by Karuho Shiina
published by Viz; $8.99 US
Sawako’s classmates are scared of her because she looks like a character from a horror movie, with her long black hair, heavy bangs, and pale skin. (Me, I thought she looked like a typical Japanese schoolgirl.) She copes by doing every good deed she can and volunteering for tasks at school, so that people will like her for being helpful. She’s making the best of her loneliness. If she can’t be liked, at least she can make herself useful.
She idolizes Kazehaya, the popular boy, because he’s nice to everyone and he has lots of friends. He uses her real name, Sawako, instead of Sadako, the girl from the horror movie. His attention means others in the class start talking to her, too. I don’t know if I’m supposed to find it funny when she goes overboard and stalker-ish praising how immensely nice he is just because he talks to her like a person. I find it heart-breaking, instead, that she’s so starved for friendship that she obsesses over those crumbs.
I’m not sure why this book is getting so much praise. They seem to applaud Sawako’s hard work and cheerful determination to keep trying, but I found her shading towards pathetic. I spent most of the first chapter wanting to inject some sense and self-assurance into her. It makes me cringe to watch her praising the boy so profusely and being so self-effacing. She’s fixated on Kazehaya (who’s drawn generically and hasn’t much distinct personality) just because he treats her normally.
I also didn’t see her as all that weird. If her looks are that much of a bother, why didn’t it ever occur to her to, I dunno, get a haircut? The makeover is a long-standing magic weapon of girls’ manga and magazines. Her look is classic, not particularly scary, at least to my eyes. (Heck, some people have built companies based on it.) Even when she’s supposed to be drawn in a menacing fashion, it doesn’t really come off that way. (Compare The Wallflower, where the artist is able to move from creepy-cute to disturbing with a similar design.)
Her classmates think she’s weird, and it’s based on her appearance, but really, it’s as much due to her behavior. When she tries to explain the truth to them, it just confirms their opinion that she tries too hard. She thinks they don’t understand her because they don’t know, but really, they don’t care — they’re teens, jumping to conclusions based on appearance and casually ignoring or taunting others because they can. Maybe I’ve lost my sympathy for the hurt outsider type as I’ve grown away from high school, and those closer in age or memory to it are finding more in this series than I am.
On the other hand, perhaps this story can provide practice empathizing with those who are stared at and whispered about for other reasons by showing what their life may be like day-to-day. And I suspect many quiet girls will enjoy reading this fantasy about a character they understand. By the end, I did begin admiring her helpfulness and how happy she was when she could tutor her classmates. I still want to know more about what motivates him, though. Is this a standard shojo interest of convenience — teaming the heroine up with the best boy in class because that’s the fantasy readers want — or has the author thought more about it and given him some plausible reason?
One last quibble: I miss translated titles for manga published in English. There is a subtitle, “From Me to You”, but I have a hard time pronouncing and remembering titles in the original Japanese.