Even though I do enjoy manga series with a more cynical vision of love, it is nice sometimes to read something that does simple and sweet very well. Kimi ni Todoke end up being a gentle, feel-good series with a twist – its heroine is totally naive about normal human interaction because her unfortunate resemblance to a famous character from a Japanese horror movie has isolated her socially for years. High school is a time for her to finally come out of her shell as she finally begins to make friends and manages to attract the attention of Kazehaya, one of the most popular boys in school.
One thing I really enjoy is when manga series with a large ensemble cast take the time to give the supporting members their own stories. Sometimes this can lead to a series seeming unnecessarily drawn out (I’m looking at you, Kare Kano), but more often it seems refreshing to learn more about a character who hadn’t been the main focus of the storytelling previously. The sixth volume of Kimi ni Todoke focuses on Chizu, the tomboy in Sawako’s group of friends. Chizu is boisterous and a little dense, but she has a good heart. She’s nursed a crush on her friend Ryu’s older brother Toru for years, but when he returns home with a fiancee Chizu is forced to confront the reality that he mainly sees her as a sibling. It is obvious that Ryu has a crush on Chizu but she probably isn’t ready to deal with his feelings. Chizu’s friends support her as she works through her issues with Toru. She wants him to see her as a woman, but even when she appears before him in a miniskirt instead of her usual sporty attire, his response is that she’s been showing her legs off since she was a kid.
One of the nice things in this volume was seeing all of Chizu’s friends come together to support her in different ways. Sawako and Yano maintain a facade of normalcy, waiting for the moment when Chizu will feel like talking to them. Ryu always seems to be around when Chizu needs to talk or rage at someone, and Kazehaya keeps tabs on the situation in his own way. Shiina’s art is a little more scratchy around the edges than you might expect if you’ve been reading a lot of more polished-looking shoujo titles, but this actually serves to emphasize the changing emotional states of her characters very well. When Sawako is sunk in gloom wondering how to support Chizu, she does look like a caricature of the terrifying Sadako. Chizu seems to crackle with energy when she makes her outrageous pronouncements. When she sees Toru for the first time with her friends she screams “Hide Yano! Hide her boobs! Put her in a closet!” because she doesn’t want Toru to be drawn in by Yano’s natural sexiness. It was fun to see Chizu work through the loss of her first love, and it was interesting to see the way Ryu seems to serve as a quiet, steady counterweight to her more explosive personality.
Kimi ni Todoke Volume 6 by Karuho Shiina
Kimi ni Todoke Volume 7 by Karuho Shiina
The seventh volume switches back to focus on the romance between Sawako and Kazehaya, which is developing at an adorable but glacial pace. Sawako’s friends decide to spring a date on Sawako and Kazehaya by arranging a group New Year’s outing to a shrine and then abruptly disappearing once Sawako and Kazehaya are together. Sawako’s big secret is that Dec 31st is her birthday, but she’s thrilled that she’s going to be able to see Kazehaya on that special day. Yano and Chizu give Sawako a mini makeover and her horrifying facial expressions when she’s trying not to cry and ruin her makeup are hilarious.
The awkward date at the shrine begins, with Kasehaya seeming just as nervous as Sawako. They both are hyper aware that they’re walking together, and their friends hide in the bushes to spy on them and provide a running commentary. Seeing Chizu and Yano look so thrilled about the date was funny, as they exclaim to each other “They’ve started walking and talking side by side!” and “They’re gonna go get amazake!” Ryu just sits off to the side shaking his head. Even though Sawako’s never been out on an accidental date before, Kazahaya is in a similar position. It is the first time he’s gone to a shrine at New Year’s with a girl. I enjoyed all the cultural details of the shrine visit, and it was very cute to see the couple enjoying each others’ company with the type of blushing teenage awkwardness that only manifests itself with first love. They exchange e-mail addresses and when Kazahaya sees the sequence of numbers in Sawako’s after she texts him to say “Thank you for everything this year” he realizes that it is her birthday and comments that he wished he’d bought her a present. While they might have had a nice sudden date, Sawako isn’t really ready to take the next step even though she acknowledges to herself that she wants more than friendship with Kazahaya. It is a very good thing that Kazahaya seems to be the most emotionally intelligent, patient, and sensitive Japanese teenage boy that ever lived, because otherwise I could see rough times ahead for their romance.
Review copies provided by the publisher.