I Am Here! Volume 1
Hikage Sumino is a shy, plain girl with no friends who is invisible to a ridiculous degree. For instance, she gets hit with a motorbike because the driver didn’t see her in the road while she was saving a cat crossing the busy street.
Hinata and Teru are the most popular boys in their middle school. While nursing a sunflower plant, Hikage and Hinata talk — he’s noticed her, knows her name, and says he’s been watching her for a long time. The thing that sets I Am Here! apart from many other similar stories is Hikage’s hobby. She maintains a blog under the name Sunflower, with two internet friends, Mega Pig and Black Rabbit, who read her posts and comment to encourage her. Her online friends aren’t enough for her, though; she wants one in real life.
Even with that element, the whole story felt overly familiar, with elements of Kimi ni Todoke (the quiet girl brought to classmates’ notice through a popular boy’s attention), Imadoki! (two classmates bond through gardening), Gakuen Prince (bullying by female classmates), and Train Man (internet commenters telling one of their own how to succeed with dating). I frequently knew what plot point was coming up next, including guessing the book’s cliffhanger about two chapters in. The art by Ema Toyama is generic manga cute, which makes the characters look like they’re eight years old instead of in eighth grade. In the case of one climactic slap, I didn’t know what had happened until the dialogue afterwards discussed it.
The story hits the emotional moments hard, sometimes too much. The boy tends to show up at just the right time whenever she needs rescue, which runs the risk of him seeming a creepy voyeur keeping too many tabs on her. It’s intended to be a relatable fantasy, certainly, with a shy blogger capturing the attention of a handsome, caring, popular boy, even if he does seem a bit too much fairy godfather at times, waving away her problems.
She can come close to pathetic in her neediness. However, that’s the benefit of this being a double-sized volume. We get to see her learning to stand up for herself and taking small steps forward in meeting people. The blog is also a good device for revealing her feelings. The advice from her commenters is smart and provides some encouragement. And the message is good, that friends are great for support, but she’s got to learn to make changes in herself for herself by herself.
Overall, though, it’s all a mite too comfortable and predictable, too reminiscent of other manga for me to continue with it. This volume has two extras, a short story at the end showing how Teru and Hinata became friends and two one-page joke strips about Hikage’s invisibility. (The publisher provided a review copy.)