Yuuyake Rocket Pencil

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A little girl runs a stationary shop.

Hello, good to be back. I wasn’t able to find time/non-laziness to write any articles in June, but here I am in July and can you believe it? I was right in guessing I’d have a lot of free time to read manga with my new job. Seriously, I have absolutely disgusting amounts of free time… But anyway, what better way to return than with a manga I bet very few people have actually heard of?

Yuuyake Rocket Pencil (夕焼けロケットペンシル, Yuuyake Roketto Penshiru, Sunset Rocket Pencil) is the debut work of Asano Yukiko (あさのゆきこ) and it’s…strange. Perhaps it’s strange because it was a first, but I’m not one to speculate about such things. If I had to put it into a category, I’d call Rocket Pencil a…drama, I guess. It’s not very dramatic, and what drama is there is kind of rare, but I can’t really call it a slice of life either. I guess it’s a story. It doesn’t really matter, my point is that it’s an oddball. There’s a lot to it: shopkeeping, love triangles (sort of? love squares?), a family focus, twists and old problems arising, one-sided romance that’s also age-gap (in other words, the main character has a crush on an older guy), general childhood stuff…however despite the varied subject matter it’s not amazing.

Rocket Pencil is pretty good. Could be better, kinda weakens near the end, but it starts nice enough and most of it’s quite pleasant. It’s a bit nostalgic and overall heartfelt, but there are a few things about it that bother me a surprising amount. The quick word on it from me would be…”sure, read it”. It’s a fine manga and what hitches it does have aren’t THAT bad, really.

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This manga is about Satomi, an elementary schooler who loves her family’s stationary shop…except her parents have recently separated (notably not divorced), the store is doing bad financially, and to top it all off her dad is a useless otaku NEET who doesn’t actually run the store and just lets Satomi take over sometimes while he’s at his computer. It’s a surprisingly miserable introduction in theory, but the manga is mostly lighthearted about it.

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Chapter 1 is a good setup chapter all in all. We get a good idea of Satomi’s character — that she’s responsible and precocious — and we get the vibe of the series, which is largely kooky but not without touches of misery and sadness.

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I’d call it “fairly grounded”, though whether it’s “realistic” is another matter…there’s a few hard to believe things here, I guess? But characters definitely mostly act realistically when it comes to serious matters.

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See? The dad’s not just a goofball, he knows how to make the hard calls.

Anyway, of course they don’t go through with closing down the store, because that would be the end of the series immediately, but its closing was essentially prevented with “luck”, as Satomi happened to meet a mangaka earlier in the day who desperately relied on this very stationary store. The meeting had been pretty significant, for the record, and when they meet again Satomi finds the determination to make a new proposal to her dad.Yuuyake Rocket Pencil -08Yuuyake Rocket Pencil -09

By the way, the “rocket pencil” Satomi carries is just important, don’t think about it too much.

After this, unsurprisingly Satomi develops a crush on this mangaka, Shinya, and she tells her dad that if he won’t run the store, she will. So, like I said with the start of this article; this manga can ultimately be boiled down to “a little girl runs a stationary shop”.

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And so begin Satomi’s struggles as a shopkeeper, trying to keep sales up while still going to school, forming business relationships, keeping customers satisfied, and some curveballs along the way. The manga has a fair assortment of characters in it, ranging from Satomi’s other kid friends, to adult customers Shinya’s age, to old folks concerned about the store and so on. It has a very “neighborhood” feeling, naturally.

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They’re in-laws, don’t worry about it.

Of these characters, you could say most are “major” actually, but the series’ main focus is Satomi and her family: they get the most development, the plot is basically about them, and so on and so forth. The romance angle is actually regularly sidelined, and while Satomi is indeed quite fond of Shinya Shinya only thinks of her as a kid/somewhat close acquaintance so he doesn’t make much of an effort to be involved in her life or affairs. I guess you could say the manga subverts expectations a bit.

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Among the side characters, my favorite ended up being this girl, Oomura, who has a kind of standard “is too stiff” personality to her, but was nonetheless enjoyable (and it was nice watching her grow to respect Satomi, who’s easily my favorite character in this). However if I had to criticize, I’d say she was underutilized actually. Like, at a point it feels like she’ll be very important, and she’s PRETTY important, but then the manga ends. I guess it’s fine, but this is actually caught up in a larger issue I have with the manga that I can’t fully discuss without spoiling (which is unfortunate, ’cause I’d need to spoil it a bit to explain why I wasn’t fully satisfied with Oomura’s role). To put it simply, there were hints, but I wasn’t sure if they were hints, then it didn’t matter. This probably makes sense if you read it.

