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|Kare Kano (manga)||Masterpiece||My exposure to Shoujo manga is definitely not very heavy, and even for this genre, I still mainly stuck with more male oriented (ie, male author, resulting in a different understanding of the topic, which is sadly, usually more shallow), or comedy oriented (which side steps truly difficult issues) titles. This however, is definitely a severe case of oversight. I'm just going to be thankful that I had friends to tell me about the title, because after watching and reading it, this is one of those things that becomes an experience, as the characters draw the reader into their world.
The plot itself isn't very complicated. As it is still a shoujo manga, the story is of course about the romance of the characters in said title. But unlike a typical shoujo manga, Kare Kano does not let the romance aspect of the story become a hindrance, which happens all too often. For these types of slice of life/romance series, it is the characters that must drive the story, and not the plot. In too many cases, plot devices (Kanon), circumstances (Saikano), twists (drawing blank, i'm sure there are shitload), relationships ranging from triangle to even decagon (anything with harem element basically), are used to advance the characters and the story, which usually destroys the flow of the story and prevent a true connection with the characters because a look into their feelings and thoughts aren't provided adequately. From volume 1, Kare Kano made it clear that it is through the understanding of the each others most inner selves (and most importantly, even the ugly aspect of their feelings) that these individuals will be able to grow up and further their relationships with each other. The story wasn't compromised with complex relationship hierarchies, nor was it made hard to accept due to an unimaginable number of twists. The series was about the development of these characters, so the reader was given a chance to understand these characters' real thoughts and feelings completely.
Likewise, the character interactions weren't only skin deep either. I had seen too many series where the romance, or even the close friend type relationships, made absolutely no sense because the two characters never really took time to understand each other. There were no exchange regarding their emotions, which made me feel that the relationship never got past the basic levels, that of which are no greater than casual friends. Kare Kano's characters, all of them, took great strides to understand each other, and in turn, learned to trust their emotions in the hands of those around them. It is these types of interaction that made these characters interesting. It is by actually understanding each of their uniqueness that the reader is able to distinguish them from many stereotypical characters from other series, and learn to sympathize with them. One of the characters in the series, thanks to this, went from being only a sidekick/joke character for comic relief, to arguably the most important character in the series (as attested by the female lead). Kare Kano was far superior in this aspect than basically every other series I've seen or read thus far.
An aspect of the series that I liked is that all the sub-characters had their own arc for development before the story shifted back to the main characters. In the end, most of the volumes were dedicated to the development of the leads (Specifically Arima, who had more growing up to do than Yukino), but still, the series granted screen time for everyone. There were 3 other couples, one of which got significant screen time. For everyone, a background story was presented, which allowed much better understanding of each character. Within each of these arc, the story was told from the said character's perspective, so the reader can understand the character as who they actually are. This is something that is missing from most other series. What I don't understand is why don't more series do this, because it only takes 1-2 chapters to provide some depth and understanding for a character, which, for a slice-of-life series, is basically the backbone. The only gripe I have regarding this is that one of the developments managed to create a time lapse of 1.5 years (about 2 volumes), and that made me feel a bit distant from the other characters, including the main ones. Although that was fairly well patched up once the main story got back on track, with a neat little reintroduction section.
As for the main characters, while the main conflict to overcome was with the male lead, being a guy, I was much more captivated by the female lead. Yukino Miyazawa is one of the most interesting characters I have ever read about. For once, the perfect individuals were not perfect (still elites though, albeit through hardwork), but that was fine. If I wanted to see perfect characters, I'd look up another half-ass series elsewhere. One of the main themes in Kare Kano is that to truly understand and accept someone, one must be able to accept both the good and bad aspect of that individual. A cliched theme, but one that was presented flawlessly in Kare Kano. I won't mention the details of their hardship and the journey in which they went through to overcome. That has to be read. Considering I'm shit of a writer, I can't adequately put the situation in words that does justice for the story.
There were definitely a few shoujo elements present that may turn away some readers, be it art, theme, etc. I personally am not too affected by these aspects, and I would suggest for people to simply try to overlook it if it does become a bother, because I really believe if given the chance, Kare Kano can provide an experience similar to that of a good novel. It may even open up an interest into other shoujo titles. Much like a flagship title for a console, I think Kare Kano can be qualified as a genre opener for people that have previously ignored titles of this nature.