by CLAMP; adaptation by Carol Fox
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Suki, contrary to first guess, isn’t the name of the young girl on the cover; she’s Hina. Instead, it’s from the phrase “Suki, Dakara Suki” (“I like you, that’s why I like you”). That kind of simple acceptance is a hallmark of Hina’s naiveté.
Hina lives alone with only two teddy bears for company. One snowy night, her new substitute teacher moves into the empty house next door. She’s thrilled to have a neighbor who shares her likes — childlike things such as eating pancakes, holding hands, walking in the snow — but her friends try to protect her from inappropriate behavior. No one wants to force her to grow up for fear of damaging her innocence, but she doesn’t know enough to protect herself from gossip or other dangers.
Hina may be in high school, but she’s still a kid mentally. While her friends are giggling over how cute their new teacher is, she doesn’t understand why her too-familiar comments or actions might be misinterpreted. She isn’t yet mature enough to worry, so her friends do that for her, while the neighbor tries to reinforce their roles by insisting she call him “sensei” (“teacher”) instead of using his name.
Hina’s innocence is well portrayed without becoming stupid or cloying. She likes to talk to her bears and sing her own little made-up songs of charming nonsense. Her favorite stories are picture books about bears, and their author becomes a supporting character in later volumes. These books are included in the text, and they often serve as analogies for what’s going on in her life.
Hina is drawn in several different styles, as appropriate: a tousled-haired gamine, unaware of her attractiveness; a simplified cartoon with button eyes, to emphasize her emotional youth; or with added ears and tail, as though someone scribbled on her picture, when she’s acting puppy-dog-ish. She loves being patted on the head, for instance, and she doesn’t mind being called a monkey because she thinks they’re cute.
The three books in this series trace her growth from liking to love, as she explores the emotion her neighbor raises in her. We also learn why she lives alone and how her neighbor is more than he seems. Her childlike innocence protects her from the very real dangers she faces, and her joy of living inspires those around her. Suki is a modern fairy tale, but it’s affecting all the same. If only more people could be so honest and open with themselves and others.