Taishou Otome Otogibanashi is more of a wholesome wish fulfillment for men than a wholesome series for all. There’s nothing wrong with it, if anything this manga is about a very good relationship, but the complete, total, endless kindness and devotion of the female lead, certain points of her personality, and harem-like bath scenes later in the series make the targeted audience of this manga a bit smaller than you'd expect initially. That’s the reason I am writing a contrarian review for it, because I didn’t know it when I started. I also don’t think it’s 10/10 evenly along its course. (Don’t attack me, guys, pls.)
But, boy, is it sugary. You may want to cut other sweets when you read it, and be wary if you’re diabetic. Everyone is cute, everything is round, so much moe, such pleasant art. Doki-doki moments abound as tiny Yuzu tiptoes around on her dot-like feet being the bestest girl of the best.
And it is historical. "Taisho" doesn’t stand in the title for no reason – you’ll see the way people lived then to a degree, there are optional pages full of explanatory data about the way people sew clothes, schooled, cooked, etc. The great Kanto earthquake of 1923 plays a big part, leading to what's likely the best arc of this work. Though I think there were things that looked a bit too modern-like, like, for example, an idol girl.
It’s a healing story about healing, about finding your way and following the right values. An arranged marriage goes right for once. Tamahiko, the protagonist, has grown in a loveless rich home, then gets discarded when he loses the mobility of his right arm. Betrayed and alone, he falls in a deep depressive state, sent off to rot away in a rural home far from the eyes of humans who "matter". Luckily for him, he receives a bride, Yuzu, as his last cut-off-forever gift, and she revives him through her kindness and cheerfulness.
The initial chapters when they get acquaintanced and learn to appreciate each other, while living in an old home on a mountain together, are truly amazing. For me these slow slice-of-life chapters when you see Yuzu open Tamahiko’s darkened heart to the natural beauty of the rural Japan to the people around him bit by bit are the best in the story. But they bond very quickly and easily, and the manga decides to expand.
There are other strong moments, like the events of the great earthquake, both nerve wrecking and historically informative, and the ending when Tamahiko makes his big choice. You see, another big part of the plot is his messed up family, the way they have failed as people so much that many of Tamahiko’s siblings try to run away and find their happiness elsewhere. The elders will get their due, and what’s especially beautiful is that it’s not a matter of revenge, it’s a matter of leaving the evil behind to stew in its own vitriol without future, as it should, as it’s the best in this situation.
The problem is that the road to the cathartic aftermath in the second half is very rocky because of unneeded side characters, many of whom are also cute girls, and they all bathe together showing off their "goods". At some points there were so much fanservice, so many people suddenly flocked to our main couple and made celebratory rounds, that my attention simply trailed off despite my best efforts. It was totally a "flower garden" to ogle. I think it hurt the ending a lot, there were whole chapters of empty fluff, while fates of major characters were moved to additional half chapters.
But the main issue of this work, if there is any, is that Yuzu is just too saintly, too sacrificial and accepting. The manga never manages to empathize with her humanity fully. It may be fine in the beginning when Tamahiko has not yet healed and is not yet accustomed to caring, but later it doesn’t change, isn’t addressed, and it starts to grate. Yuzu is kind and understanding towards Tamahiko, but it’s her who has been sold like property, has had to travel to an unknown home, works there, and doesn’t have her own property or money. Yuzu constantly blames herself for everything, and it stays that way until the very end of the work, it’s seen as cute and as a natural feature of her personality, while honestly it’s depressing. They don’t address her pain at all in any form when they have their first time, for example. And, like, Yuzuki is "healing" (which is already a meh concept) though immediate blind acceptance, body and soul, through total devotion, endless trust, infinite selflessness. She is very small, legally bound to the MC, she has cute sexually attractive features she hides thinking that they are "troublesome", she has high libido, but is shy about it, and wants a lot of kids. She is a saintly bride, not a human being. She is the titular Taisho fairytale you are supposed to want.
The evilest character of this work is in fact also female, and falls on the "whore" side of the dichotomy, because she prattles around menacingly naked in front of her male family members for some reason, in Taisho era, yeah. Actually, about the epoch, it is kinda uncomfortable to see the difference in rights and possibilities between the genders in that time, even though it is accurate. More uncomfortable than it happening in earlier periods, in fact, cause Taisho is in the past, but also close, relatable enough. Yuzu herself doesn't exactly have any options besides doing her best to please her husband, and she is explicitly happy he doesn't do bad things he legally could have done, it's hard to ignore this. The manga doesn’t want to touch it tho, which is valid, cause it's not like it can change it, and it is heavy, and it's not its goal to be heavy, so ok. …Though the author also chose the period herself.
I like the main pair of characters and what this manga wants to show between them. It’s deeply pleasant to see a quality couple building their life in commendable ways. There’re powerful moments of development, characters elevate themselves by denouncing cruelty, by learning to help others through love and loving themselves though others – it’s a good much needed message, which rings all the more true when set in a not so far past with its harsher rules, harder lives. But I also don’t think that for me this manga was a smooth ride I had hoped it would be – the pacing in the second half was jambled, some of the side characters read like clutter, female characters felt more like ideas or pictures rather than full people occasionally.
Taishou Otome Otogibanashi is a good love story for romantic guys, I think. I felt alienated sometimes, but I can appreciate the cuteness and the lessons. I’d prefer if Yuzu had been more human with her own struggles and failings acknowledged in ways that made sense, but I still enjoyed greatly my time with her. Yuzu compares her tall, delicate, and noble husband-to-be to kikyo, a type of bellflower, which denotes eternal devotion – and it’s poetic, precious, and quite bold. And for Tamahiko tiny Yuzu is a powerful spring storm that clears the winter of his soul away, renews the earth, and carries him ahead eternally in her warm embrace. It’s such a special image. Being together for them is ultimate happiness, and I can understand why. This is enough to see Taishou Otome Otogibanashi in good light despite certain narrative issues.