Shojo Beat quick takes: Kimi Ni Todoke, Oresama Teacher, and We were There

Kimi Ni Todoke #15

One of the reasons why Kimi Ni Todoke doesn’t seem to be getting stale even at volume 15 is that there are so many rich and emotionally charged stories that center on the supporting cast. If the manga only focused on the lead couple, I could see myself getting a little weary, but being able to stop every now and then and see a relationship explored that has a totally different dynamic keeps everything interesting. As one would expect from the cover to the volume, the relationship between Chizuru and Ryu is given the spotlight here, and this resulted in one of the most gripping shoujo manga that I’ve read recently.

Ryu has confessed his feelings for Chizu, and she isn’t sure what to do. She’d been nursing an unrequited love for his older brother for a long time, and always thought of Ryu as her brother. Now, she doesn’t want to face him and the fact that their friendship won’t be the same. Ryu’s relieved that he’s finally no longer hiding how he feels and he’s actually feels calm even if Chizu is avoiding him. She’s sad, but still drops off rice balls at Ryu’s house and he reveals to Kazehaya that she’s been bringing him food since the winter of third grade. One of the things that I enjoyed most about this volume was the way it delved into the reasons behind the character’s feelings. Kazahaya ends up serving as a sounding board for both of his friends, and he attempts to find out why Chizu is so upset. With the revelation of Ryu’s feelings, Chizu thinks that their sibling-type relationship was a lie, and everything that she valued “never existed.” Kazehaya asks if knowing that Ryu loves her makes her a little bit happy and she thinks that it never occurred to her. She’s crying because she can’t hang out doing goofy stuff like playing video games and eating ramen anymore because he’s not her brother. Chizu thinks back to the beginning of their friendship when they were little kids and constant companions. When Ryu’s mother died, their friendship developed a deep bond when Chizu vowed to be Ryu’s sister.

Kimi Ni Todoke delves into some pretty serious issues as Chizu works through her feelings, but everything is explored in a very natural and unaffected way. While there are plenty of scenes of the characters working through their feelings, much more is expressed through the portrayal of everyday actions like bundling up before a walk to school in the winter, or the neighborly way Chizu and Ryu’s families trade food back and forth. The act of eating home cooked food takes on a ritual significance when Ryu’s life changes so we see why Chizu’s act of dropping of snacks and Ryu’s habit of preparing lunch for her means so much more than just making sure that a friend has something to eat. Kimi Ni Todoke is such a standout shoujo series, and I become more and more fond of it with each volume.

Oresama Teacher #11

I can always count on this manga to make me smile, and I was particularly delighted that this volume featured the always entertaining plot line of Mafuyu trying to defeat a new enemy. But first, the reader is treated to what might be one of the most ridiculous Christmas dates ever to be portrayed in a shoujo manga, as Hayasaka goes on a date with his hero Super Bun. Mafuyu trying to negotiate the date while still wearing her Super Bun ceramic mask was quite a sight, and it was fun to see a comedic twist on this shojo plot staple. A new enemy appears in the form of the rather sickly student council stooge Ayabe, who goes everywhere with a guitar case on his back. He decides that he’s going to take Mafuyu down, but his methods are a bit odd as they involve actions like shutting himself in a locker and sending out death vibes when she walks by. Ayabe challenges Mafuyu and he actually manages to defeat her, leaving her to decide that she’s going to figure out everything about him in order to beat him next time. Her resolute stalking of him throughout the school makes some bystandars assume that she has a crush on him, but she’s really trying to know her enemy the best she can.

Oresama Teacher‘s formula of exaggerated behavior and ridiculous situations might be a bit predictable, but Tsubaki’s storylines always seem to have a bit of a weird and unexpected twist that maintains my interest. The source of Ayabe’s delinquent fighting powers was incredibly goofy, but I would expect nothing less from this series. I hope the next volume swings back to feature a bit more Takaomi and Bancho, because I’ve missed them. They make brief appearances in this volume, but not quite enough to satisfy me.

We Were There #15

This is the next to last volume of We Were There, and as much as I admire this series I think I am ready for it to be over. I could see how things were starting to wind down in the last volume, and that continues in this volume as Yano begins to realize the continuing depth of Nanami’s feelings for him. One of the things that We Were There really excels at as it shows the characters age from high school to young adulthood is portraying the burden of their shared history. Yano’s relationship and sense of obligation to the Yamamoto family finally reaches a stage where he may begin to move forward with his life, but I’m still wondering if Yano and Nanami really should end up together just due to the weight of their pasts. If Yano actually gets past all the guilt he’s been carrying around, he might actually be a whole human being once again, and it is clear that there is no other person that Nanami can be with. I’ve said before that this series reminded me a bit of Sand Chronicles, in the way both of them go for absolute melodrama in the way the plots unfolded. This isn’t a bad thing, but I think the emotional trauma has me looking forward to the final volume of this series while at the same time I’m very happy that Kimi Ni Todoke is up to 17 volumes and still going strong.

