by Kaoru Tada
published by Digital Manga; $16.95 US
As I read further in this classic manga series, I’m struck by how rapidly everything moves. In contrast to some more current shojo, where it takes 13 or 17 volumes to simply get a couple together and have them complete high school, events in this double-sized volume happen very quickly.
In the first book, we were introduced to dumb but well-meaning Kotoko and her crush, super-smart Naoki. The two wound up living in the same house since their fathers are best friends. As this book opens, we’re reminded of the situation and its complications as Naoki’s mother helps Kotoko plan for Valentine’s Day. Coincidentally, it’s also the day before Naoki’s entrance exam for a prestigious college.
I did enjoy seeing how Mom is so vehemently pro-Kotoko, to the point of almost pimping her son out. She’s found the girl she likes and wants as a daughter-in-law, and she’s determined to get them together, regardless of what either thinks their choice is. It’s refreshing to see a parent in manga who’s not an obstacle. It also gives some idea of where Naoki gets his determination and ego from.
Unfortunately, we still don’t have much more sense of why Naoki is so cold and remote. Mom ponders early on that he’s so talented that he doesn’t have to want anything, because everything comes easy to him. Kotoko is one thing that shakes him out of his complacency. Strangely, she sees what Kotoko does for Naoki, and how she benefits from his presence, but she doesn’t seem to consider important his desire to be with someone close to his intellectual equal. For all that he’s considered a prince because of his brains, there are some anti-smart messages going on here, including valuing Kotoko without encouraging her to improve herself.
I don’t know if frustration is sufficient basis for a relationship, but it helps explain why he keeps putting up with her: she provides something different to his life. It’s the classic “opposites attract”, although the attraction here isn’t yet fully developed. When the young couple does have a romantic or hopeful moment, it’s usually because Naoki is being contrary and wants to annoy either her or someone else.
But getting back to the first chapter, Kotoko demonstrates her good-heartedness by attempting a good deed for “little brother” Yuuki that backfires. Her continued determination then changes Naoki’s life through needing his help at just the wrong moment. The book quickly moves through graduation, starting college, and the introduction of gorgeous, brilliant rival Yuko, a girl much more like Naoki who has her heart set for him. Various additional complications arise, including the question of moving out of the shared house and a rival for Kotoko’s attentions as well, an apprentice chef who works at her father’s restaurant.
Although so much happens, it’s a very brisk, easy read. The art is always clear, with plenty of emotion, expression, and comedy. The second half of the book is tennis-centric, as Kotoko follows Naoki (who’s also athletically talented) into the sports club, not realizing how hard she was going to have to work. There’s a few matches and a training camp, all of which provide opportunities for the two to be thrown together. The tennis, along with some of the fashions, points to the original 80s period of creation, but it’s not particularly dated unless you’re looking for those hints. I found the classic soap opera involving, entertaining, and good value. (The publisher provided a review copy.)