Hakumei & Mikochi is almost the platonic ideal of an iyashikai (“healing”) manga, designed to provide readers with a relaxing visit with appealing characters in an attractive, detailed setting. Nothing much happens in iyashikai manga; the plots are usually brief, episodic, and low stakes. The manga’s success rests entirely on world-building, on creating a place where readers want to hang out. Hakumei & Mikochi is so aggressively likable it almost seems to be challenging the reader not to be enchanted. Disliking it would be like kicking a kitten or stomping on a fairy ring.
The title characters are two tiny, elfin women who live together in a tree in a storybook forest. As they go about their daily errands, we gradually learn about them: Mikochi is low key, seldom smiles, and makes preserves for a living, while Hakumei is energetic and outgoing and works as a repairwoman with a gruff weasel as her boss. We also discover their little world, which includes a colorful trade city, a swamp inhabited by a mad scientist, and a plethora of local crafts, traditions, games, and legends. Much time is spent on rustic activities like repairing a windmill or making soap. Even with the occasional explosion or monster attack, the story never runs into the danger of getting too exciting.
And everything is unbearably cute, drawn with the charm and care of classic children’s illustration. The characters are squat, round, apple-cheeked gnomes in whimsical outfits, trotting through a world of leafy treehouses, woodland paths, talking animals, cozy rooms, and adorably oversized fruits and nuts. The setting is half the fairy tale Europe of Studio Ghibli films, half a nostalgic Japan with Shinto festivals and shochu-drinking parties. Hakumei & Mikochi isn’t out to challenge, surprise, or build a complex plot. But it is awfully healing.
Publisher: Yen Press
Story and Art: Takuto Kashiki