Best girl gets her own book in Minami Nanami Wants to Shine

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While we English readers eagerly await volume 8 of the mainline Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki series — set to arrive on April 19, 2022, according to Amazon — we’ve been provided with a lovely stopgap in the form of Minami Nanami Wants to Shine, a spinoff manga featuring the ever-popular Minami “Mimimi” Nanami, a favourite character of many from the mainline series. The story of this first volume is set somewhere between the first and second volumes of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki.

Mimimi is a character who is ripe for further exploration. Throughout the mainline Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki series, she initially appeared to be the one character who was arguably most comfortable with the person she actually is — but over time it becomes clear that, like most of the other members of the main cast, she is struggling with insecurity and a desire to truly define herself.

In particular, her rivalry with Aoi Hinami, one of the main heroines of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, has had both a positive and negative impact on her; positive in the sense that Aoi’s consistent brilliance at everything she does pushes Mimimi forward to try and excel on her own terms, but negative in that she constantly feels inferior, even in those areas that are supposed to be her “specialism”.

Indeed, as Minami Nanami Wants to Shine opens, we see her putting her all into her favourite field event, the high jump — only to discover that despite supposedly her being the track team’s “star” of that event, Aoi effortlessly equals and subsequently surpasses her performance.

“There are two types of people in this world,” Mimimi muses, watching Aoi beating the new record she just set. “Those who can’t shine on their own, and those who shine so brightly they draw everyone to them.”

Aoi clearly falls into the latter category, so far as Mimimi is concerned. If you’ve been keeping up to date on Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, you will, of course, know that Aoi’s popularity and ability to “shine” is absolutely not a natural thing, and is instead the result of a strict regime of polishing and refining herself into the exact image she believes the world would like to see her as.

But Aoi successfully manages to keep this to herself; so far in our progress through the main series, it’s only really title character and protagonist Tomozaki and their mutual friend Mizusawa who know something approaching the “truth” about Aoi Hinami; to everyone else — including Mimimi — she’s the perfect heroine. Impossible to fault; impossible to hate.

“Aoi lives in a whole different world, after all,” Mimimi says to herself, reflecting on her situation. “But it’s not like we don’t get along. I mean, actually, she’s hardworking, cheerful and considerate to her friends. There’s nothing I could hate her for. It’s just me feeling like I lost my one-sided competition.”

This “one-sided competition” is at the core of Mimimi’s insecurity, and the fact that Aoi makes herself so difficult to hate and think of as a true rival makes it all the more difficult for Mimimi to deal with. If she could truly despise Aoi for making her feel the way she does, she would doubtless find it easier to strive for success — or perhaps even to simply not compare herself to Aoi at all. But because Aoi is so inherently likeable — or rather, her day-to-day persona is so likeable — the prospect of thinking negatively of Aoi just gets Mimimi depressed.

As if to emphasise this point, almost immediately after Mimimi has mused all this to herself, there’s a discussion between the group of friends about going out for dinner. Mimimi knows that her mother has probably prepared dinner for her and that she shouldn’t go, but feels the peer pressure to go along with the crowd. Naturally, Aoi, having carefully curated the considerate side of her personality, recognises Mimimi’s hesitance and discomfort at the situation, and subtly provides her with an opportunity to get out of it — an opportunity that Mimimi refuses, feeling like it would somehow be “losing to” Aoi.

Aoi doesn’t feel this way about everyone. In fact, her relationship with Hanabi Natsubayashi, more commonly referred to as “Tama-chan”, is markedly different — but still characterised by something of a power imbalance. In this instance, though, Mimimi wants nothing more than to protect Tama-chan — something which we see explored in a lot more depth in some of the later volumes of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki — but is also slightly envious of her ability to simply say what she thinks and not be swayed by others.

Tama-chan, for example, is forthright enough to be able to turn down the invitation to dinner for the exact same reason Mimimi wanted to turn it down — that her mother would have prepared dinner for her already — and thus Mimimi latches on to this opportunity to extricate herself from the situation, using her well-known penchant for “protecting” Tama-chan to her advantage. As Tomozaki notes frequently in his observations of her, Mimimi is by no means helpless in social situations; she is absolutely able to make use of “the mood” when required — she just has a little trouble with the initial assertiveness side of things.

This opening sequence makes Mimimi’s frustration with her life all too clear. She’s a well-liked, respected young woman in her daily life, but she wants more. She wants to be something other than someone who sits in Aoi Hinami’s shadow, and someone who just goes along with the majority rule. She’s been inspired by how Tama-chan lives her life on a day-to-day basis, and also by Tomozaki’s obvious attempts to improve himself — tutored by Aoi, unbeknownst to her at this point — and wants to find some means through which she can “shine” on her own terms.

The main plot hook of Minami Nanami Wants to Shine provides her with just that opportunity. Mimimi’s mother, whom we’ve not met previously in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, is an independent, go-getting sort of woman who separated from her husband some time ago. After some initial hesitance — largely discomfort at the fact that her parents’ separation stemmed from her mother cheating just once — Mimimi agreed to live with her, and finds her an intriguing role model.

