Sen to Man (千と万, lit. Thousand and Ten Thousand) is an unusual “child raising” manga about the very usual ordeals of a single father and his only daughter. The author, Sekiya Asami (関谷あさみ), portrays a very real, grounded, down to earth slice of life series in this, which avoids common tropes of the genre while possibly hitting close to home with the many things you could potentially relate to within it. Since the perspective of the manga interchangeably follows either the father or the daughter, you can also avoid bias toward one or the other on matters. Since I’ve said that, you may have guessed that, unsurprisingly, the “single father with no experience raising young girls” and the “more independent girl due to being an only child with a single parent” often butt heads, and in ways that will likely feel familiar. It sure is a weird series, though. At first, it’s pleasant and just relaxing, making you chuckle at silly things like how the dad worries over his daughter’s first period, but then it also has some strange and subtle depressing matters it addresses. I’ll get into that later. For now, premise.
Shima is the daughter (an only child) and Chihiro is the father — a father who seems to be a widower rather than a divorcee (maybe… It’s implied but I could be proven wrong). They live in a small apartment complex; Shima goes to school and hangs out, Chihiro goes to work or rests at home. There are a few other characters, some more important than others.
Now that the premise is out of the way, I’ll get into the meat of the series. For the most part, to put it simply “parents/children just don’t understand”, and opposite sex relationships may also have particular difficulties. The series begins with Shima’s first period when her dad stumbles on her dealing with it. He immediately seems pretty chill, then he says this moronic thing:
Furthermore, he congratulated her upon hearing that she’s “now a woman”, a prospect Shima neither understands nor desires. Chapter 1 basically tells you exactly what you need to know — that this series is “real” — the rest of the chapters are more day to day things as well as that “subtle depressing matters” thing I mentioned briefly. It’s funny! The chapters are short and light and not in your face about anything, usually asking you to rely on reading the mood/atmosphere of a situation to understand context and character motivation. This helps it to be a more entertaining read, even on multiple perusals since there may be some things you missed at first.
So, yeah, the depressing stuff. This series isn’t sunshine happy days. I mean, right, of course it isn’t since the two main characters are often wont to clash on trivial matters, but there are weird vibes about pretty complex issues even from chapter 2.
Shima has some curious values and views on life, possibly because of her home situation. She isn’t upset that she doesn’t have a mother, but seems bothered by the notion of being mothered (if only by someone who isn’t actually your parent). To be honest, I understand it. See, in chapter 2 Shima leaves to shop with her friend, weaseling some money out of her dad to be “more responsible” (funnily, she earnestly says she’ll pay him back, not even thinking about how the allowance she’d use to do that comes from her dad in the first place), but when they meet, her friend’s mother is with her. She says she’ll drive them (eliminating the need to buy train tickets), says she’ll buy the things Shima is interested in (eliminating the need to actually shop), and pays for lunch (eliminating the you get the idea already, right). At the end of the day, Shima doesn’t spend a single yen, and after also being doted on as in the pages above, instead of appreciating the kindness, it seems she feels disgusted.
I get this, it being a problem that I’ve noticed myself and felt similarly about. I would describe what her friend’s mother did during the trip to be “unintentionally rude kindness”. It’s suggested a little here and also in later moments that this mother might be concerned about Shima’s development, and it’s a vibe Shima quickly picked up on. It’s seriously pretty offensive. The idea is that since she’s from a single parent household (or, a home where she might not easily be taken care of since the head of the household needs to provide) and the parent is her father who may not understand her “best”, she may need to…”struggle”, or something. The mother hints at things like assuming the father doesn’t cook at the house later, and that Shima must be doing it (though Shima knows only very simple cooking things), and once more, although it’s never said this is the problem she directly has, Shima is visibly upset by how the woman is carrying on (and is relieved when her dad, who’s present at the time, breaks the tension by saying his kid’s super lazy). The thing is, Shima is normal. She’s fully, honestly a normal kid. She’s a normal kid who has “always” only had a father, and even though she’ll give him quite a lot of shit and be very bratty, she loves and trusts him (note the earlier page where, even though he’s male, Shima wants to consult her dad about menstruation before anyone else). Her dad’s cool, though she’d never admit it. He’s a meek cutey pie who loves his daughter unconditionally (although he, too, will complain about her). As a person who comes from a single parent household myself, the only thing I can think is “there’s nothing wrong with these two, so there’s no need to ‘help‘”.
