Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, vol. 1
Story and Art by Karuho Shiina
Translation by Tomo Kimura
Original Japanese edition: Shueisha, 2005
Sawako Kuronuma is the terror of her high school classroom. Her resemblance to the lead character from the horror movie The Ring has earned her the nickname “Sadako,” and her classmates claim that anyone who looks at her for more than three seconds will be cursed. Of course, the reality is much less dramatic. Sawako is just painfully shy and rather clueless about social interactions; all she wants is to help others and make friends, but she can’t seem to connect with her peers. Lucky for Sawako, she’s about to be befriended by Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, who takes it upon himself to stand up for the class misfit. But the classmates who whisper about Sawako behind her back aren’t going to change their opinions of her that easily.
Sawako’s extreme naivete and the increasingly romantic turn of Kazehaya’s feelings combine to make this story a rather gentle comedy. Sawako is so shy that she attributes any social progress she makes to Kazehaya’s help; Kazehaya and her other newfound friends, Yano and Yoshida (a rather amusing pair of bad girls), don’t have much success in convincing her that she’s making friends on her own merits. Given this, you can probably guess how little Sawako has realized about the nature of Kazehaya’s feelings for her. Kazehaya is an enormously likable character, with his wide smile and his sense of justice. I am already feeling a little sorry for him: his path to love is not going to be an easy one with Sawako’s cluelessness as one of the roadblocks.
Still, the often lighthearted tone of the series doesn’t entirely gloss over how lonely Sawako is at the beginning of the story, nor should it. Her classmates’ fear doesn’t stop them from taking advantage of her kindness and generosity; as Ysabet points out in her excellent review, this doesn’t make logical sense but it does feel emotionally real. So Sawako’s intense gratitude for Kazehaya, Yano, and Yoshida’s friendship only underlines how very isolated she was before she connected with them. Sawako’s situation may be exaggerated, but I think a lot of readers will still recognize it as something they have known.
This manga is drawn in a standard but appealing shojo style. Shiina’s drawings really capture Sawako’s range of moods and the different ways that Sawako’s classmates see her. The chibis are adorable, especially Sawako’s expressions when she is trying (and failing) to comprehend some social interaction. One sequence in particular where Sawako completely misinterprets Kazehaya’s attempts to pass her a note in class had me in stitches.
I can’t really say that Kimi ni Todoke is a manga that is breaking any new narrative ground. As far as shojo manga go, it’s yet another high school romantic comedy, structured firmly around the rites and rituals of the Japanese school year: summer vacation, class chores, seat assignments, and more. I fully expect future volumes to give us chapters centered around school festivals, sports days, and midterm exams. But Kimi ni Todoke is a manga where great execution in the art and writing more than makes up for the lack of originality, and the very familiarity of the genre is part of the comfort factor. There may be a lot of high school romances out there, but few of them are so sweetly humorous or populated with such appealing characters. I’m really looking forward to reading volume 2 of this series when it is released in October.
Production notes: Volume 1 features two pages of translation notes and a sheet of bonus stickers (hee!). It also represents a change in Viz’s presentation of its Shojo Beat titles. The original Japanese title has been preserved, and the cover and book spines designs don’t have the usual Shojo Beat branding. It’s a much more attractive package. I only wish Viz could go back and do the same for some of my other favorite series!
Other opinions of Kimi ni Todoke, vol. 1
(Links via MangaBlog, as usual.)