VINE VOICEon 9 May 2010
First glance at this title, and I was fairly ready to dismiss this as yet another run of the mill slice of life teenaged romance title and it seemed to be one with rather old fashioned art too that seemed a bit dated. Now, old art doesn't necessarily put me off, as long as it is well executed (which admittedly the cover had me unjustly doubting), but the idea of sitting down to read yet another cliché story about a flighty teen aged girl with hearts in her eyes pursuing a disdainful intellectually gifted and athletically talented, not to mention exceptionally gorgeous, classmate filled me with dread. However, the proclamation that this series has sold a whopping 30 million copies worldwide BEFORE being translated into English and spawned not only three separate TV live action adaptations but a recent anime series, prompted me to cave into my curiosity and give it a chance.
Opening the book, I was unsurprised to see that the opening of the story seemed as traditional to these sorts of stories as one can get: girl tries to hand boy a confession, boy wants nothing to do with her, and is actually rude about it. But while this seemingly familiar scene is taking place with what may seem stock characters, I noticed a subtle difference. These people had a certain something about them, and the way the story was told was not quite run of the mill. I began to warm up to the cast, and see past the seemingly all too common elements. It was like viewing an original work of art, as opposed to seeing a piece worked by someone inspired by the original. Indeed, as it turns out, THIS is the work that set the framework in place for what became the conventions many a shoujo manga ever after followed. In comparison, most simply pale and seem trite rather than light hearted and earnest as this is, with the lighter feel of the retro artwork perfectly suiting the gentle romance of this slice of life story.
Kotoko Aihara is someone most of us can identify with. She is not the smartest girl. In fact, she is in the F class, filled with all the students who may never achieve much past graduating high school, and even then might struggle to make a passing grade. She is so disorganised in her study skills that when asked by a primary school student for assistance with some very basic homework, she cannot answer the question. Labelled as stupid, she knows she is not academically gifted, though truthfully rather than stupid it would be best to say she is vacuous in a dippy blonde sort of way. But, on her very first day of high school, she looked up and saw the welcoming address being given by the star student for her year. One very handsome boy rumoured to be a genius, Naoki Irie.
Being the sort of girl to sit about and fantasize rather than pay attention to what is going on, he grabs her attention. What he is saying probably doesn't register, as she is simply drinking him in and falling in love. She harbours this unrequited love for three years, despite fellow F classmate Kinnosuke Nakamura earnestly proclaiming his love for her on a daily basis. Nor does the common sense nay saying of her two best friends and fellow F classmates Jinko and Satomi make any headway. She knows they live in two different spheres of experience, but he is her prince. Knowing she only has one more year left of high school, she bites the bullet, pens a love letter, and hands it to him. Well, she tries to, and at the front gate of the school in front of everyone, which was not the best idea given that he would not accept her letter and tells her flat out, "I am not interested in stupid girls".
You would think that would be the end of it, and Kotoko is not only shattered and her friends VERY angry with Naoki, but fate has a way of kicking a person when they are down. Going home that evening to her brand new traditionally styled Japanese house, she is enjoying a celebratory dinner of their moving in with her father and school friends when an earthquake hits. The house shudders, squeals, creaks, and begins to collapse. Luckily everyone gets out okay, but their house is the only one affected, thanks to Kotoko's dad Shigeo trying to go cheap on the building materials.
Things seem to look up though when he tells her that it is okay, they have a place to go as his old classmate and best friend has said they can come stay with his family while their home is rebuilt. Fate seems to have the kicking shoes still on however, as arriving there she sees the nameplate reads Irie. She is as displeased to see him as he is to see her, but the families are having none of it and indeed, seem to be having little fantasies about the two getting along and joining the families in the future. When placed into such an uncomfortable situation, will Kotoko be able to maintain her pride, and does she REALLY hate Naoki now, or is it a golden opportunity to get him to see her for who she really is and make him fall in love? As for Naoki, does his coldness mask a hidden vulnerability? Is he really as disdainful of Kotoko as he appears? And what will everyone at school think if they find out that these two are living together under the same roof?
With the slightly oddball characters and the fishbowl world of high school life, this certainly has its lighter moments, but at the same time manages to quite seriously look at Kotoko and her insecurities. While some of their actions may seemingly be played for laughs, none of the characters are two dimensional. Overall, the story carries a bit of substance and had me looking forward to more. Luckily, the second volume is already out with a promise of twenty-one more volumes to follow, so I am certain that Kotoko and Naoki's story is far from over. I look forward to watching the pair of them dance about each other and graduate not only from high school, but into emotional adulthood.
This book is rated for persons 13 years older and up, which given that it is free of mature content is very suitable. I'd like to thank Digital Manga Publishing for providing me with a review copy.