March 22, 2010

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Itazura na Kiss Volume 1

Written by Kaoru Tada
Illustrated by Kaoru Tada
DMP

Kotoko is a typical high school girl that unfortunately has not figured out how to succeed academically. She's even more clueless at love, however, because she actually thinks she has a chance with Naoki, the smartest student in school (and perhaps even all of Japan). Things go about as well as you would expect, until a sudden change in Kotoko's living situation places her right in Naoki's home!

Now, with hopes set high by their parents and rumors flying all over school, can Kotoko get over her feelings for the seemingly impervious Naoki, or will their relationship grow and form an unlikely couple in the grand shojo tradition?

I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about this one because of the idea of a "stupid" girl chasing the smarter boy. However, I found this series to be funny and engaging, with characters that are compelling to the reader.

The humor of the series is present early and often and is what really attracted me to the book. Kinnosuke's antics trying to prove his love for Kotoko drive a lot of the jokes, and his over the top desire to "protect" her from Naoki are hysterical. They're made all the funnier because no one seems to regard them as abnormal. The way in which Naoki's mom tries to pair our protagonists at every opportunity is also great fun, as she seems to be the only mother in the world who'd be happy to learn her son was engaging in amorous activities.

Heck, the entire school seems to get in the act, spreading outrageous rumors and putting up banners about this unlikely couple. It's completely silly and unrealistic and is sure to bring a smile to your face.

I think my favorite joke is the running gag of the feud between Kotoko and Naoki's little brother, Yuuki. Displaced from his room, he develops an immediate hatred of the girl who enters his life uninvited and snipes at her constantly. (The best example of this is his summer diary, with scrawled cartoons and acid text to accompany them.)

There's so much humor going on that it actually dominates the love story, in my opinion. I don't have a problem with that at all, but those looking for more romantic angst may walk away disappointed. Kotoko definitely thinks about her love life often enough to carry on in the shojo tradition, but she does it a lot less than I expected. She also does not have a best friend to confide in, which surprised me. I'm used to long expressions of feelings to confidants, and you won't find them here, at least not yet.

Part of why I think this one works so well is that Tada sees no need to rush the development of what is almost certainly going to be a relationship between Kotoko and Naoki. Every time the reader thinks that this will be the moment where they start to come together, Tada finds a way to make Naoki pull away at the last second. It runs the risk of annoying the reader, but for me at least, the changes of heart seem plausible. They also have the bonus effect of making Naoki more human. Without any redeeming scenes, he could easily be too much of a jerk to survive as a protagonist for long.

The relationship (or lack thereof) is not the only thing going on in Itazura na Kiss. Both Kotoko and Naoki are almost at graduation with no idea what they want to do with their lives, though for very different reasons. Kotoko gets a focus to be a better student to prove to Naoki she's worthy, and we see her struggle with academics while also not being so good at anything else, either. Meanwhile, for all Naoki's brains, he doesn't seem to have a clue as to his future plans. With Kotoko comes into the picture, he seems to start finding that life is more than just about being smart, and that actually rattles him.

It's an interesting idea that I think is very realistic for characters this age and gives this otherwise silly manga a serious edge. How many of us got out of school, either at 18 or 22, with no idea what to do with your life? Watching our two main characters work through their life plans (that may or may not involve each other) while fighting against the plans being made for them by their parents should be an interesting counterpart to the love-hate relationship.

There are a few things in this manga that troubled me a bit. The idea that Kotoko is pressured to relax her studies and concentrate on being a good wife is a concept that I cannot get behind. Similarly, it does seem like all the women in this series are shown to be academically inferior to the men and they feel positioned in a lesser position as a result. That might just be a result of the age of the manga itself. It's definitely a flaw in the work, but one I can look past because I like the story itself a whole lot.

Fitting the material well, Tada's artwork has a loose style to the characters and backgrounds. The body shapes of the parents match their personalities rather than anatomy and Kinnosuke has a rubber face and limbs that flail at every opportunity. Kotoko and Naoki have more stable features, but they also change as needed. The hairstyles and dress are rather dated at this point, but I think it adds to the charm. Tada uses a lot of background wallpaper to set mood and even borrows the action lines from shonen where needed. Overall, while there is nothing spectacular about the artwork, I think it compliments the story.

Itazura na Kiss is very much a romantic comedy, and as such wouldn't normally hit my radar. But the jokes are fast and furious, the characters are completely serious within their comedic exaggerations, and despite clocking in at an omnibus-sized three hundred some pages, flowed quickly and naturally. I liked it a lot, and will definitely try to read volume two when it comes out. If you like shojo manga with a touch (okay, a LOT) of humor, then you definitely should pick up a copy of this right away. You'll be glad you did.

If you're still not sure after reading my review, you can sample a bit of Itazura na Kiss here, at eManga.


[A complimentary electronic copy was given to me by eManga to review.]