Oh, What Could Have Been: Maku Musubi Final Review

Maku Musubi by Hotani Shin is a manga that hooked me instantly. Its story—that of a high school girl who abandoned her dreams of becoming a comic artist but finds new life creating scenarios for theater—resonated with me because of its exploration of its protagonist’s creative process, and it made me want to read more. 

The series ended up being five volumes total, and my takeaway is that the series is great fun from start to finish, but feels like it was cut short and prevented from reaching its true potential.

In Maku Musubi, heroine Tsuchikure “Musubi” Sakura and her clubmates are working towards competing in competitions against other schools. They even attend a joint-school event where different drama clubs gather for what is essentially a practice run with professional critique. This little arc is great: it emphasizes the eccentric yet compelling nature of Sakura’s scripts, and also introduces an extremely harsh judge whose cold-blooded reviews of every performance provide a “villain” of sorts that challenges everyone to rise to the occasion. The judge clearly recognizes Sakura’s potential, her inability to meet his high standards makes her screenplay a “disappointment” in his eyes. But then they never truly get to any competitions, and so we never see them get to the first true step of their main goal. 

The manga has plenty going for it despite this lack of resolution, and its main focus in the final chapters on the club president’s unpleasant past with the former members who left prior to the first chapter brings out all of the things that make Maku Musubi interesting to read: character introspection, depictions of club-life camaraderie, and a flair for the dramatic (literally). Still, it feels like Musubi’s story could have gone so much further. Her creative struggle could have grown into something even more impactful if given the chance.

Manga isn’t an easy area to succeed in. I’m reminded of another title I reviewed years ago called Haru Polish which, like Maku Musubi, clearly stops earlier than was intended. But when  you look at manga about acting, it’s hard to end things at the right time. Glass Mask is notoriously long—around five decades old with no finish in sight. Now Playing finishes at four volumes when it felt like it had more left in the tank. Act-Age was doing great until the author’s sex crimes forced that series to be canceled. I don’t know if the theatre genre in manga is cursed or what.

I hope Hotani Shin ends up doing another manga, and that they’re able to make as big and beautiful a series as they hope. In the meantime, Maku Musubi was a great ride.

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