Yû Watase is best known for her two fantasy series, Fushigi Yûgi and Ceres: Celestial Legend. Although it takes place in a more normal school setting, Imadoki! (Nowadays) still has quite a fairy tale air about it.
Tanpopo is so eager to check out her new Tokyo school that she jumps her bike over the gate, crash-landing into a boy tending a dandelion. In contrast to her outgoing energy, he’s reserved but caring, bandaging her injury the same way he gently encourages plants. Once classes start, she discovers that Koki, her new acquaintance, is the most elite of a snooty bunch of students. She assumed that they’d be friends, but he resists. He’s used to people pretending to like him because of his money and social rank. “Friends” to him means “being used by others”.
His behavior is completely different in front of the group, harsh and unfeeling. The only time he opens up is when gardening. Due to school rules, the only plants on campus are artificial, just like the students. Tanpopo is the only one authentically herself, and she’s willing to sacrifice her well-being for those she cares for, whether plant or person. Since her name means “dandelion”, Tanpopo is nicknamed “Weed” by the other kids. They think she’s a bumpkin, too stupid to stay in her place, but their bullying just makes her laugh. Her honest friendship is the key to getting Koki to open up, freeing his heart from the cynicism he’s too young for.
According to an author’s note, the title means “nowadays”, or more fully, “the present is the most precious time”. The plant symbolism isn’t subtle — Koki’s only friends are flowers, so a girl named Dandelion will be his first real friend — but it adds another level to this school story.
Volume two, “Magnolia”, introduces Aoi, a geek loner with psycho tendencies who provides some wacky humor later on. His manipulation of the high-tech school’s computer system traps Koki and Tanpopo in an elevator during a blackout. This serves as something of a role reversal, as Koki has the opportunity to be strong and support her instead of vice versa. Tanpopo also learns more about Koki’s family and business responsibilities. Other characters include Tsuki, a high-bred young lady who’s determined to marry Koki because of his wealth; Poplar, Tanpopo’s pet fox; and Arisa, a party girl entangled with the student body president.
Watase’s figures are emotional and expressive as well as very cute. Tanpopo’s enthusiasm nearly springs off the page, infecting the reader with good feeling. The storytelling is clear and direct with lovely, distinctive figures. Playful design touches such as dotted backgrounds keep up the energy, and the occasional dramatic sequence is assembled with quick-cut action. As expected, given the series’ subject, Watase also draws detailed plants and flowers, both as story features and decorative elements.
It’s an old-fashioned fantasy that an innocently good heart wins over the jaded. In a more realistic story, someone so naive wouldn’t remain so cheery in the face of such overwhelming opposition. Here, though, Tanpopo’s innocent defiance of the way everyone else behaves is inspirational. She’s unafraid of her emotions or what others think of her.
Tanpopo finds a previously unexpected power in herself out of her concern for Arisa, and Arisa encourages Tanpopo to better understand her feelings for Koki in volume three, “Daffodil”. The five characters establish a Planting Club at school, an event that teaches them the lesson that “everything blooms according to its own nature.” They each work at being the best they are, no matter who they are, knowing that their choices will differ. They’re learning to be themselves.
Koki has a lead towards finding his missing older brother that takes him to Tanpopo’s hometown, so the whole club winds up visiting her grandparents over summer vacation. There the reader learns that Tanpopo’s smiling nature was hard-won after earlier tragedy. Back at school, there’s a club festival event, a rose exchange that requires student couples to be honest about their feelings for each other.
It’s not until volume four, “Rose”, that we learn the outcome. Tanpopo has a rival for Koki’s attention, and she fears she’s lost him to her. In her disappointment, Tanpopo tries to hide her feelings from her friends, but they demonstrate how much they care for her with their attention. Her character reveals new depths to the reader when she drops, even temporarily, her always optimistic attitude.
The series concludes with volume five, “Poppy”, where the characters react to two family near-tragedies. When Tanpopo’s grandfather has a medical situation, she has to decide whether to stay with them or return to Tokyo and her school friends. When she makes her decision, she carries it through with courage and good heart.
The other half of the book has two short stories. The first is a flashback story showing Tanpopo and her school friends from before she went to Tokyo. They discover an ailing pregnant fox and take care of her and her babies. It highlights Tanpopo’s innocent nature at a time when she doesn’t understand the difference between love for friends and romantic love. The second is a stand-alone about a boy helping a girl get over her phobia of germs.
Watase has also created the series Alice 19th, blending school romance with a fantasy quest.