story by Kazune Kawahara; art by Aruko
published by Viz; $9.99 US
A simple premise, executed with care for all the characters, makes for an enjoyable read.
Takeo and Sunakawa are schoolboy best friends. Takeo already looks like an adult, though, and maybe a wrestler — he’s large and bulky. Sunakawa, on the other hand, is your typical manga pretty boy, so he always gets the girls. Until they meet Yamato. They rescue her from a groper on the train, and when she comes to Takeo’s house to thank them, Takeo thinks that she likes his friend, like always. Only she’s really interested in him.
There’s a lot of humor, revolving around Takeo’s naiveté in navigating high school romance. He always jumps to the conclusion that girls like Sunakawa, assuming (based on long history) that no girl would like him, even in the face of pretty clear signs otherwise from Yamato. The result is cute and charming and heart-warming, as I wanted the best for all the characters. Thankfully, this is a high school romance without any weirdness — no cross-dressing, no vampires, no family obligations dating back generations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a palate cleanser to have such a basic, straightforward, simple story based in character only. That’s much like writer Kazune Kawahara’s previous series, High School Debut, which also featured a well-meaning but clueless student wanting to fit in and find love.
The art is what sells this. Aruko does a great job drawing both the attractive cast members and the out-of-place Takeo, who looks like he’s wandered in from another series altogether. (Perhaps one in the bara genre.) Plus, there’s cake. Yamato likes to bake, and as a way to get to know Takeo better, she’s always making treats, which look absolutely delicious.
Takeo’s warm heart, always wanting to protect others, comes through, even when he’s jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion. At one point, early on, he thinks to himself, “Why don’t girls react the way I wish they would? Why won’t my heart do what I tell it to? I can’t help falling in love… but it bothers people. And it’s not okay to do that.” That’s a mature statement of difficulty when what someone wants isn’t matched by others. The feelings are still there, but that doesn’t give him the right to intrude on other people. He’s a very insightful, unselfish character, and I find that inspiring. His attempts to help others, regardless of what he wants, make him someone I want to spend time with and root for. Plus, the misunderstandings are funny, and the series’ refusal to settle for the usual genre expectations refreshing. (The publisher provided a review copy.)