(also known as Bird Café!
) ended the past December after a relatively short run, and today the seventh and final volume came out in Japan. It began and ended in relative silence, and I find myself writing this out of the fear that not only it will never get the love it deserves, there will never be anything else like it again. Or will it?.. Well, more on that later.
But what's the big deal? What kind of comic is it? Well, I'll start with the basic plot, which kind of begins like a lot of fairytales do.
One Sasaki Hirokazu, seemingly unremarkable salaryman, takes a wrong turn on his way back from work and ends up just a little too deep into the woods. And what he finds, spying on him and hopping around the treetops is... a harpy??
As it happens, the encounter plays out much like it would if he had met a regular bird. She hops and flaps about, tilts her little feathery head at him... and then flies off with his bag. He hurries after the little thief, following her to what looks like her nest on top of a huge tree. Though not as spry as when he was 12, he manages to clamber up to it, and what he finds is...
That's right. The titular cafè.
This is where we find out that the harpy's name is Suzu, courtesy of her older sister Rin. The home they're residing in was apparently abandoned by a trio of shady-looking guys after a botched attempt at opening a cafè in the woods. In their wide-eyed, bird-like curiosity, the two sisters have been looking over the tables, the menus, the cupboards, and finally decided they also want to give this "cafè" thing a try. Though as it is from a bird's perspective they still have a lot to work on, as Hirokazu finds out when he's served a mug full of mud and a plate of squirming worms.
But being a good man at heart, Hirokazu steps behind the counter and shows them how actual pasta is made. And to his own surprise, after years of being a cog crushed between cogs in his business, for the first time he feels the accomplishment that comes with doing something tangible for others and getting gratitude in return.
But he can't stay forever, and soon he has to go back home, and to the grinder that is his daily life. But now he has something to look forward to every day, as visits to that strange little cafè in the woods become a regular habit for him.
Thus days follow each other, between Suzu's hyperactive little bird antics, new discoveries for the sisters, and visits from others of their kind.
That's right, speaking of them. Suzu and Rin belong to a species of birdfolk (which the unofficial translation calls "avians") that Hirokazu slowly gets to know. From Ena the long-tailed tit harpy and her carpenter friends, to the carrier pigeon siblings, to the elderly crested ibis running a textile workshop in the mountains.
It should be noted that they aren't all harpies like Suzu and Rin: their species encompasses beings with all kind of bird/human ratios. In particular, a regular presence at the cafè is a trio of boastful little sparrow men... with burly, hairy legs.
Now, these guys might be a bit of a low point in the comic, if not stridently so. As Gunvolt would say, "they have a way of photobombing the moment". Between their messing with Hirokazu and not-so-suave passes at Rin, the two regard them as little more than obnoxious little kids they kind of put up with.
But that's not all Hirokazu has to deal with. Some birdfolk, like Jamo-san the fighting rooster, don't take kindly to human presence in their midst at first, as human encroachment has brought little benefit and much grief to them. But slowly they come to appreciate Hirokazu's kind heart and his efforts in helping the cafè sisters learn how to run a business. And, could Jamo-san have some more of those "pancakes", please?
Sadly, this is about as much as I can speak of regarding the plot. Even though it runs on the same magazine as Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou
and Centaur no Nayami
, it never got the boon of an official translation by Seven Seas, or anyone else for that matter. Even the unofficial translation only ever got as far as chapter 15 after three extremely slow years.
But enough about that. What I shared was indeed a very cute little premise but... notice something unusual about it?
To understand what I mean, let me take a step back. In the past few years, monster girls have been steadily growing in visibility, first with Kenkou Cross' Monster Girl Encyclopedia
project on imageboards and then finally exploding with the serialization and animated series of the aforementioned MonMusu
But... in both cases, it was always firmly in the context of niche softcore erotica. Nothing wrong with softcore erotica in and by itself, but it makes it a lot harder for people like me who love monster girls in their purest form to share the object of their passion with others. We just have to accept that not everyone is interested in that, at least definitely not 100% of the time.
