On the surface Pastel seems little more than close-up panty and breast shots to amuse hormone-driven teenagers. The cover shows a scantily clad girl wearing either a swimsuit or undergarments. But, as the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” teaches us we have to dig beneath the surface to find the gold that is Pastel, vol. 1 by Toshihiko Kobayashi.
The central character is everyman teenager Mugi Tadano who is recovering from a severe heartbreak when his girlfriend moves away. To get over the loss he gets a summer job at a tropical snack bar and gets set up with cutie Yuu Tsukisaki. The hilarity begins when he accidentally walks in on Yuu in the bath. When he moves back home for school a surprise awaits him and history repeats itself. The conflict of teenage boy meets teenage girl combined with an almost parental or brotherly compassion makes this a worthy read. Koyabashi does an excellent job of capturing teenage emotions in this whirlwind using Mugi as the poster child. Through slapstick comedy Pastel portrays the innocent youthfulness of characters who struggle with growing up and finding the opposite sex attractive.
The artwork beautifully portrays places that most of us will never visit. The beachside summer locale for Mugi’s job makes the reader hear the seagulls and feel the sun beat down on their faces. The urban setting of Mugi’s home and school brings the hustle and bustle to life. We can picture this happening here in the U.S. with some slight adjustments. Even the internal artwork of buildings and Mugi’s home is incredible for the insight into Japanese family life.
I won’t deny that most people will pick up this manga because of the sensual fan service portrayed in the volume. It is geared towards a male audience and sex sells. But, there’s so much more to Pastel than that. The fan service is limited to accidents for comedic effect such as “oops, I just walked in on Yuu getting dressed” and they are not the focus of the title. Kobayashi does a superb balancing act in this regard. At the end of the day Pastel is a heartwarming story of a confused adolescent combating lust and compassion. The universality of that ensures a solid foundation of common ground between reader and the characters.
Pastel, vol. 1
by Toshihiko Kobayashi
Del Rey, 2005