Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Dec 23rd 2006
Hoshino has a problem. Like many adolescent boys, he has a girl he likes. And like any boy with a crush, he wants to tell her how he feels. At a loss for what to do, he strikes upon a novel strategy: honesty. Not just your run-of-the-mill, everyday honesty, but pure, total, unflinching honesty. And it works. He and his newfound girlfriend Negishi soon set about proving that honest love can not only survive but also thrive.
In love with love? Adore romance? Tired of never-ending angst epics and puerile breast-obsessed harem comedies? Go out, get Love Roma and read it. Now. You won't regret it.
What is refreshing about Love Roma is that, like its leads, it's honest. This is one love-comedy that shuns all of the strident, drama-enhancing trappings of the genre. There are no giant fights, no weepy declarations of undying devotion, no suicide attempts, no last minute rescues from lecherous punks (or old men), and no forces hell-bent on separating the lovers. Love Roma is simple. It is the story of Hoshino and Negishi's relationship, their fumbling first attempt at love. There is no need for outlandish plot developments, the simple travails of everyday living are drama enough. The first kiss, the first date, the first meeting with their parents, the first tandem trip to the beach, the first fight, the first grope; every event—in their simplicity, and the import with which the characters invest them in spite of it—strikes a note of truth that is sorely lacking in most romances. Tiny details reveal an understanding of the state of adolescence that shames many other attempts at portraying school life. Peeking at pornography, carrying on earnest conversations about subjects that one knows nothing about (i.e. the nature of love and families) whilst trying to puzzle them out, the awkwardness that is part and parcel of the discovery process of a relationship; the manga nails the delicate balance of maturity and utter naiveté that typifies the teenager.
De-emphasizing the dramatic elements comes at a cost. The real-life rhythm of the plot leads to a fair amount of repetition—especially in the humor—that may well cause some readers to tune out during certain passages. Minoru Toyoda covers for potential loss of interest by ramping characters' personality traits up to periodically credibility-straining levels (Hoshino's obsession with honesty borders on idiocy), but their behavior never quite leaves the realm of possibility—and is so often amusing that it is easily forgivable.
Like the manga itself, Toyoda's art is deceptively simple. It's easy to dismiss it as cartoony, with its thick lines, slight angularity, purposeful simplifications, and oddly-proportioned, occasionally off-model character designs, but it fits the tone of his story with a perfection that renders any other imperfections moot. Toyoda is also one of the few manga artists working who draws backgrounds in virtually all of his panels, creating a very tangible world for his characters to occupy; each volume is peppered with one and two page layouts that place the characters in bold compositions within haunting settings, magical moments that evoke the world of youth, where even mundane experiences are still fresh and exciting.
It is easy to feel the publisher's love for this title, from the colorful, eye-catching covers, to the back-cover synopses that replace boring text summaries with color art excerpts from each chapter. In between the two are quality paper, printing with nice, shiny, solid blacks, copious extras by the author (commentaries, maps, character relationships, humorous bonus stories), and helpful cultural notes. Sound effects are left in place with unobtrusive English translations nearby. The translation itself warrants extra mention, particularly Hoshino's odd, abrupt, and sometimes obtuse speech patterns.
Be it riding a bike at night, working a part-time job, or taking part in a play, Love Roma is resolutely focused on everyday life, almost flagrantly shunning histrionic theatrics. Instead of providing an escape from reality, it gently reminds us of the magic and wonder of our own existence, of the beauty of everyday living. Scandal-obsessed junior news-woman Hinata said it best: "Normal is exciting, isn't it?"
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Warm, honest adolescent love story.
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