Even with my advanced age and slightly-cynically-inclined mindset, there is still a mushy part of my soul that adores the sweet and wholesome progression of romantic couplings. While I find the shipping fanatics of the world almost alarming in their enthusiasm, I empathize with them, as nothing gets me going in fiction quite like a well-developed romance. Something about two people trusting in one another over all else in a world so torn by disarray and strife… my heart goes “doki doki.” Because, in the end, all we really have is each other, right?
There are a few things that prop up Cigarette & Cherry from the dozens of other rom-com manga out there. First of all, the title—look away, puritans! The ugly “Cigarette” is flaunting itself in its addictive, tormenting way! An immediate indication of the more mature aspect this manga takes, especially with its characters. Its setting involves a central workplace, college, and surrounding areas, and stars college students. College students! Ah, how refreshing to be away from those high school shenanigans and character archetypes… almost.
One calling card to the typical foundations of character traits in Japanese media is identified within the male lead, affectionately joked to be the “Cherry” of the main couple. You see, Cigarette & Cherry alludes to the main couple-to-be (probably, not quite there yet) and the roles they play in the relationship. Cigarette (female lead), the aloof, cool girl whose unflinching spirit and professionalism makes her a feminist’s dream. Cherry (male lead), the overthinking, fidgety virgin that hasn’t quite found himself. These complete opposites slowly come into each other’s lives and leave an impression that each with carry with them forever. Well, the story would love if you felt that way about it.
What makes for both a positive and negative part of the story is that it is tremendously messy. The first few chapters are almost literally comprised of only the bare minimum necessary to have these two characters meet and interact. Cherry sees Cigarette, thinks she’s cute, then devises a few plans to get her to pay attention to him. Initially, it almost feels like a spin on the “girl teases incompetent boy” trend in manga that’s been floating around. Almost like a switch, the formula shifts to that of a cat-and-mouse game that continues at rapid speed. Slowly but surely, Cherry establishes himself as a contender for Cigarette’s heart. And things only get more “interesting” from then on.
At the time of writing, this manga has 46 chapters scanlated, which each chapter spanning between ten and thirty pages (quite the fluctuation!). In that span, the type of story it wishes to tell has changed about four times. As stated before, first it’s the “girl teases incompetent boy.” Then it’s a cat-and-mouse game that touches upon a coming-of-age subgenre. Suddenly, it shifts to drama, and in recent chapters it’s settled into a semi-stagnant slice-of-life. Suffice it to say things are pretty complicated. Both beautiful in its unpredictability and irritating in its lack of focus. Right now, I’m concerned most going forward.
Some time ago, I wrote about being “too old to tolerate filler.” Guess what Cigarette & Cherry feels like it’s doing? Now that a serious dramatic incident has occurred and the two leads have gotten closer, the mangaka seems to have taken it easy. They’ve entered a point in the relationship where they can float around and leave things sort of vague but also leaning towards affectionate without actually progressing. Oh, yes! Please! Give me thirty more chapters of them barely holding hands and getting into sexually-stimulating situations that result in nothing! I am dumb and lonely and will consume anything to feed the void in my m e a n i n g l e s s e x i s t e n c e . Or not. We could not do that and it’d be nice.
So aside from story, which is a maze with no exit, we have two major points to consider: characters and art. We’ll start with art, because it’s more interesting (usually). Consider the images that have been placed within this post thus far. Very sketchy, almost rough in its presentation. I find this to be another aspect to the relative maturity that Cigarette & Cherry embodies. As I’ve grown, I’ve found that there’s a certain artistic appeal to rough sketches that exude more personality than picture-perfect, stylized images of accessibility. This story has much of that in every panel, and when the time comes to draw something more picturesque, it only adds to the sincerity of it. Those quiet moments that the two leads spend together alone, quietly enjoying their peace together, are some of my favorite parts of the story. The art style exemplifies that feeling in small portions.
Which has us crashing into the character category, which I find just as muddled as the story sometimes. I’m not hugely fond of Cherry. He has that same sort of overactive energy that a typical Shounen lead carries and it irks me. At the same time, I understand why the mangaka intended to make him so, as the complete opposite of the cool and quiet Cigarette. Watching Cherry grow has been an acceptable experience that occasionally overrides his overly naive persona. Cigarette is far more interesting, both in the sense that she isn’t annoying on the surface and that she harbors some deep character flaws under the surface. Part of me wishes the story would focus more on her and less on Cherry, though the temptation of having a male lead instead of a female that immediately dips the story into the Shoujo genre which leads people to approach it differently is an understandable land mine.
Apart from the leads, we have minor characters such as Cigarette’s female co-worker who also has a thing for Cigarette, and the old owner of the business, who eventually tries to be cupid for the main couple. Neither character is given much attention on a personal level, though the co-worker makes multiple appearances throughout and often fights with Cherry over Cigarette. As minor characters, they serve their purpose, but I wouldn’t say I cared about them much.
So far, there’s actually a decent amount of positive attributes here. I like the solemn moments that radiate tender intimacy. I like the emphasis on dealing with the quirks between two different people before jumping straight ahead into love. Its artistic merits aren’t for those who adore perfection, but has that volatile spirit of everyday life. If it can continue to clear a path to something actually happening instead of mindlessly wandering around a will-they-won’t-they establishment of romantic ties, it’d be an easy recommendation. A little overdramatic, a little underdramatic, a little weird at points and perhaps too concerned over the finer details. Cigarette & Cherry provides an intriguing foray into a more mature style of romcom that has that uncanny fashion of throwing whatever it can at you at whatever junction, kind of like real life.
If you’d like to see more reviews like this, feel free to look at my full list of manga reviews!