But let's say that's just the prerogative of those two works. There could always be other, more story/setting-focused monster girl stories that aren't as loaded with that baggage, if at all. And as a matter of fact, there are!Demi-chan wa Kataritai
is amazing at making you develop empathy for the "monster" characters. Centaur no Nayami
boasts the best world-building in the genre. Hitomi-sensei no Houkenshitsu
, also on MonMusu
's magazine, has quirky and creative art direction and a beautiful message about diversity and acceptance of the other. And yes, beneath the shadow of all these, Torikissa!
scampered along like a little snipe on the shore.
But the problem is most of them, especially Demi-chan
, which got an animated adaptation, were judged and perused almost exclusively by the same measure and perspective of novelty smut, with viewers carving out the saucy bits and throwing out the rest like so much pizza crust. The only thing they took away from Demi-chan
is that Sakie-sensei is, indeed, a very attractive woman. And that was it for Demi-chan
(This kinda fits in the greater trend of extreme objectification of female characters by fans we've had in recent years, but that's a whole other can of worms.)
Now, where does Torikissa!
stand in all this... quite simply, one of the reasons it fell through the cracks is that there are no saucy bits to fixate on. It's a very innocent and wholesome series, and even when it does get cheeky, it's either subtle/tasteful or the author just plain mocks that notion. Take Fuku-nee here.
But that on the other hand, is the reason why Torikissa!
is the only series I could share with an outsider if I wanted to introduce monster girls to them. No swerves into into sexy monster times that could weird them out, no unintentionally or intentionally fetishistic moments, no hook for them to say "See! It really is just weird porn! I'm out of here." Just bird creatures being very pure and spontaneous, in a similar way to Kemono Friends
And as a further comparison to the likes of MonMusu
, while protagonist Kimihito has his good points but is otherwise pretty non-descript for the sake of self-insert fantasies and gets a lot of attention (romantic or not) before he even begins to deserve it, Hirokazu is on the other hand deliberately written as a a subdued character. He is, not unlike Kobayashi from Maid Dragon
, a put-upon everyman who had all his edges sand-blasted away by his work environment. But what keeps him from becoming a complete plot device is he gets personally involved in the birdfolk's lives, does concrete things for them and gradually builds respect and trust with them. Granted, Suzu near-instantly takes to him, but she's like a little kid who's found a big brother to play with.
But that's not all. This is where it gets rather personal but, birds have always been a... I don't want to call it "totem" or "spirit animal" or other kinds of cultural appropriation, but definitely a THING for me. Not only they're beautiful and diverse, they're expressive, affectionate and intelligent even if in ways humans don't immediately understand like with dogs, they don't abide to our gender roles (for one, males are just as caring for their young if not more) and most of all, they can go anywhere they please. As an introvert who struggles with RL interactions and is stuck in a dead-end, polluted town, it all very much speaks to me.
But I don't have the arrogance to think I'm the only person in the world like that. Surely there are others who feel that way, and would find a romantic ideal in creatures of the forest who fly and live as they please, but always have a roost to return to. People who could enjoy this manga as much as I did (or what I could read of it).
But perhaps I'll never know. Maybe the unofficial translation will resume, maybe Seven Seas or another publisher will pick the series up now that it's concluded. But until then, there may never be another comic like this.
Or rather, no. It will not be so. I won't allow it. That is what I decided.
It may be self-serving or tasteless of me to say this after all I've talked about, but I take this chance to make a public announcement. Remember Victoria, my pigeon harpy mascot
? I will soon start a webcomic about her.
It will be in a similar "mix of 4-koma and full comic pages" format as Torikissa!
, but it's a very different story. Victoria, scion of a pigeon family from Europe, moves out of her district to rent an apartment in the floating city of Highroost, where harpies of all kinds gather. There she'll make new friends, start her own life, and maybe get into trouble.
I don't have a lot of things fully planned out, but I'm making this announcement because I want all of you to hold me to this. I want to make this the year where I start something and get it going, even if I have to have all my followers drag me kicking and screaming into it. Well, maybe not get to that point, but what I'm saying is, I'm making a promise to myself today. I'm tired of not knowing what to do with myself, or what I'm supposed to be. What I'll try to be is someone who brings you harpies. And hopefully other monster girls you can love, as much as I love them.
Wish me luck.