Red String

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
This isn't even half the main cast.

Red String is a comic book by Gina Biggs, published by Dark Horse Comics from 2003 to 2013. It's set in Japan and does a fairly good job of pulling this off because Biggs (unlike some people) did her research. It concerns the life of Japanese teenager Miharu Ogawa, a slightly kogal-ish teenage girl who comes home one day to find out that she's engaged. Being a spirited girl, she initially rejects the concept of her parents planning her life out for her, and while sitting on a park bench, she finds a sympathetic ear in an utter stranger, senior Kazuo Fujiwara, a serious but pessimistic and weak-willed man who is taken by Miharu's strength and boldness. After they share a day together on a "pretend date," Miharu realizes both that she has fallen in love with him...and that he is her intended fiance. She chooses to stay with him, but grapples with a very harsh reality about their relationship as well as her own internal conflict of genuinely loving someone while her principles suggest fighting against a destiny planned by someone else.

Along for the ride is a gigantic cast of supporting characters amongst her friends, family, and schoolmates, many of whom have to deal with their own complicated relationships and love-lives. Contrasted against this is the struggle against the traditionalist Japanese culture, in which Miharu struggles to retain her independent spirit while still succeeding in a society that frowns upon change and individuality.

It started out as a basic short story to be entered into TokyoPop's Rising Stars Of Manga contest. It didn't make it but instead Biggs posted it online and continued the story. It has since developed far beyond the basic concept, running since 2003 and still planned to go for several more years to wrap everything up. The series was picked up for publishing by Dark Horse Comics, who published the first 3 volumes. Vol. 4 and beyond are being published by Biggs' own Strawberry Comics.

Has a web presence here.

Please place character specific tropes on the character page.

For the Asian concept of soul mates, see Red String of Fate.

Tropes used in Red String include:

