Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kimi ni Todoke vol. 1-8

'Kimi ni Todoke' is not my first shoujo manga, though it feels like it is. The only other shoujo manga I have read is Osamu Tezuka's 'Princess Knight', which is so old school, that I don't think it has much in common with modern shoujo. A few years ago when I first started reading manga, I wouldn't give a shoujo manga a second look. My mind was so closed off, that I wouldn't even consider reading so far out of my demographic(me being a man in my mid-twenties). Now, I'm very happy that I've changed my ways and opened up my mind, because I got to read an amazing series like this.

Sawako Kuronuma is a shy and socially awkward girl with long, black hair and sports a grim smile. Because of her spooky and uncanny resemblance to a character from horror film, 'The Ring', and a misunderstanding as a child, she is known by all as her nickname, "Sadako". Sawako is a fifteen year old, high school freshman, with no friends and spends most of her time by herself. That is until one day, popular boy, Shota Kazehaya, strikes up a seemingly unlikely friendship with her. With Kazehaya's help, Sawako slowly starts to open up and make even more friends. She starts having experiences that she had only dreamt of before. In her eyes, all these wonderful things are happening to her because of Kazehaya, and she quickly develops romantic feelings for the first boy that was ever nice to her. But love doesn't come easy to our bashful heroine in this school-life dramedy.

My favorite aspect of this manga is the characters. My favorite being main character, Sawako. Sawako is both infuriatingly insecure and extremely likeable at the same time. Watching her get so much enjoyment and happiness out of something as simple as someone showing her kindness is both incredibly refreshing, and terribly sad. You feel bad for her because of the lonely life she has led, and love her for her innocence and unwavering compassion. It really draws you to her and you want to follow this character. The main appeal of this manga for me was Sawako and seeing her grow as a character. It feels like a real achievement when she makes a new friend or goes to her first party, and you genuinely feel happy for her. The amount of changes she goes through and new experiences she has in such a short amount of time are staggering. It's like she saved up all these life experiences that should have happened throughout her childhood, and had them all in freshman year just for us to see. While still very shy, she is no longer the introverted girl with no friends. It's a bigger leap than it sounds , and it all plays out in this manga. It was kind of exciting to read.

Not everything about this manga is the height of perfection. I do have one, very minor issue with the story that kept bouncing around int he back of my mind as I read. Kazehaya and Sawako both being oblivious to each others' feelings throughout eight volumes is slightly annoying. If this was the real world, Sawako and Kazehaya would end up together after one volume, but most of the time, Sawako's insecurities and timidness prevent them at the last minute from becoming involved romantically. As I read, I thought to myself that if this kept happening, the story would feel artificially dragged out. At the same time though, as I got to know Sawako's character more, these misunderstandings felt natural due to her personality. It wasn't until Kazehaya himself decided to purposely hold back his feelings as to not confuse Sawaka, that I felt a little annoyed about the situation. The last thing you want is for a good story to be artificially extended to the point it starts to hurt it. Thankfully, this story didn't quite get to that level yet, and there were even a few methods used that naturally extended the story in an entertaining way. One such method was introducing a romantic rivals for Sawako and Kazehaya. This pretty much took up an entire volume per romantic rival, and gave us some good dramatic as well as comedic moments that didn't feel out of place in a school life story. Now, I don't mind telling you that as of the end of volume eight, Sawako and Kazehaya still aren't a couple, and as I said, that's okay, because the sometimes unbelievable circumstances keeping them apart haven't quite tested the limits of my patience, and the Sawako/Kazehaya romantic plot line isn't the only thing to enjoy about the story. But, as I understand it, there are currently sixteen published volumes in Japan, and though I don't want to speak too soon, I would say that I would have a problem if they still aren't together after eight more volumes and going through the same old awkward misunderstandings to keep them apart and extend the story.

I'm finding that among all my writing inadequacies, my art critique is the worst. I'm just not finding the words. This time is no different, and being my first, real experience with "shoujo art" isn't helping. Though this is my first, modern shoujo manga that I have read, I have browsed quite a few at the book story and the library, and while I recognize that every artist has their own distinctions in style, I am noticing that their is a certain, generic shoujo style, and I don't think 'Kimi ni Todoke' is an exception to that. Now, how to describe this style? One of the most distinguishable characteristics of this art style is seen through the background effects, such as surrounding a panel/character with sparkles/stars or a floral design. The sparkles might be used to emphasize an especially handsome, male character and the floral design might be used to emphasize an especially beautiful, female character. These effects are something that I haven't really noticed in the seinen and shonen manga I read, so I think they are unique to manga for girls. The character art is done with thin lines, detailed hair, and big eyes. I used to think this art style was unpleasant, but as I read through these volumes, I found myself enjoying it more and more. Now it doesn't look weird or different to me at all. That feeling stood out to me. The art that once seemed so unattractive to me, now just looks normal. I no longer view it as "girly" art just for girls, and I and I can't quite place why. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I was able to change my views and open up to this style of art that is completely new to me. Now, if that didn't help you get an idea of what the art is like, have no fear. You can sample the art for yourself with a free preview courtesy of Viz Manga.

This is a very sweet romance with a strong sense of humor, that despite being geared toward teen girls, I think both men and women of all ages could enjoy it. I'm certainly glad that I gave it a try, because it has now opened me up to an entire demographic that I never really considered before. I don't think I could have picked a more perfect introduction to modern shoujo manga and I highly recommend it.

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