At home, Mimimi’s mother is not particularly houseproud, but Mimimi is aware that she works hard at her job advertising “Prologue” cosmetics. And thus when her mother presents her with the opportunity to become a model, starring in a low-budget local advertising campaign for the brand, she sees this as a potential opportunity to do something that no-one else she knows has achieved. She sees it as a potential opportunity to shine — but also as something to be a little uneasy about.

Indeed, it’s clear that although she is excited about the opportunity, she’s also not sure whether or not she deserves it. She has a certain amount of pride in her appearance and her body — the latter of which has, of course, been nicely toned by her hard work on the track and field team — but still obviously lacks the ability to look at herself and go “yes, Minami Nanami is hot as fuck and is going to knock everyone dead“.

It’s the following day at school that she starts to feel the stirring of something, however. When talking with her friends about the opportunity and seeing how excited they all are, she starts to get excited herself. And when Aoi’s response to the situation is a seemingly acid-drenched “how nice”, she feels even better; could this be her one opportunity to actually get one up on her greatest rival with minimal risk of being immediately “beaten”?

“Having everyone tell me that I’m amazing or that I’ll be famous gets me weirdly excited,” she admits to herself. “It was like something I had been lacking was pouring in. More than that, a rough sensation that lingered in my chest. I am a bit of a jerk, if I do say so myself, but that envious remark coming out of Aoi’s mouth rang strangely pleasant in my ears.”

Once Mimimi actually gets to the modelling opportunity, gets dressed up and made up professionally and has some test shots taken, she is surprised by what she sees; she doesn’t quite recognise herself or believe that it’s her, but she’s reassured by the people around her that it is, indeed, her. This is a way in which she can “shine” — and while one can certainly read a slightly shallow element into all this in that it’s all based on appearance, there are a few things to bear in mind.

Firstly is the fact that Mimimi is still a teenage girl, after all, and it’s during most people’s teenage years that they are at their most fashion-conscious and interested in looking their best. Mimimi is undoubtedly an attractive young woman — Tomozaki points out as much on numerous occasions in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki — but we’ve never seen her fending off any prospective suitors, nor have we seen her pursuing anyone (except one certain someone towards the end of the more recent volumes, that is). Nor have we ever seen her particularly “dressed up” for a special occasion.

Tying in with all this is Mimimi’s sense of insecurity and inferiority. She believes herself to be beneath a lot of other people, despite her holding a clearly solid role in the social hierarchy of the class. Although willing to take the lead in some areas, in others she defers to others even if she doesn’t want to; we’ve already seen this. But as soon as she sees her first test shots, she starts to see a reason to have a bit more confidence in herself; while she doesn’t initially recognise the beautiful young woman in the shots, she gradually comes to accept that it is, indeed, her.

And so, upon her return to the track and field team, witnessing Aoi reaching a high jump height that she’s never yet been able to clear, Mimimi feels something unfamiliar: besides frustration at being beaten once again, now she has something else that she feels able to cling onto.

“Aoi just jumped a height I’ve never reached,” she muses to herself, “but then why? Why was the only thing that filled my head then the memory of myself shining in the photos I’d gotten?”

Interestingly, it’s around this point that it becomes clear that author Yuki Yaku wants to spin Minami Nanami Wants to Shine off in a slightly different direction to Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, with the former seemingly unfolding as a sort of speculative “what if?” story rather than entwining itself around the canonical latter.

The most notable, clear example of this comes during the sign-ups for the student council elections, which were depicted in the second volume of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. In the original light novels, Mimimi goes up against Aoi and takes on Tomozaki as her “Brain” to run her campaign; in Minami Nanami Wants to Shine, meanwhile, she leaves the election to Aoi, knowing that she’s a sure bet to win the position — and instead chooses to focus on something that she believes might be able to define herself and make her feel truly unique.

Of course, the interesting thing is that even by acting in competition with Aoi in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Mimimi manages to shine in her own right, although perhaps not entirely to her own satisfaction. As such, it looks as if the two series are going to take different paths rather than exploring the same story from different angles. It’s going to be interesting to see exactly what this means for Mimimi’s self-perception in both tales — and, of course, what it means for her relationship with Tomozaki, too, of course.

So far, then, Minami Nanami Wants to Shine is off to a fairly charming start and provides us with a very welcome opportunity to spend a bit more private time with a real fan-favourite character from Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. It feels like the manga might take a volume or two more to truly define itself and establish what exactly it is it wants to achieve in contrast to the main light novel series — plus it’s best enjoyed with a pre-existing knowledge of the characters — but it definitely looks set to be one worth keeping an eye on.

Minami Nanami Wants to Shine volume 1 is available now on Amazon in Kindle and paperback format. Alternative retailers and further information can be found on Yen Press’ website. Volume 2 is set to release on July 19, 2022.

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Pete Davison
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