Upon the release of Ranma 1/2 on Bluray, Mike takes a stroll through the world of Rumiko Takahashi.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Sep 7th 2005
Ichitaka's romance with Iori is just getting ready for takeoff when an atomic bomb named Itsuki lands in his lap! A dear childhood friend from years ago, Itsuki has returned from America and has a serious thing for Ichitaka, who's right in the middle of trying to woo Iori. An ill-placed love confession and a string of mishaps keep Ichitaka from expressing his true feelings for Iori, who's more confused than ever about his feelings for her (and hers for him).
At its very core, I”s is a male fantasy romance comedy about a lovable loser who has to choose between a demure bikini model whose expressions are vague enough to suggest that she might want to have sex with him and his spunky spitfire childhood friend who definitely wants to have sex with him. Sure, there's a bombastic love triangle and all that jazz that usually permeates romance comedies aimed at men, but when you boil this series down to its basic elements, what you have is a dream situation most heterosexual men would leap at. That said, the second volume of I"s under the Shonen Jump Advanced imprint doesn't really seem to be moving out of the pit of shonen romance clichés it's been wallowing in since book one.
In this volume, we learn a lot more about Itsuki, Ichitaka's adorable childhood friend who's returned from America so she can flirt with Ichitaka and complicate his (very slowly) blossoming romance with mega-hottie Iori, who's lusted after by every guy in school. It's a pretty typical setup, but by the end of the volume, we still don't know a whole lot about these characters – Itsuki seems as though she genuinely cares for Ichitaka and Iori continues to be vague and standoffish while still dropping enough hints that she likes the schmuck. Beyond that, we still don't know a whole lot. The only emotions Ichitaka actually shows are confusion and anger; everything else is entirely internal and he rarely tells anyone what he's actually feeling, which if he did, would of course solve all of his problems.
Unfortunately, Ichitaka's emotional retardation is a symptom of a larger problem with I”s; since all of the problems the characters are dealing with could be solved by having simple communication with one another, nobody ever does that, dragging out minor conflicts for pages and pages. If the characters do actually communicate – for instance, Ichitaka actually gathers the “strength” to tell a confused Iori that he and Itsuki aren't dating – some contrivance happens that negates it, like Itsuki shows up and boldly proclaims that she really likes him, etcetera. It's the same two-steps-forward-three-steps-back situation that makes reading manga titles like this one and, say, Maison Ikkoku, somewhat frustrating. If only they'd just sit down and talk to each other, the series would be over… and that's really what the problem with this sort of story is.
Nowhere is this more blatant than it is in this volume; at the very end of the book, Iori rather enthusiastically agrees to go on a resort vacation with Ichitaka (after Itsuki selflessly gives up her ticket to let the couple go together rather than meddling), which is an excellent development given how standoffish and distant she'd been for most of the series.
You'd think they'd end it there, or maybe let the romance between these two go somewhere. No such luck. The Big Book of Manga Clichés rears its ugly head yet again and it turns out Ichitaka's annoying friend whose relatives run the joint – along with Itsuki – are at the resort with them. According to the preview text, the next volume will be mostly swimsuit shots and hilarious sexy misunderstandings where nobody says anything to each other about how they really feel.
Still, there's certainly promise for this series; Katsura has shown on more than one occasion that he enjoys writing a story that at first seems very been-there-done-that, and then he turns the entire thing on its ear. See his surprisingly dark series Shadow Lady for proof. That fact alone means that I”s may still simply be in its infancy in terms of storytelling and that Katsura has something big up his sleeve for it later on in the run. Only time will tell. So, even though this volume is rife with the annoying manga clichés that infest a million other shonen romance titles, that's no reason to stop reading it now.
As basic, inoffensive summer reading, I”s isn't half bad, if you don't think too much about what really needs to be done to solve the characters' problems. Masakazu Katsura's signature style is in fine form; his characters are very distinct from one another, his panels clean and simple. Yes, there are still stars covering the occasional errant nipple, but since nipples aren't central to the story (besides which, I think these girls are like 15), it really doesn't matter at all. Background work is strikingly detailed, and the whole ‘slice of life’ (regardless of how unbelievable Ichitaka's situation may be) feeling is pulled off with admirable aplomb. We may just have to wait longer to get to the good part… assuming there is one.
Story : C
Art : A
+ Gorgeous art, might be leading to something better
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