Review copies provided by the publisher

Kimi Ni Todoke Volume 14

Kimi Ni Todoke Volume 14 by Karuho Shiina

It was a nice contrast reading Kimi Ni Todoke right after the latest volume of Dengeki Daisy, because while Dengeki Daisy makes a point of occasionally sarcastically commenting on shoujo cliches, Kimi Ni Todoke delves so deeply into some of the standard shoujo plot elements that it actually makes things like the dreaded school trip volume seem fresh again. Sawako and Kazehaya are going to Okinawa with all their classmates, and they are still in the early stages of feeling out their new relationship. Sawako is just overwhelmed with the idea that she’s actually accepted as part of a group, and she’s able to do simple things like take group pictures with her friends. Since her social life before was basically nonexistent, every new experience no matter how small is something to be cherished. Because Sawako cherishes the memories she’s making so much, simple panels with illustrations of her observations of her friends or Kazehaya visiting an aquarium become suffused with importance. This volume really captures the process of making memories.

The complications of young love abound, as Sawako and Kazehaya come perilously close to a first kiss, while her friends Ayane and Chizu have their own relationships to negotiate. Ayane is dating someone that she really doesn’t care for, and Chizu might finally be realizing that there might be more than just friendship between her and Ryo. While the plot developments in Kimi Ni Todoke might be a bit on the slow-moving side, the expressive art and depth shown in the character development for the series ensure that this manga is always entertaining even as it doesn’t go for cheap and easy plot tricks to propel the story forward. Instead we have a volume of summer vacation memories, capped off with the realization that things are about to change in the fall.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Kimi Ni Todoke Volumes 12 and 13

I’m very fond of this series, but I tend to read it in patches. It is the 12th volume and Sawako and Kazehaya are only just to the stage of awkward hand-holding and meeting each other’s family! No one could accuse Kimi Ni Todoke of moving too fast, but there’s something about the slow development of this awkward romance that is very endearing. School is out for the summer, and Sawako isn’t entirely sure how she’s supposed to get in touch with Kazehaya because as she confesses to her girlfriends Chizu and Ayane “In general, I don’t know what to do in a relationship.” They point out to her that if she’s in a relationship it would be normal for them to spend time with each other, hold hands, and kiss, leaving Sawako instantly overwhelmed. She just cannot process the idea of actually having a boyfriend. Kazehaya and Sawako do homework together for their summer classes. Later, they walk out together and there is an scene showing the shadow of Sawako’s hand reaching out towards Kazehaya, capturing the agony of making the first move. Kazehaya accidentally jostles her and then takes her hand, and as they are walking together as boyfriend and girlfriend, they run into Sawako’s mother. What follows is a simultaneously awkward and adorable round of introductions, as the new couple takes turns giving Sawako’s Mom all the details about Kazehaya and their relationship. They end up going to Sawako’s house for dinner and her father’s reaction to Kazehaya’s presence is a blank rictus of shock, made more comical by the way his glasses go completely white. Kimi Ni Todoke is really great at capturing all these embarrassing moments of teenagerhood while telling a very sweet story. Sawako’s parents welcome Kazekaya because they see how happy she’s become recently. The next story in this volume gives some great background on Ayane and Chizu’s friendship, as it shows how they became unlikely best friends.

As summer vacation progresses, it is Sawako’s turn to meet Kazehaya’s family. It is fun to see how excited she is. Kazehaya and his mom have the type of relationship where they mock apologize for each other as soon as they have an audience. Sawako is excited to see Kazehaya’s little brother and when she meets Kazehaya’s father she is overcome with the thought of seeing “Kazehaya-kun in the future!” Kazehaya’s sporty dad quizzes Sawako on her eating and exercise habits, makes the pronouncement that she needs to eat more and gruffly insists that she eat his favorite ice cream. Other notable episodes in this book include Chizu’s massive arm wrestling competition on the beach, and the beginning of the obligatory in most shoujo manga school trip chapters. Overall dipping back into this series reminded me of the things that Kimi Ni Todoke always seems to do right – sympathetic but quirky characters going thorough first love with plenty of awkwardness and funny moments.

Review copies provided by the publisher