High School Debut, Vols. 1-10
By Kazune Kawahara
Published by Viz Media
Haruna Nagashima is a former middle-school softball champ, determined to start off her freshman year of high school on a brand new foot by becoming attractive to boys and finding her first boyfriend. Despite her exceedingly diligent research of current styles and trends, her efforts to attract a boy seem hopeless until she meets Yoh Komiyama, a popular, good-looking upperclassman with an unusual eye for what makes girls look their best. Though initially reluctant, Yoh finally agrees to act as Haruna’s “coach” to teach her how to make herself attractive to boys–his sole condition being that she promise not to fall for him. Of course she eventually does fall in love with him, finally confessing after a chapter or two of anguish, certain she’ll be rejected.
I’ve praised another Viz series, We Were There, for taking standard shojo stereotypes and making them into real people. High School Debut actually manages to do the same thing, but by taking things completely in the opposite direction. While We Were There succeeds by bringing these stereotypes down to earth, High School Debut pushes them even further over the top–so far over, in fact, that by the time they reach the other side, they are finally stripped of any pretense and laid bare all to see.
Haruna is unbelievably energetic, ridiculously enthusiastic, and frighteningly dense. She throws herself at everything with complete sincerity and utter humility–determined to do her best at all costs. Yet despite that stream of adverbs and adjectives, she is also, well… energetic, enthusiastic, sincere, humble, and dense. Just like that. All of her extreme personality traits have a foundation of such truth, as unbelievable as they are it is impossible not to believe them. Yoh is absurdly reserved and awkward with girls for someone of his popularity–entirely unable to express his feelings and embarrassingly hapless at romance. Yet his strange cluelessness comes out of such a sincere place and reveals such poignant vulnerability, he somehow becomes utterly real. All of this goes double for their relationship, which is absolutely delightful to behold.
Despite their mutual awkwardness with romance, there is an undercurrent of consistent, tangible affection between Haruna and Yoh that is oddly unusual for this type of story. Regardless of the obstacles thrown in their way (most of all, themselves) once they get together that affection remains so strong, there is never any true shred of fear that they can be torn apart despite the efforts of some of those around them. Even though their relationship is so chaste they’ve only progressed as far as kissing–and even that just a handful of times–there is a particular trust and intimacy between them that makes them appear unbreakable, and it is a testament to the skill of the mangaka that the story remains so compelling regardless of this stability.
One of the hardest things to maintain in a story is a happy, healthy relationship, and Kazune Kawahara manages to do that over eight and a half volumes (with the promise of more to come). Sure there are snags here and there–a misunderstanding or a moment of jealousy–but Haruna and Yoh’s mutual devotion is so clear on every page, uncertainty in their relationship is never used as the means for moving the story forward. The story’s momentum actually comes from the raw energy of their affection for each other, as they learn about each other and themselves through their own mishaps and those of their friends.
Kawahara’s art is expressive and quite lovely, with attractive character designs and dramatic panel layouts. Like the story itself, the visuals stay firmly rooted in typical shojo high school romance (and everything that goes with that) while somehow maintaining a fresh, honest feel.
If this review seems somewhat brief for a ten volume write-up, it is, but that’s because the strongest message I can possibly convey here is: Read High School Debut. If you’re a fan of shojo manga, this story will hit all your weaknesses and then some. If you think you’re not a shojo manga fan, this could be the series that will prove you really are. Offering the best of shojo high school romance formula without ever falling victim to it, High School Debut is a pure joy.
Michelle Smith saysJune 7, 2009 at 12:33 am
Yay! I’m so glad you loved it!
“There is a particular trust and intimacy between them that makes them appear unbreakable, and it is a testament to the skill of the mangaka that the story remains so compelling regardless of this stability.”
So very, very true.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 12:35 am
I have to say, I really, really love that. It is a pleasure to read a high school romance where the survival of the romance isn’t providing the primary conflict for the story.
Michelle Smith saysJune 7, 2009 at 12:36 am
And it’s also a story where you see why they like each other. Not one where some cool guy inexplicably deigns to notice a dim-witted, klutzy girl.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 12:39 am
Yes, YES, that’s a fantastic point! And maybe why it’s so easy to believe the solidness of their relationship. Why *wouldn’t* they stay together when they obviously offer each other so much?