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Well since I’m in critical mode, let’s complain about this girl, Yamano.

To be blunt, this girl is stupid. Or rather, everything about her is stupid and doesn’t make much sense. I don’t dislike her character, I just think she is handled so, so terribly. I want to complain about it badly. I will.

So basically, this Yamano girl is the one university student in the neighborhood apparently, or at least the only one who buys her school supplies hard local at Satomi’s stationary shop for…no apparent reason. She’s also really nosy… Just is. And she’s fucking fascinated wish Shinya, but not obviously? It’s weird! Like it’s clear that she goes out of her way to hang out with or or speak to Shinya specifically, but I don’t know why. She doesn’t blush around him or make much indication that she’s interested in him. There is legitimately no reason for it. There’s reason why Satomi ends up crushing hard on Shinya, but objectively speaking Shinya is:

  1. nigh asocial
  2. kind of a dolt
  3. not exactly a looker or even charming
  4. a just-turned-pro mangaka who APPARENTLY is actually struggling pretty hard with that.

Yet Yamano just takes to him? Why? This matters a lot in the long run, I think, for the romance part. Something happens really suddenly, it’s kind of stupid, the manga continues, other stuff happens that’s not exactly stupid but not clear either… Well, some interesting things are done with the romance near the end, except at the end of all of it I have to wonder, “why did any of that happen in the first place? Did any of that make sense?”

No! It didn’t!

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Speaking of not making sense, the reasons behind the separation of Satomi’s parents and her father’s loss of motivation to work are like…bafflingly dumb and nonsensical, especially when the series’ resolution is taken into account, which makes me seriously wonder “why the fuck did any of that happen in the first place?” Yes, the same question, only harder. It reminds me of Otaku no Musume-san (maybe I’ll review that one day…I don’t know) in how absurd it is, except it’s not played off casually like the nonsense in Otaku no Musume-san was. It’s played straight and it’s stupid. It’s…unnecessary really. And man, I feel weirdly strong about this. Probably because when I was reading this, I could only think “this really could’ve been 100% solid, so these flaws are sticking out really bad”.

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A flashback.

There’s honestly a lot of good stuff to Yuuyake Rocket Pencil. The ending is fine, the story is a pretty good one, Satomi is an admirable main character, and overall it’s a fairly quick three-volume read so it’s just nice. While I am venomous regarding the problems I have with this manga, it’s only those things. I guess they just soured me a fair amount, since it turned Rocket Pencil from “a perfectly fine childhood and family nostalgiafest” to “mostly fine, with issues”. That’s a shame.

That’s all. You may purchase Yuuyake Rocket Pencil from CDJapan, Bookwalker (guide), honto (guide), or ebookjapan. If I don’t screw up another review should be up in two days on a completely different sort of manga. Thanks for reading. See ya.

P.S. I don’t like the one shot at all.

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4 thoughts on “Yuuyake Rocket Pencil

  1. Yay ! Thanks for this review !
    Likewise, I enjoyed Rocket Pencil even if it was glaring flaws. I can accept all the odd situations, because real life is also somehow very absurd. In fact, Oomura is the only one that behaves logically.
    The shopkeeping and the old furnitures really take me back in time. I felt a lot for Satomi’s cheerfulness and her hardships, since she can’t live like the other children. That’s why I find Rocket Pencil clumsy, yet sincere and vivid. It’s just like eating a madeleine !
    See you next time !

  2. nightman1 says:

    I dearly love these “slice of everyday economic life” manga. The other great one I can think of is “Sekitou Elegy”. I love them for not being as gradiose as most manga is, for taking on the daunting task of painting an interesting story on a small canvas, and above all for showing me little snippets of real Japanese everyday life. This is one of the best. It works because the character Satomi is so lovably herself, weird as she sometimes is.

    Also, if you’ve ever had any connection with small-scale retail in the modern world, which is always economically perilous in general and in danger of being wiped out by some giant chain in particular, you will have a feeling for this manga that outweighs its relatively minor flaws.

    Thanks for reviewing it!

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