Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A Kiss, For Real
GN 1 (ebook)
Ever since she was picked on as an elementary schooler, Chitose has hidden her true self behind a mask of social respectability. She only does what will make people like her, carefully crafting her image to be the kind of girl who makes people smile. A chance meeting with Itsuki on the escalator one day changes all of that – he's the kind of guy who really doesn't care very much about what people think, and the ideas they form about him based solely on his good looks annoy him. Chitose is drawn to his attitude, and when she finds out that he attends and art prep school, she realizes that it's okay to start to be herself – for real.
If there's a time in your life tailor-made for trying to hide in plain sight, it's middle and high school. Chitose learned that lesson a little earlier than most of her classmates, however: her parents run a fusion restaurant with Indian themes, and Chitose was picked on for coming to school smelling like exotic spices. The fact that she didn't care all that much about her hair and clothes as a little kid didn't help, and she quickly developed a reputation for being dirty and smelly. Even for an elementary schooler, that's the kind of label that stings, so Chitose set out deliberately to make herself over into the kind of girl who effortlessly fits in – fashionable, sweet-scented, and charming.
That's not an unusual story for a lot of people, because childhood cruelties really do leave a mark. For Chitose, however, the fact that she has to work so hard to maintain her “mask” in public, even hiding what her family does and that she helps out with the restaurant and is a talented crafter, has really begun to grate on her. She's tired of maintaining her façade, but she's afraid to put an end to it. That, more than the fact that Itsuki is really attractive, is what draws her to him when they meet on the escalator at the train station: he's open about who he is and what he likes, and he instantly sees right through her. Later on we find out that he's annoyed by the girls who fawn all over him because they only see his good looks and uniform from a prestigious high school. At his art prep school, he wards off people who only want to get close to him because they know that he can add “incredibly talented” to the list. Basically he has everything that Chitose fights to keep her grip on and he not only doesn't care, he doesn't actually want any of it.
That's a novel idea to Chitose, and one that she'd very much like to embrace. Unfortunately for her, she'd also like to get closer to Itsuki in a romantic sense, something he's very much opposed to at first. That doesn't stop him from randomly kissing her however. He claims it's in the name of making a point, and Chitose absolutely returns the favor a chapter later, which makes the nonconsensual bit at least a mutual issue. Honestly it seems like more of a shoujo romance box being checked off than anything in service of the actual plot, because Itsuki flat-out tells Chitose that he's not interested and Chitose quickly becomes just as enamored of art school as she is of Itsuki, so romantic setbacks, while not her favorite thing, also seem to have less significance to her than they might otherwise.
The more important story thread here is that Chitose really does want to change. She's tired of maintaining her mask and enrolling in the art prep school (which is like a cram school, but designed to help students get into art programs at the university level) helps her to truly understand that. She's been making crafts for her family to sell for some time now, and her work does well; going to art school helps her to realize that there's a real value in that skill and that she doesn't have to hide it in her life's closet. At this school she meets people as herself for the first time in years, and they like her and respect her skills, something she never dreamed could happen. She will, no doubt, continue to pursue a romance with Itsuki that will eventually come to take more of the story's time, but right now the two are working on forming a friendship that allows Chitose to see her own value and to get used to living without her mask on.
How the story proceeds from here will be worth keeping an eye on. Many of the shoujo titles Kodansha has published in English hail from Dessert magazine, and for the most part, they've maintained a decent balance between romance plot and something a little more to keep things interesting. While this isn't likely to reach the same levels as Say I Love You., which deals with a somewhat similar personal transformation, it is more focused on Chitose dealing with her problems herself; Itsuki's a catalyst but not a reason for her changes. The art may not be anything to write home about in its very basic (but pleasant) shoujo romance style, but this story has potential as Chitose learns that some masks are meant to be taken off and put away.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Chitose actively wants to change, her character development is given as much (if not more) development than the romance plot
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