  • Abusive Parents - Kenta is very much one of these towards Kazuo. He has shown signs of being emotionally abusive towards his wife.
  • Almost Kiss - Teased a few times between Reika and Eiji. Luckily, They Do later.
    • Done again with Miharu and Makoto. This one did not go over so well with the fanbase after how long and protracted other cases of this trope became.
    • Morita also attempted to kiss Igarashi while he was asleep, but held back. She later goes for it when he's drunk and she's caught up in the mood, but regrets it almost immediately.
  • Alpha Bitch - Sayuri Morita, although later a Fallen Princess. Kikuko appears to be this, but nobody knows for sure what she really is.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: The comment feature for each comic can create a Riff Trax effect.
  • Arranged Marriage - The title couple, as well as several others.
  • The Bechdel Test - Passes with flying colors.
  • Betty and Veronica - In the quest for Miharu's love, Kazuo is the Veronica, Makoto is the Betty.
  • Bishie Sparkle
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead - Our original trio of female leads (two of them due to dyeing) fit this bill: Miharu the blonde, Fuuko the brunette, and Reika the redhead.
  • Break the Haughty - Morita gets broken very harshly. She goes from the top of the school, wanted by all the boys, envied by all of the girls to an outcast that no one will offer any help or friendship to and suffers constant humiliation from her former friends (including physical abuse). All this because she dared to turn her cruelty on someone more popular than she was and it blew up in her face.
  • Calling the Old Man Out - Kazuo, finally, calls out Kenta in Chapter 44. After his suicide attempt gave him a new perspective on the situation.
  • Cannot Spit It Out - Reika and Eiji, over and over and over again. Finally lampshaded in Chapter 35 when even Reika's friends express their bafflement over the obvious hookup. Which came in the same chapter.
  • Characterization Marches On - Rereading early chapters can be a bit jarring, as all the characters have developed significantly. Makoto, in particular, is a completely different character from his first appearances.
  • Compassionate Critic - Kenta really seems to think that belittling Kazuo will make him into the man he wants him to be.
  • Delinquents - Miharu is called this but she isn't really one. Actual delinquents have been shown and Miharu's original high school apparently has a reputation for attracting them.
    • Arata treats almost all students this way. He first uses Miharu as a target until he finally gets her kicked out of school, then starts bullying Eiji and Hiroshi hard enough that they finally had to intervene when he was trying to assault the lower classman.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal - Kazuo breaks his red string to signal the finality of his breakup with Miharu. Later, Miharu does it to symbolize her starting to get over him.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma - Morita moves to kiss Igarashi when she finds him dozing in the teacher's lounge. She realizes what she's doing at the last second and runs off.
  • Everyone Can See It - People who don't even know Reika or Eiji can see it!
  • Fallen Princess - After Morita tries to bring down Maya but is foiled by Yuuki, she's constantly teased by the very same girls who used to be her witch posse.
  • Flower Motifs - Used frequently on chapter title pages and color art. Nearly every character has a particular flower associated with them. Standouts include forget-me-nots for Fuuko & Maya, lilies for Miharu, daisies for Reika, daffodils for Karen, and red tulips for Makoto. Red roses, as symbol of love, crop up all over the place.
  • Four Lines, All Waiting - As the series progresses and characters continue to move away or split up and find new romantic interests, the simultaneous story lines have increased exponentially.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion - Aiko is definitely not a good girl.
    • But Reika's mother was, insisting on keeping her even if it meant going into a loveless, ultimately doomed marriage.
  • Hair Colors - Averted - everyone has normal hair colors. Abnormal hair colors are clearly stated to be through dying and bleaching. Miharu's own hair color becomes extremely significant to her character development - being forced to have black hair again became a symbol of Miharu's loss of identity and a victory of the establishment against her. Then her freedom for the summer is heralded by bringing back the blond.
  • Happily Married - Miharu and Karen's parents, Fuuko's parents as well. Until her mother dies.
  • Hollywood Pudgy - Hanae thinks she is, and she is drawn as heavier than most other characters. Fuuko doesn't have a problem with her weight, though, and the only people we actually see calling her fat were being jerks, so all in all it's something of an aversion.
    • Gina initially drew Hanae as slim, but top heavy during her first appearance. Apparently this was a mistake and later appearances show a much heavier Hanae. This has been retconned into Hanae having a habit of yo-yo weight. When we first met her, she had just finished dropping a lot of weight. Since then, she's been on the uptake again.
  • Ho Yay - Since the comic deals with romance, gay romances are naturally part of the plot line.
    • The chapter "Crash and Burn" revealed Igarashi's live in boyfriend kissing him, though the comic up until this point never hinted at his orientation. Naturally, Morita kissed him later this chapter, leaving him very confused.
  • Important Haircut - This comic comes back to that trope a lot.
    • Karen is the first to get one on panel, showing her moving on from her rivalry with Miharu.
    • Miharu and Reika initially bleached their hair when they started high school to signify a fresh start.
    • Miharu goes between blonde, black, blonde, and will eventually revert to black again when school starts. Her hair color is a frequent symbol of her current state of mind and where she stands with the establishment.
    • Hanae rashly cut her waist length hair off at the height of an argument with her mother about her sexuality and personal identity.
    • The most recent entry in the Hair Cut 500 is Kazuo, who showed up with a buzz cut in chapter 47 after cutting ties with his father.
  • Indirect Kiss - Reika cutely wonders about indirect kisses when Eiji shares a juice box with her. She then chastises herself for thinking such a childish thing.
  • It's a Small World After All - With how big a city Kyoto is, the characters run into each other randomly a lot.
  • Jerkass - Kazuo's father Kenta, a rude, abusive asshole who mistreats virtually everyone in his family and whose sole motivation in life seems to be getting richer and more successful by any means necessary, including forcing his son to break up with Miharu so he could marry into a richer family. The fact that he fails at these objectives and still abuses his family only rubs in his general unlikeable nature. He's outright stated that he doesn't care much about Kazuo because he views him as useless.
    • There's also Arata, who uses his Freudian excuse of having been teased as a young teacher to torment his students. When Miharu refuses to be broken, he gets her expelled. Then there's the creepy way he looks at some of the female students . . .
    • And Hanae's mom too.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters - And how!
  • Love Dodecahedron - Between numerous unrequited emotions and marriage arrangements, there's a lot of still unresolved love issues. Even the title couple has complications that pop up throughout the series, at points leaving them up in the air and the readers guessing.
