If you’re looking for something short and sweet, Emperor and I is a feel-good series about a teenage girl who finds an emperor penguin in her fridge one day and adopts it. You might have to suspend your disbelief a bit, but once you get accustomed to a full-grown penguin waddling on tatami mats, you’re sure to fall in love with Emperor’s quiet charm. Only 38 chapters, this series will remind you that everyday magic is the true essence of slice-of-life goodness.
Kaho is your typical high school girl, living in suburban Japan. All is well, until one day she discovers a penguin in her refrigerator. The tone of the manga is rather matter-of-fact, even with this very strange discovery right from the get-go. Kaho washes off the stinky penguin, and breaks the news first to her mother, and then to her father. The family acclimates to their new pet rather quickly, and soon, Emperor becomes the focal point of the family’s daily shenanigans.
While they do their best to keep Emperor from outside eyes, it’s pretty hard to keep a penguin incognito, especially in a small town in Japan. Kaho’s friends, Kosuke and Reina, slowly begin to catch on and join in all the penguin antics. Kosuke has a harder time bonding with Emperor, but Reina loves birds and rejoices at the chance to meet a real penguin. Kaho’s older brother, Kyo, and Kazuki, a neighborhood boy, also become part of the motley cast. It’s a fun bunch, and they go on snow trips to play with Emperor, have takoyaki parties together, and enjoy the chaos that this strange bird brings to their lives.
The story is very slice-of-life in that not much is divulged about the characters’ personal lives. The plot focuses mostly on various vignettes of Emperor’s intrusion in their otherwise normal existence. Perhaps the most opaque character is Emperor since it doesn’t speak. Heck, it doesn’t even have eyes. Nor do any of the characters know Emperor’s gender. What could it be thinking? How does it feel about being a part of a Japanese household? Maybe it’s just silently judging everyone. I kinda wish Mato, the mangaka, included a bonus track about Emperor providing a commentary on its life and new human friends.
What’s endearing about this manga is how it invites the reader to observe the charm of an emperor penguin in a new, somewhat thrilling environment. Emperor goes about his usual penguin business, sliding around, hiding out of plain sight, and adopting various toys as a mock penguin chick. Sometimes it blends into the unassuming home environment, and at other times it breaks loose into broad daylight. Against the normalcy of the rest of the story, Emperor steals the show!
The story has four digital volumes, which are all available now, and each volume is dedicated to a season. The series ends with a full cycle and the one-year anniversary of Emperor’s advent. This is the perfect manga for someone who loves penguins, whimsical slice-of-life stories, or just cute stuff in general. And you'll actually learn quite a bit about penguins in the process, which could come in handy should one ever randomly appear in your fridge one day.
To read a preview of Emperor and I or learn more about it, check out the website.
by Jessica Kim
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