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Retro Rerun: Manga Focus, We Are Mint

| Feb 14, 2022
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By Dove Sherman

There’s a new student at Morinomiya Junior High Boarding School. When Noel Minamino transfers into classroom 2-A at mid-semester, everyone is surprised to discover that their pretty classmate Maria has a twin sister. But none are so surprised as Maria. Maria doesn’t have a sister. Noel is her brother.

We Are Mint (Mintona Bokura) is the latest manga from shoujo manga writer/artist Wataru Yoshizumi. Best known for her popular romantic manga series Marmalade Boy, her current manga is a romantic comedy about twins – a pretty girl and a boy masquerading as a pretty girl – at a co-ed high school. While Marmalade Boy featured a story arc in which the male lead Yuu played a beautiful queen for a perfume commercial, We Are Mint’s transgender element is central to the entire series.

Noel Minamino makes do as a girl.

Noel and Maria have always been inseparable. As twins, they shared a special bond. But, as they got older, Maria started to become more interested in girls’ activities and she and Noel began to grow apart. When Noel returns from a whale watching expedition with his father, he learns that Maria has left home to attend a boarding school so that she can be close to a boy she’s developed a crush on. Noel reflects on how much they’ve drifted away from each other and feels betrayed by Maria. Stubbornly jealous that Maria would leave him to follow some boy, Noel decides to transfer to the same boarding school.

However, at mid-semester, it’s not so easy to get in. His parents make inquiries and pull strings but the boys’ dormitory is completely full. Sympathetic to Noel’s need to be near his sister, the school chairman offers to let Noel enter the school if he will live as a girl in the girls’ dormitory. Determined to do whatever it takes to bring Maria back home, Noel agrees.

That first day at school, Maria drags Noel out into the schoolyard in the middle of class and demands an explanation. Noel tells her how he feels and that he’s not going home without her. More than a little bothered by her brother’s masquerade, Maria says he looks ridiculous in a wig but Noel points out that his wig, which begins at his hair band, matches Maria’s hair in length and style perfectly. He then somewhat giddily goes on to show off the biking shorts he’s wearing under his skirt so that, just in case anyone happens to see under his skirt, they won’t see anything that shouldn’t be there. Frustrated but confident that, since Noel doesn’t even know which boy Maria likes, he won’t be able to interfere, Maria agrees to go along with the ruse, certain that Noel will either slip up and be discovered or else tire of keeping up his girl disguise and go home.

Noel and Maria, The Pretty Twins.

And so Morinomiya has a pretty new co-ed and the cafeteria at lunchtime is abuzz with the news of the “pretty twins”. Noel’s classmates ask which school club “she” plans to join, wondering if it will the basketball club like Maria. Thinking that maybe the boy Maria likes is in the basketball club too, Noel decides to go to the practice after school.

In the school gym, Noel watches from the sidelines Maria practicing with the rest of the girls’ team, glancing around at the boys’ team and wondering which boy it is that Maria likes. Noel worries that someone might be suspicious of his just watching but he can’t join the girls’ team because, with all the running around, his wig might slip off. Sasa, a boy from Noel’s class, tells him to go up to the second floor to watch because watching from sidelines can be dangerous. Noel asks him which boys on the basketball team are supposed to be especially handsome but Sasa says he wouldn’t know that sort of thing and that Noel should ask the other girls about that.

Noel and Sasa.

When practice ends, Noel sees Maria talking excitedly with an older boy. Sasa explains that it’s Hirobe, the coach for the girls’ team and a second year student at K College. Certain that Hirobe must be the target of Maria’s crush, Noel knows he has to find an excuse to stay near the courts and asks Sasa a favor.

Meanwhile Maria tags after Hirobe, asking if he has plans for Sunday and is amazed when he asks what she’d like to do. Gleefully, she suggests going to the Katchanland amusement park but, when Hirobe asks how many tickets they’ll need, she realizes that he thought she was planning a club activity. Still, it’s a chance to be near Hirobe so she goes off to talk the other club members into coming along. When Noel says that he wants to come too, Maria asserts that only basketball club members can go. But, thanks to Sasa’s introduction, Noel has become the manager for the boys’ basketball team and Maria can’t exclude him from any “club activity”.When practice ends, Noel sees Maria talking excitedly with an older boy. Sasa explains that it’s Hirobe, the coach for the girls’ team and a second year student at K College. Certain that Hirobe must be the target of Maria’s crush, Noel knows he has to find an excuse to stay near the courts and asks Sasa a favor.

Thus begins Noel’s plans for interfering with Maria’s love life. But, before long, Noel has problems of his own to worry about.

Miyuu, Noel’s troubled roommate.

