Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Jul 28th 2011
Itazura na Kiss
As Naoki prepares to switch to the university's medical department, Kotoko rejoices in the fact that she is the only one he has told. As she mulls over her own future, Mr. Irie suffers a heart attack that forces Naoki to reconsider his plans...in a way that may exclude Kotoko forever.
Clumsy yet well meaning girl? Check. Arrogant jerk of a boy? Double check. Hey, have we read this story somewhere before? The answer is yes, but if you're reading it in Kaoru Tada's seminal shoujo series, you're reading it for the first time. And despite the now-stock characters, Tada has taken the story beyond the limits its successors impose upon themselves: to college. This volume finds Kotoko, Naoki, and friends beginning their junior year at university and raises questions not typically seen in shoujo romance. As anyone who has been a junior in college can attest to, this is when students really start questioning what they will do with their lives. Naoki has made the momentous decision to transfer from the Engineering Department to Medical, based on his younger brother's earlier medical crisis. He has done this despite his father's hopes of a family legacy at Pandai, his toy company. (In-jokes of this nature abound in ItaKiss, and Tada draws some excellent parodies later in the volume.) For this reason, Naoki decides not to tell his parents until the last possible moment, confiding only in Kotoko.
The decision comes on the heels of volume four's realization that perhaps Naoki isn't the heartless jerk he presents to the world. Is he really a bastard, or does he simply play his cards close to the chest? His mother certainly presents likely motivation for such an action – this volume finds her up to her old tricks of “disguising” herself while distributing gossip fliers about the not-quite couple on campus. If she's not a leading contender for Worst Mother in Manga, she's a definitely a finalist for Most Annoying. And with his mother behaving as she does, how can he admit the feelings we start to suspect he has for Kotoko? A short story in the back of the book also provides some context for Naoki's truly unpleasant personality, making this volume a good one for his character development.
Kotoko herself is also beginning to move beyond the imperfect shoujo romance heroine she spawned. After a discussion with her main rival for Naoki's affections, Reiko Matsumoto, she realizes that she has set very few goals for her life: “What am I doing? My every other thought, every word, is 'Irie-kun'...But what about me? What is it that I want to do?” This moment, when she comes to the conclusion that perhaps there is more to life than winning the guy, feels pivotal. It is a realization more commonly seen in magical girl manga than romance, and even though Kotoko doesn't necessarily live up to it in this volume, that she thought it is an important step, both for her and for the reader.
Another facet of Kotoko's maturing personality is her rivalry with Matsumoto. Previously the two have been daggers-drawn every time they interacted. This volume finds them working together (albeit to thwart Naoki in a romantic endeavor) and also having serious conversations. They discuss their futures, what they want out of life, and how Naoki fits in to their respective big pictures. Yes, they still bicker and try to outdo each other, but they have come to understand, if not respect, each other as people rather than as girls fighting over the same boy. They have, in simpler terms, grown up.
DMP's translation of this series has been consistently excellent. They have chosen to preserve formalities in address while still making dialogue sound natural, and those traits continue here. Tada wasn't big on sound effects, but where they are present, DMP has left the Japanese text and provided a smaller English translation. It can be a bit busy on the page, but it works. Since their English edition is taken from the larger bunko (combining roughly one and a half original volumes), the book is thicker than the typical manga volume. This helps offset the higher price and helps move the story along at a quicker pace for readers who tend to get their manga contemporary and faster-paced.
Since this series was originally published in the early 90s, the art is dated. Some might go so far as to call it ugly. It's true that this isn't sugary romance art as we know it now, but Tada used a sparsity of lines and minimal tones to keep this easy on the eyes, if not aesthetically (or anatomically) wonderful. If nothing else, the art works. Readers are more likely to be thrown by the fact that no one has a cell phone, 90s fashion, and the character design of Kotoko's hapless suitor Kin-chan, who sports a pompadour and an emaciated face rarely seen in contemporary stories.
Itazura na Kiss is not the perfect romance. Despite the characters' development in this volume, Naoki is still a jerk and Kotoko is still a flake. Aspects of the tale feel overdone or hackneyed, and knowing that those tropes are present for the first time (or at least one of the first times) here doesn't take away from the fact that to a modern audience, they are cliches. But Tada's story is still a timeless and compelling one of boy-meets-girl that should not be missed by romance fans or anyone who wants a look at how the Marmalade Boy-style romance began.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C
+ Clear character development for the protagonists, an addictive storyline, and some genuine emotion-evoking scenes. Also a great cliff-hanger ending.
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