High School Debut Volume 1
A typical shojo plot — young woman desperate to get a boyfriend as she starts high school — is made highly entertaining through dynamic characters and art in High School Debut by Kazune Kawahara.
Haruna is used to working hard to get what she wants. She’s a softball player (and girls’ manga fan) who thinks that slavishly following teen magazines for fashion and behavior suggestions will gain her a guy. She doesn’t understand what works specifically for her body type and personality, though, so she’s been a failure so far… and an amusingly scary one.
Kawahara’s art is impressive and emotional, with Haruna giving off a palpable air of desperation through the pages. Her body language is aggressive and determined, alternating with the confusion of a young teen rushing too fast into areas she doesn’t understand. She’s attractive, with the changeable appearance of a typical girl, very pretty when she picks the right look, very sporty when she’s working out.
I think it’s funny that she thinks that there’s one right thing that guys like, and if she works hard enough at it, she’ll achieve it. Just as the reader learns to understand how special and unique Haruna is, hopefully, she’ll learn the same about boys, that each one is different and wants different things.
Anyway, she decides that she’s reached the summit of what she can teach herself, so she seeks a coach to identify her weaknesses and help her improve them. She bumps into a handsome upperclassman who understands popularity but hates girls (because he ends up hurting them when they care more than he does). Haruna begs him to help her, and thanks to the intervention of his lovely younger sister, they work out a deal.
There’s a lot that’s refreshing about this series. Haruna doesn’t regret the hard work she put into her athletics; she’s just ready for a different challenge now. Her discipline and determination are positive qualities, enhanced through her earlier sports practice. She takes advance of opportunities when they come along, seizing the moment without twittering or second-guessing herself. She’s learning to think about others and realize that love might hurt, too, when jealousy and rejection get involved.
Most important to me as a reader, I couldn’t figure out from the beginning which guy I wanted her to end up with. There are multiple good choices, each with their own strengths. Her coach’s one condition was not to fall for him, so that, combined with the natural tendency to find someone attractive who pays that much attention to you, make him a temptation.
She and her coach each have things to teach each other. Her naive appreciation of love, fed by too many romance comics, will sand off some of his jaded exterior, while his observations about fashion choices and behavior really are helpful and instructive. He also respects what makes her her instead of trying to turn her into a faddish version of whatever’s popular. There are a lot of good things to learn about male/female relationships here, but they’re subtly presented, which makes them all the more enjoyable. (The publisher provided a review copy.)