very serious younger brother who shares many of Mao’s weird tastes and is like a brother to her. He’s got his own baggage like everyone else, but what exactly that baggage is and how he deals with it are things that edge into spoiler territory. Read and find out yourself!
So, right, this piece of shit.
Mao’s father is one of the best-written characters in the series. He actually does have reasons that he treats Mao like dirt but make no mistake, they are not good reasons. Oh, you’ll be able to understand him eventually, but it doesn’t excuse his behavior. It’s not a spoiler to say eventually Mao accomplishes her task and can return to her home as a family member, so allow me to say that the chapter where they finally connect is my favorite chapter in the series. Honestly, much that revolves around Mao’s dad made me feel the most feelings from this series. Even though I’d read it already, I ended up crying four or five times rereading the series for review and most of those tears came from things involving Mao’s dad (other tears, from stuff regarding Hiro’s family). Mao’s dad, Mao’s new stepmom and sister, Daiki, and Hina: I’d describe the issues these characters have as “complicated”, and would say the depictions of those issues are thoroughly examined in how they arose and how they can be resolved. I think this makes for an interesting tale and satisfying conclusions. To put everything very simply, the way Taamo wrote Mao and Hiro’s story both made a lot of sense and was very, very moving.
I believe I have properly doled out what praise I can give to this series without being too explicit with story details. Beyond saying “gosh, the art’s purdy” and “it really avoids a lot of typical shoujo hangups (though it does have a few) and cuts to the chase!” I guess I can also say “the title is really good”. I can’t exactly say why, but “House of the Sun” has a lot of meanings, some of them just punching me in the gut. You can probably figure out a few just from reading this review on the series. I can really appreciate an excellent title; it’s not too easy coming up with one so good. Well done, Taamo.
In conclusion, it’s magical, read it. This is such a nice series, and if you’ve got some troubles to work out it might help you as it helped me. One more special note of praise: the series truly is about romance and family. Where else does a family start but with a love bringing two people together?
Thank you for reading. I’m once more uncertain on what the next review will be about, but I do have an author. Do you know of Watarai Keiji? Yes or no, see you next time.