Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Captivated, by You
Hayashi's an oddball who just does his own thing, uncaring of how others see him. Nikaidou suffered in middle school because he was too good-looking and has remade himself into the strangest, most awkward person possible to avoid all of the so-called “positive” attention. Welcome to high school: the least glamorous place on earth in one of the more unflinching, but not dark, looks at those who choose not to fit in.
Captivated, by You – not to be confused with the manhwa Totally Captivated or the contemporary romance novel by Sylvia Day, which has the same title sans comma – is an odd book. That may be entirely deliberate on the part of creator Yama Wayama, who originally published the stories either online or as doujinshi, because there's a real sense that they're trying to buck the trend of manga that glamorizes the high school experience. While that's hardly a trend unique to manga, there is a definite tendency of young adult works to paint high school as much more engaging or fascinating than it is in real life, especially if you're one of the people on the outside of the social hierarchy. That's where this book stands out; its characters don't fit in, and that affects how the others see and interact with them, something that the protagonists themselves seem to be purposefully seeking out.
The volume is divided into two sections based on different main characters. The first is Hayashi, a guy who is either deliberately weird or completely uncaring of how he appears to others, while the second is Nikaidou, a boy who was once very popular in middle school because of his looks and is trying to remake himself into someone no one is at all attracted to. Both are perhaps recognizable figures in many schools, although I'd hazard a guess that Hayashi is the type more people have had experience with, especially if he's putting on a sort of manic pixie dream boy act. That seems to be entirely possible when we look at what he gets up to over the course of his chapters. Most telling is probably the fact that he maintains a social media account made up entirely of a game of shiritori he's playing with himself. He creates the words like old ransom notes in fiction – he walks around town snapping pictures of words or characters and then puts them together to spell things out. It's the sort of “quirky” behavior that feels like it's screaming for attention, and while there are other elements of Hayashi's story that seem like he just may be an awkward guy, such as getting tangled up in a net during sports day, most of his behavior feels very attention-seeking.
One of the chapters, “Run, Yamada,” backs this up by having Hayashi act in a much less bizarre way than is usual for him. In this story, a first-year named Yamada is being bullied by a second-year, who forces him to run out of class before lunch every day to buy him food with his own money. While we can be aghast that none of the teachers are saying anything even though the older kid is literally screaming “Run, Yamada!” out the window every day – upon which Yamada takes off – the bigger issue in the context of the story is that Yamada can't seem to bring himself to say anything about what's happening. It's not that his bully can't afford to buy his own food, because when Yamada finds his wallet, it's full of money – while Yamada himself has to subsist on one sneakily made rice ball for lunch. He's just gotten himself into a situation where he feels powerless and backed into a corner, and he's too honest and nice a kid to report his tormenter.
As it happens, however, Hayashi is watching the whole thing play out from his classroom balcony on a daily basis. While he doesn't intervene immediately, when he gets his chance, he takes it, pouring his drink down onto the bully's head after Yamada is injured. This gives Yamada the sense that there's someone out there on his side, and that in turn makes him feel like he can stand up for himself. While we could be upset that Hayashi was watching the whole mess unfold and didn't tell an adult, the fact that he did step up is much more important in the context of the story, because it shows that he isn't as oblivious to social norms as he likes to appear. Being “The Weirdo” may be how Hayashi makes a place for himself in the fraught social world of his high school, something that feels fairly real.
Nikaidou, on the other hand, is working to remake his position in the social hierarchy. When we meet him, he looks like an escapee from a Junji Ito manga, something very much intentional on Wayama's part since one of the other characters remarks upon it. In fact, Nikaidou's so weird and creepy that other students believe he's cursed – which is why when a classmate meets an old friend and she tells him that Nikaidou was the hottest boy in her middle school, he's shocked. It turns out that Nikaidou received so much female attention that he was made extremely uncomfortable, and things escalated way beyond love letters in his shoe locker. So for high school, he switched out of his combined middle/high school and remade himself as the most repulsive person he could be, even going so far as to tuck his coat into his pants along with his shirt on the first day.
Nikaidou contrasts with Hayashi in that he's the kid who does not want to be seen – he's trying to escape the social system altogether. His repellant image is every bit as curated as Hayashi's class weirdo, and both boys together make a statement about not only the way that high schools create their own social microcosms, but also of what it means when you neither fit in nor want to fit in. While Nikaidou's story feels more relatable to me, I also absolutely knew Hayashis in high school, both as a teacher and a student, and the reality of their situations is a major draw of the book…although it could also be a turn-off for readers who may relate to them too well.
Nikaidou's section is a bit better written and drawn than Hayashi's, which may be a factor in relatability as well, and the Junji Ito jokes do make it perhaps a little more palatable. But Captivated, by You isn't necessarily looking to be a light, silly read. It's exploring two different facets of being on the outside, and while it isn't dark and depressing, those elements are lurking beneath the surface. It's chief appeal is simply in being something outside the norm of the way high school is typically presented as either a rollicking good time or a dark and evil place, and certainly the hardcover edition is appealing visually. It's an odd book to be sure, but sometimes we all need reminding that life can be weird – whether we make it that way deliberately or not.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Nice hardcover edition, shows a different – yet familiar – side of high school than we often get in manga. Some good artistic details in the Nikaidou chapters.
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