Presumptuous or mandated/courteous “kindness” is loathsome, especially in cases like these, and so I fully get where Shima is coming from, and I love that I’m pretty sure the way things are “directed”, as it were, in this series make it so just about anyone could — if not understand it — see what makes Shima feel muddled in regards to that mom. Thinking “oh, this poor child” or “she must need help” ironically can be pretty terrible behavior. Or, you know, I could just be feeling the same bitter feeling Shima gets.
So yeah, although this is mostly a lighthearted series Sekiya-sensei makes it clear early on that it won’t only be that, because really these sorts of moments can be pretty heavy. For example, the girl in the cafe that I posted earlier (Nami, a somewhat older girl, seemingly) comes from a divorced household (a household directly beside Shima’s — they’re friends) where her father either was regularly violent to her mother or was just violent “that one time” (it’s unclear). She’s kind of like a side story protagonist of the series, being in a similar but not same situation as Shima and having a significantly different view on the world. Compared to Chihiro, Nami’s mother isn’t as…well, it’s harsh to say “responsible” but objectively, she isn’t as responsible with regard to her daughter. She doesn’t really cook or worry about Nami’s diet (Nami, who mostly eats ready-to-eat meals), and this along with Nami’s desperate-to-reconnect father who has induced in her a minor trauma and fear toward older men have made her very cynical. When she hears the stupid shit going on over at Shima’s place, she assumes domestic violence for a moment (then realizes it was Chihiro screaming — not that she doesn’t continue to be wary later), and when she regards Shima she has genuine concern about whether or not Shima’s dad is like hers. It’s somewhat like that mother’s concern, but the place this concern comes from is far more genuine and personal. Also, did I mention that I find it interesting that Nami can arguably be said to be somewhat “in the wrong”? Because her mother is fully okay with her ex-husband having visitation rights, the father was never violent to her, and she has no good reason to suspect Shima’s dad is a bad person. Of course, she has a kind of reason anyway — a twisted one born of perfectly justifiable unease — but all that is what makes this so interesting. And you learn MOST of this in just one chapter with minimal dialogue! One short chapter!
So, um, wow, I have ended up talking about this series way more than I expected. Sen to Man is a manga I’ve been reading for a while, and the translations are slow (on top of the series having a monthly release for 12-page chapters in the first place — by the by the series has ended at 3 volumes), so my impression of it before I read it once more for review was “oh my god, Shima is a brat“, and that was about it. As it turns out, I seem to have much more intricate opinions on the manga than I’d originally thought. I did remember liking Nami’s character quite a bit, but in fairness she isn’t that prevalent in the series, so my thoughts had largely faded. I also had plum forgotten how it handled “problems” of only having one parent. However wait just a minute and don’t be misled; I’m hyping up this series for its subtlety and the boldness it has to explore darker issues, but still most of the manga is stuff like this:
and stuff like this:
So basically, prepare for that instead of preparing for what I’ve largely been talking about. That said, do keep an eye out, because paying attention elevates this series quite a bit from ordinary slice of life, even slice of life super grounded in reality. Actually, this series reminds me of the series Stretch, a…manga (it’s hard to say whether or not it’s as yuri as it seems) about two older women that carries a very similar atmosphere, from the lighthearted day-to-day nonsense to the really, really dark subject matter, even in how both series handle these things gracefully and artfully. It’s very nice, although the ending is a sore point for me.
I can’t say much else after all that! Art’s cute. I mentioned Chihiro is cute, too. He is. He’s adorable.
Shima’s a little annoying and can easily make me groan with her nonsense, but I may give her so much grief because in her personality and experiences I see a lot of myself.
If you want a series with some awkwardness-based humor, humor based on clashing perspectives, or are otherwise intrigued by single-parent children tales, Sen to Man should satisfy you 1000-fold. I didn’t think I’d be doing this going into it, but I’d give Sen to Man my high recommendation. It is really very honestly a lovely and clever little manga, exhaustive of its myriad of themes.