On his first night in the girls’ dormitory, Noel wonders about his absentee roommate Miyuu. Some time after evening lock-up, Miyuu climbs in through the bedroom window and they meet for the first time. Miyuu is a quiet pretty girl but has a reputation as being difficult to talk to. There’s even a rumor that she goes out with middle-aged men. With Miyuu sneaking in at night, Noel wonders if she’s a bit of a delinquent. He invites her to come to Katchanland on Sunday but she refuses, saying she has other plans.

AKatchanland, Noel does his best to interfere with Maria’s love for Hirobe. After he “accidentally” spills a drink on Maria’s arm during a tender moment, she bursts into tears while washing up in the restroom. Noel is shocked by her emotion and walks off on his own to think.

Pacing through the park and mulling over the situation, Noel sees Miyuu walking with a middle-aged man and wonders if the rumors might be true after all.

Being new at school, with Maria avoiding him and his roommate so rarely home, Noel starts spending time with Sasa. Sasa thinks Noel is a bit of a tomboy but cute and invites him to go fishing. On the boat, Sasa, ordinarily very cool and reserved, becomes enthusiastic and playful.

Later, Noel asks Miyuu who the man with her at the park was and she explains that it was her father. Noel feels foolish for not having realized it himself. They go to a local arcade together where they run into Sasa. Inside one of the game booths Sasa tries to kiss Noel… and succeeds! Flustered and confused, Noel stammers an excuse and runs out.

The next day, Noel and Sasa are avoiding each other. Everyone’s so used to seeing them eating lunch together that they’re shocked to see them sitting alone at separate tables. Noel is very upset about what happened but doesn’t want to lose such a good friend. Finally, he brings Sasa to come to his room while Miyuu is out. Expecting to be dumped, Sasa is shocked when Noel starts taking off his clothes but, when Noel strips out of his padded bra and wig, Sasa faints dead away. In the end, Sasa agrees to keep Noel’s secret and the two of them remain friends.

Miyuu, Maria, Noel, and Sasa.

Back in his room, Noel is thinking about everything that’s happened. Curious about Miyuu and her father, he peeks into her photo album but and finds a picture of Miyuu with a middle-aged couple but the man in the picture isn’t the man he saw her with in the park!

Meanwhile, Maria meets Hirobe’s younger brother and, this time, really falls in love and that love is returned. Noel feels horribly betrayed. He tells Sasa that being twins means they’re supposed to be closer to each other than anybody else but that, now, he doesn’t feel that Maria loves him best.

Together, Sasa and Noel find Miyuu in town with the middle-aged man from before. When Sasa recognizes the man as HIS father, he confronts him, demanding an explanation. It turns out that Miyuu is the man’s daughter from a previous marriage and that he’s Sasa’s stepfather, making Miyuu Sasa’s stepsister but not blood-related.

Miyuu and Sasa start to hang out together, getting to know one another and it starts to bother Noel but not in the way Maria and Hirobe did. After talking to Maria, he realizes that he’s in love with Miyuu. He asks Miyuu how she feels about Sasa and she asks if he’s worried that she’ll steal Noel’s boyfriend.

During vacation, Noel and Maria return home and Noel finally gets a break from being a girl. In a bookstore, he bumps into Miyuu. When Miyuu says he sounds and looks a lot like her roommate, Noel pretends to be his fictional cousin. At home, Maria suggests he use his new boy role to ask Miyuu on a date. Miyuu accepts but only if Noel (the girl) and Sasa will come too. So Noel begs Maria to pretend to be Noel (the girl) for the double-date.

And so it goes. With Maria now in love with Hirobe’s younger brother, will Noel ever get her to return home? Will Noel and Maria continue to drift apart from one another or, in their pursuits for love, will they discover a new bond between them? How can Noel ever win Miyuu’s heart when, as far as Maria knows, “Noel” is a girl? We Are Mint is still ongoing but shaping up to be highly enjoyable, sweetly soppy, and with the same degree of complex romantic entanglements and misunderstandings for which Wataru Yoshizumi is so well-known.

Noel and Maria, The Pretty Twins.

In many ways, We Are Mint is strongly reminiscent of some of the sweeter, more romantic examples of transgender fantasy stories. It contains all the confusion and understanding and all the pain and joy of first love. It also seems clear that, while Noel and Maria are beginning to drift apart, with their attentions starting focus on other loves, Noel’s masquerade is actually providing them with a way for the two of them to bond in way never before possible. These complex character relationships and and romantic complications place this story far above the average teenage romance novel or soap opera.

Although not currently available in English, We Are Mint can be found in Japanese import bookstores as Mintona Bokura from Ribon Mascot Comics. With a little thought and the help of a good translation website, We Are Mint is highly enjoyable.

Otaku World For more information about Japanese anime and manga, visit Otaku World for anime and manga info, links, and downloads, masterminded and maintained by Dove Sherman.

Mintona Bokura and Marmalade Boy are copyright 1998 Wataru Yoshizumi and Shuueisha

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