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The Essence of Being a Muse Vol. #01 Manga Review

5 min read
Muse is a post-coming-of-age story, one that tackles the wall that young adults hit when they come out of school to a world that promises that if you play by the rules you’ll survive, but don’t expect to thrive.
The Essence of Being a Muse, Vol. 1

Hell is other people.

Creative Staff
Author: Aya Fumino
Translated by: Ajani Oloye
Letterer: Lys Blakeslee

What They Say
Twenty-three-year-old art school reject Miyuu Seno has a blue print for the future, but it’s not her own. Instead, she’s stuck on the “secure” path her mom has laid out for her—from her office job, to her clothes, to the guys she meets—and it’s making Miyuu more miserable by the day. When things come to a head between them, Miyuu leaves home with a blank canvas in tow, holding on to the hope that painting can somehow undo the phony she’s become…

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
What is a woman supposed to do to lead a good life? Is it the traditional route of finding a man, get married, have kids? Is it to follow your dreams even if it means being a starving artist? Maybe the real answer lies somewhere in between. I’m so used to reading stories where the lead woman’s main goal is not her own personal growth but somebody else’s. The Essence of Being a Muse isn’t about doing the right thing for others, but doing the right thing for yourself even if it means failure. In fact, the story opens with failure.

We are introduced to Miyuu not getting into college for art. The rejection introduces us to Miyuu’s controlling mother who sees her daughter as a reflection of her own failures. Of course, the mother is faultless in her own eyes. The mother is toxic, mentally abusive, and at the breaking point for Miyuu physically abusive. Trapped living at home is no longer an option so Miyuu flees, taking only her blank canvas with her in an ultimate symbol that she is a blank slate.

It is almost comical how shitty everyone treats Miyuu. She is either badmouthed behind her back by coworkers, called ‘cheap’ by a date who at first seemed sympathetic, or straight up called fake. As you can imagine all of this negative feedback and interaction has led Miyuu to have a massive inferiority complex. She has done everything she is supposed to but nobody likes her for it. She loves making art but has been told she isn’t good enough. 

Then Miyuu meets on a guy who appears to have confidence in spades. Ryuen is a cool guy busking in the park who greets Miyuu with kindness. He isn’t interested in her for her body but is curious about this girl on the street hauling a canvas around. He happens to own a bar, offers her a room to rent, and frames a sketch she makes for him in the park. 

I am terrified we’re going to find out he is also an asshole. TERRIFIED. Please story, just keep him as a genuine kind human being who also was treated shitty but found the confidence to be a good, kind person. 

My reason for believing he has some hidden negative is because after Miyuu decides to try again for art school the story takes a break from her to return to an unexpected character, the date, Nabeshima. It turns out he is so callous and rude because he’s an idiot with poor interpersonal skills. Some of that attitude is also his struggling with inferiority. He wanted to be a model when he was younger but couldn’t cut it, and the death of his mother also buried his dream. (It doesn’t help that Nabeshin’s dead mother kind of looks like an older Miyuu. I don’t know if that’s just an aspect of Fumino’s art style or intentional.) So he went through with the fallback plan and isn’t finding happiness with success. He likes Miyuu who now sees him as a jerk and has lost interest, while his interest in her only grows.

If the author is trying to make him sympathetic I’m worried Ryuen will turn out to be not all he is cracked up to be. 

This is a short series, only listed at three volumes, so I hope that the story will have a satisfying conclusion. This isn’t a story where I want the protagonist to fall into the path her mother sets for her. If Miyuu ultimately finds her love of art again and of herself, that will be enough. Nabeshima can go fall off a cliff though, I don’t have time for assholes, and neither should Miyuu.

In Summary:
What happens when you are told you can ‘follow your dreams’ only to realize that the world doesn’t work like that? Muse is a post-coming-of-age story, one that tackles the wall that young adults hit when they come out of school to a world that promises that if you play by the rules you’ll survive, but don’t expect to thrive. On a more personal level, it’s Miyuu’s struggles with her own inferiority complex, toxic relationships, and ultimately, hopefully, a story of self-discovery and self-love. This is a solid start to the story but it’s too early to judge if it’s a story to recommend. I do hope that it is, because the struggle is real and we all could use some motivation in life.

Content Grade: B
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A –
Text/Translation Grade: A –

Age Rating: Teen
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: June 20, 2023
MSRP: $15.00 US / $19.50 CAN

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