The Spouse With a Secret ranks among the top five narrative devices of all time, as it lends itself to so many different genres: horror stories, costume dramas, lurid thrillers. The Delinquent Housewife! puts a humorous spin on the concept, pitting a seemingly demure newlywed against her in-laws. Though her husband assures Tomugi that his family will embrace her as a cherished member, she isn’t so sure, as Tohru’s younger sister Yukari seems determined to prove to the rest of the Komukai clan that Tomugi is a poor match for Tohru.
Sustaining this premise is a delicate balancing act; if the author hides Tomugi’s secret from the reader or the other characters for too long, the story might become tedious, but if she puts that information out in the open too soon, the story might lose momentum. Nemu Yoko splits the difference, teasing the reader about Tomugi’s big secret for the first thirty pages before dropping a bombshell: Tomugi belonged to a bosozoku (bike) gang. Yoko wisely doesn’t put all her cards on the table, however, leaving the reader to guess how and why the clean-cut Tohru fell for Tomugi.
Yoko makes another smart choice in removing Tohru from the picture just a few pages into volume one, sending him on a mysterious business trip of indefinite length. Though this plot development is a capital-C contrivance, it serves two important functions: it hints that Tohru may be harboring an even bigger secret than Tomugi, and it forces Tomugi to interact with the entire Komukai clan. In particular, Tohru’s absence exacerbates the conflict between Tomugi and Yukari, who views her older brother in a hagiographic light; Yukari spends several chapters scheming ways to expose Tomugi’s culinary deficits, certain that Tomugi’s terrible cooking will be the demise of her marriage to Tohru.
While many of the comic devices are straight out of Moliere — eavesdropping at the door, sneaking around under cover of darkness — The Delinquent Housewife! never feels rote; Yoko puts just enough spin on familiar scenarios to make the jokes’ punchlines seem fresh. Grandpa Komukai, for example, presents like a befuddled old pervert but turns out to be more perceptive about his new in-law than the skeptical Yukari, while Tomugi’s bosozoku buddies prove a fount of useful information about housework. (Her friend Ami’s cooking lesson is a highlight of volume one, a gleeful marriage of foul language, insults, and no-nonsense tips for mastering kitchen basics.) Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Delinquent Housewife! is that Yoko is unsparing in her portrayal of Tomugi’s immaturity, depicting her as a self-pitying leech who’s still blaming her parents for her shortcomings. Yet Tomugi isn’t a monster; even in her worst moments, her interactions with Ami, Dai (Tohru’s kid brother), and Tohru suggest that Tomugi is, at bottom, someone who’s just looking for a family to call her own, even if she’s using questionable tactics to get one.
If I had any criticism of The Delinquent Housewife!, it’s that Tomugi’s tough-girl talk sounds stilted, see-sawing between Noo Joisey realness and teenage text-speak — a tonal problem that might be an artifact of the original script, rather than a by-product of the translation process. On the whole, however, The Delinquent Housewife! is a welcome addition to the Vertical Comics catalog, an energetic comedy that earns its laughs with thoughtful characterizations, appealing art, and juicy plot twists. Recommended.
THE DELINQUENT HOUSEWIFE!, VOL. 1 • STORY & ART BY NEMU YOKO • TRANSLATION BY DAVID MUSTO • VERTICAL COMICS • NO RATING • 192 pp.