Welcome to another edition of Off the Shelf with MJ & Michelle! I’m joined, once again, by Soliloquy in Blue‘s Michelle Smith.
MJ: I was going to open tonight’s discussion with a text rendition of “Over the River and Through the Woods,” but I realized probably neither of us are headed to grandmother’s house tomorrow.
MICHELLE: Well, I might end up at a grandmother’s house, and though this will include going over a river, there aren’t any woods. More like a security gate.
MJ: I suppose if you consider that my mother *is* a grandmother, that counts for something. And I’ll have to drive through some woods, so perhaps between the two of us, we have it covered?
MICHELLE: Sounds like it!
MJ: So how have you been passing the time leading up to your turkey coma?
MICHELLE: Well, as you no doubt are aware, Kodansha recently announced that they’ll be taking over distribution of Del Rey’s titles. The last batch of manga to come out under the Del Rey label was released yesterday, so I was marking the hopefully-not-really-a passing of a great publisher by checking out some of their newer releases.
First on my agenda was the first volume of I Am Here!, a five-volume shoujo series—originally published in the magazine Nakayoshi—that is being released here in two omnibus editions. It features Hikage Sumino, an 8th grader so severely shy that she’s practically invisible to her classmates and the world at large. Her existence is a lonely one, for although no one’s picking on her, no one knows her name, either. The only friends she has are Black Rabbit and Mega Pig (I am not making this up), frequent readers of her blog who provide her with advice and encouragement.
One day Hikage falls victim to the “locked in the gym storage room” cliché and is found by Hinata, one of the most popular boys in school. Any time Hikage played hide and seek as a child, “it” never remembered to look for her, so to be found at all is quite a big deal for her. She begins hanging around Hinata more, who pretty quickly confesses that he likes her. Even the small amount of socializing they do raises the ire of Hinata’s possessive fangirls (another cliché) and Hikage is subjected to bullying and a notoriety that she never would’ve expected. Eventually, she grows enough spine to refuse to agree to stop hanging around Hinata and vows to become the kind of person who can handle being his girlfriend.
So, yes, there are a lot of clichés in this story. But somehow its quiet earnestness really worked for me! Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a good deal of shounen and seinen manga lately, but something as sweet and simple as I Am Here! proved genuinely entertaining. All of the characters are fairly lackluster, but I still enjoyed reading about them. Of particular note is the fact that Hikage keeps a blog and counts two members of the online community among her close friends, which kind of weirds out Hinata. In any other shoujo series this full of tried-and-true story elements, I would be absolutely convinced that Hinata is Black Rabbit, but I’m actually not sure. Probably he is, but all the same I’m impressed that I still have a tiny shred of doubt about that halfway through the series!…