  • Love Hurts - Alternately played straight and averted. Love is a pretty neutral force in the comic overall, though pain is a given at some point.
  • Meaningful Name - Not in all cases, but sometimes the characters names reflect on their personalities. (e.g. Genki who is very cheerful guy, Seiko Hoshikawa (star, star-river) the head of the astronomy club etc.).
  • Mistaken for Cheating - A large amount of the relationship tension in the comic is introduced this way.
  • No Bisexuals - Subverted. The story appears play this straight when Maya hooks up with Yuuki instead of Fuuko...but completely reverses it when Maya's lingering feelings for Fuuko continue to wreak havoc on her relationship with Yuuki and as of yet are not resolved.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh - Morita does this in a flashback strip. Fits her personality.
  • The Not Love Interest - Ayu has been Makoto's best friend since they were little. She's easily the closest person to him since his beloved grandmother's death. There are absolutely no romantic feelings between them, despite what the fandom who wants him out of the way for Kazuo and Miharu might suggest.
  • Numerical Theme Naming - The Hayashihara brothers fall into this, not too uncommon in Japan: Ken'ichi (Strict, One), Eiji (Honor, Two), and Saburou's name just means third son.
  • Not What It Looks Like - Ken'ichi's skanky fiancee Aiko comes on to Eiji to make Ken jealous. Eiji is freaked, but Reika takes it the wrong way when she and Ken'ichi walk in on them. Then she slaps Eiji when he tries to explain. Pretty par for the trope, actually.
    • Ken'ichi sees it for exactly what it is though. Which is pretty sad that he knows Aiko that well and still puts up with it.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws - Reika's paternal grandmother treated her mom like utter crap while her parents were married. It's implied that she played a big role in their divorce.
  • Parents as People - The adult cast is well fleshed out and have their own problems, quirks, and character flaws.
  • Parents Walk in At the Worst Time - Hanae's mother finds out her daughter is a lesbian this way. She doesn't take it well.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage - Initially played straight...until Kazuo is forced by his father to break up with Miharu. He initially resists, but one punch later and he breaks up with Miharu. They have yet to get back together and suddenly Makoto and Miharu are significantly closer than before.
  • Porn Stash - Played with. Reika notices a stack of magazines under Eiji's bed. When she pulls one out, he turns red and begs her not to look at it. It turns out he subscribes to girly romance manga.
  • Red String of Fate - An important symbolic image in the strip - Miharu and Kazuo wear them to symbolize their love for each other, and Kazuo breaking his in front of Miharu made the fanbase want to flay him alive. Multiple covers use red strings to show how two characters are tied together or foreshadow where their relationships will go. Several chapter titles also reference this, e.g. "Hanging By A Thread."
  • Schedule Slip - Inverted, since it originally started out only updating on Saturdays with three pages and now updates at a hardcore pace of five days with four pages of storyline, it's a rare case where the comic's output has increased.
    • Although recently the strip's update schedule has decreased a bit, but with good reason: Gina Biggs was pregnant and recently had her baby.
  • Schoolgirl Lesbians - Fuuko felt this way towards Maya, leading to massive drama as Maya tried to work through her own feelings towards Fuuko. Fuuko later moved on to an actual intimate relationship with Hanae when she changed schools.
  • Sempai-Kohai - While Biggs by and large forgoes most Japanese Honorifics she retains this one. The other one used is Reika's nickname for Miharu, Mi-chan.
  • Ship Sinking - While the author tends to like keeping loose ends loose, there have been some definite direct hits.
    • Fuuko x Maya - sunk when both girls moved on with other relationships. Oh yeah, and that thing where Maya figured out she's not gay.
    • Morita x Igarashi - Sunk when it was blatantly revealed to the readers that Igarashi is gay...and in a serious relationship.
    • Aya x Makoto - Aya sunk this one herself in a recent conversation with Miharu. She says dating Makoto would be like dating her brother, and she's not even sure he realizes she's a girl.
  • Shipper on Deck - EVERYONE for Reika and Eiji.
  • Shy Finger-Twiddling - Reika often does this.
  • Invisible to Gaydar - The one shot of Igarashi's home life is the only time the readers ever know he's gay. The rest of the gay cast members fall into this category, in which the only way the readers learn of their sexuality is when it's genuinely relevant.
  • Tall, Dark and Bishoujo - Maya Chiaki, due to her playing sports and being outside a lot.
  • Their First Time - Constantly teased with Miharu and Kazuo, after numerous distractions prevented them from it. They finally did, spurred on at least partially by Kazuo secretly being upset about his father wanting him to break up with her. He still did, the next day. This storyline later received even more attention from the author with the publication of Bound XOXO, an adult short comic showing the scene in greater detail.
    • Fuuko and Hanae get theirs in the storyline that led to My Sweet Girl. Similar to Bound, while the storyline implied this happening, My Sweet Girl was published as an adult comic showing the scene in full. Both adult comics now appear in color on Filthy Figments, an adult comics site aimed at women and also managed by Biggs.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech - Miharu finally gives the one all the readers were waiting for to Kenta in the hospital after Kazuo's suicide attempt.
  • They Do - Reika and Eiji eventually get together. Also, Kazuo and Miharu finally have sex after several misses.
  • This! Is! SPARTA! - Get. Her. Out of here. Spoken by Kenta in response to Miharu's "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Together Umbrella - Karen and Kazuo, but Kazuo was just being a gentleman.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl - Miharu is the tomboy, being loud, confident and more willing to try new things. Reika qualifies as the girly girl as she is quieter, sweet and more conventional.
    • Maya and Fuuko, though this took on some other qualities as the Schoolgirl Lesbians angle developed.
  • Title Drop - Aside from the numerous mentions of red strings in the comic, the chapter "Crash and Burn" had one of the characters say this near the end of the storyline.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad - Inverted, as Reika eventually goes to meet hers in Tokyo.
  • Webcomic Time - The comic started in 2003 with the Miharu and her friends as 10th graders. They've yet to graduate high school. Miharu and her friends have been on "summer break" since mid-2009. Keep in mind that as Japanese students, their summer break is only a month long. At least some of this is due to the author's pregnancy in 2011 which forced the strip down to two page updates for much of the year and a short maternity leave in the summer that stopped updates entirely. This is also compounded by the greater focus on the supporting cast that led to several concurrent storylines taking place in the same window of time and naturally slowed forward progression.
  • Wrong Guy First - The Kazuo/Miharu/Makoto Love Triangle appears to be shaping up for this, with Kazuo as the seemingly-perfect but severely flawed first choice, and Makoto as the rough-around-the-edges idiot who turns out to be a genuine Nice Guy and serves as Miharu's Second Love. However, there are ten chapters left according to Word of God, so we may be seeing an upset in the Kazuo/Miharu shippers' favor before the end.