Estara saysJune 7, 2009 at 8:25 am
I think it was meganbmoore who pointed out in her reviews that Haruna’s habit of reading shoujo manga in middle school made her not only want to have a love life in high school, but made her appropriate all the shoujo manga HERO attributes!!! And I think that is what completely captivates the reticent Yoh. I do think they could have made Asami and Yoh’s mother (shows up later) a bit less of a stereotype, but oh well.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 8:47 am
I think it was meganbmoore who pointed out in her reviews that Haruna’s habit of reading shoujo manga in middle school made her not only want to have a love life in high school, but made her appropriate all the shoujo manga HERO attributes!!!
Ha! That’s an awesome point! :D
-Edited to remove stupid assumption made too early in the morning.
Michelle Smith saysJune 7, 2009 at 9:38 am
Yes, that was indeed meganbmoore who talked about the hero attributes. :)
Also, Asami is Yoh’s sister. Are you thinking of Haruna’s impromptu-yakinuki-making mom? :)
Michelle Smith saysJune 7, 2009 at 9:39 am
Er, yakiniku, that is.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 12:26 pm
Yes, it is me who jumped to the conclusion that she was including Haruna’s mom, which is who I meant to refer to. I will edit my comment.
Estara saysJune 7, 2009 at 6:12 pm
No I truly meant Yoh’s mum (I’ve read to the end in scanlations and am now simply waiting to collect the licensed version).
Michelle Smith saysJune 7, 2009 at 6:26 pm
I know you did, Estara. Melinda’s original reply made it seem like Asami’s mother and Yoh’s mother were not one and the same.
Ysabet saysJune 7, 2009 at 9:24 am
*^^* I love this review. It’s so much fun to see someone discover a story I adore, and High School Debut is such a delight. (Count me in for the group who particularly loves that Haruna and Yoh are so obviously good for each other.)
I just wrote my vol. 10 review a couple of days ago, but I don’t know when it’s going to be posted—I’m trying to write several to get through my stack, but I usually only have one or two posted at MangaLife each week. ^^;
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm
Oh, I can’t wait to see it! Yay! And thank you. :) :)
Sara K. saysJune 7, 2009 at 10:47 am
But I like seeing a couple angst over the insecurities of their relationship.
Well, not so much in the high school setting – socio-economic-political forces have to be doing as much to keep them apart as their own hang-ups, and there has to be yummy composition and/or beautiful dialogue, and when all is said and done, someone ends up dead, giving the survivor(s) ample opportunity to display their grief for my cathartic pleasure.
In other words, I should read High School Debut, if only because it’s quite different from what I generally read (the above).
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm
Heeee. :) I like seeing that too. But it’s still nice to see something different once in a while!
I look forward to hearing what you think if you decide to pick this up!
Sara K. saysJune 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm
I realize that I had just described the plot of Romeo and Juliet. And I am fond of the play. Saying something is a “Romeo and Juliet” type romance is a selling point for me if I think they actually mean it.
I actually like high school stories more now than when I was actually in high school. I think back then I was bugged by the fact that they had little to do with my actual high school experience, whereas now I am content to view them an an alternate reality.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 7, 2009 at 9:05 pm
I wasn’t even close to discovering manga back when I was in high school, but certainly the stories wouldn’t have resonated with me much, at least not in terms of my own high school experience. Though I think why that feels okay to me, is that the culture is so different in the first place. I wouldn’t expect it to be anything like my own experience. I’m trying to remember what kind of high school stories I was reading during my own high school years, and I think I really didn’t read many. I think I may have purposefully sought out fiction that was as far from my own experience as possible. Heh.
Sara K. saysJune 7, 2009 at 9:54 pm
I was referring to high school stories in general (books, movies, etc). In high school I just felt like that most of what was out there was based on formulas and stereotypes rather than something genuine. And most of the high school manga I’ve read is pretty formulaic, though it a way that I no longer mind. The only two high school manga I’ve read which really seemed to transcend the formulas are Flower of Life and Oniisama e (sadly not available in English). Perhaps because they are the only two high school manga I know of which are mostly about something other than romance.
Sara K. saysJune 12, 2009 at 10:57 pm
I’ve now read the first five volumes of High School Debut and, well, there’s nothing wrong with them. They just don’t hook me, and I have no interest in reading Volume 6.
Excuse me, I am quite behind on Nana, and the pile of unread volumes is going to throw a tantrum if I put off reading any longer.
Melinda Beasi saysJune 12, 2009 at 11:18 pm
Well that’s fine, obviously. :) It’s not like it’s a personal affront to me if you don’t like High School Debut.
If I had unread volumes of NANA I’d be reading them too! :)
Sara K. saysJune 13, 2009 at 12:59 am
I like to build up volumes so I can read a bunch at once. That means I don’t read Nana very often, but it gives me something to look forward to.