By Sanzo. Released in Japan as “Imomushi Shoujo to Komyushou Danshi” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Gene Pixiv. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Alexandra McCullough-Garcia.
I’m not sure what I was expecting going into reading Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy. I knew the basic premise, but that’s about it. I think I expected a cute, slice-of-life thing with heartwarming moments. I also expected by the end of the book everything would be back to normal. Neither of those things happen, and in fact the book goes to a lot of dark places that I wasn’t expecting. That makes it a richer experience, though, and even as I was reading along and going “holy crap”, I was appreciating what the author was doing, peeling apart the backstory of a hero that I honestly didn’t like at all at the start, and making you think twice about the love on his childhood friend, which goes from zero to obsession in the flashbacks. And then there’s the God who puts all this in motion. The book has a lot of balls in the air, but juggles them very well.
The book wastes no time getting into its basic premise. Suzume is pretty, accomplished, and popular. She is childhood friends with Akane, who is introverted, somewhat plain, and has a massive case of self-hatred. So when she confesses to him, his response is variations on “there’s no way someone like you could go for someone like me”. After which she promptly disappears… and then shows up in front of him as a giant human-sized caterpillar. No, this isn’t metaphorical this time around. She made a wish to a shrine god that she could be an ugly creature so that he wouldn’t have to worry about her being pretty and popular. The trouble is that she REALLY didn’t think this through, and can’t really grasp anything, food tastes bad, and she now feels totally useless. As for Akane, he still hates himself, but now he feels guilty. What’s more, turns out one of Suzume’s friends at school is in fact the God she was praying to… and she hates Akane.
The second half of this book, right about where we start to get the perspective of Ouga, the classmate and God mentioned above, ends up being so riveting that I don’t actually want to spoil it. Which, for those readers who know that I casually spoil absolutely everything, is really saying something. Seeing Akane’s backstory made me realize that he’s not just some whiny loser protagonist but has real built-up issues. We also see that Suzume’s love is incredibly unhealthy, both in her past as a human and in her present as a caterpillar, and as we head towards the ending (the book is complete in one volume) we realize that this is not one of those “happily ever after” books so much as “ever after”. There are no easy answers when you love someone so much you transform into a caterpillar for them.
This isn’t an easy read – the three leads all have difficult personalities that we have to deal with, and I think there are some readers who might have preferred the cutesy heartwarming story I thought we were getting going in. But I’m very happy I read this, as the emotional heft of it was fantastic.
Not your typical “monster girl” manga.