Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Fall in Love Like a Comic!
Rena Sakura is no ordinary high school girl; she also draws risqué shoujo manga for the “Chugakukan” magazine “Chami.” When her handsome classmate Tomoya Okita discovers her secret one day, she decides to seize the day and ask him to be her boyfriend. As research for her manga, of course. But their relationship quickly becomes more than just business as Rena starts to fall in love with Tomoya and she learns that having a boyfriend is one thing but keeping him entirely another! What will she do when a gorgeous actress, an irrepressible little girl, and a wise older woman all show up, appearing to vie for Tomoya's attentions?
The two volume series by Chitose Yagami Fall in Love Like a Comic! is plagued by many problems. The first and most important, from an American context, is that important parts of the story get lost in translation. One might not think so on the face of it. The plot as such is painfully simple: professional comic book artist falls in love with a research subject and, after a handful of stints fending off (imagined) rivals, eventually marries him. Granted, it is silly, shallow, and poorly developed. But romance is after all a universal human impulse. The plot per se, however, is not the problem. The root of the problem lies in the way in which the manga loses its original cultural context in the trip across cultures. This missing context is key to any real understanding of it.
In Japan, the manga originally ran in Ciao (the Italian greeting pronounced “chao”), a shoujo manga magazine published by Shougakukan targeted primarily at elementary school girls. (The “Chugakukan” and “Chami” of the story are clear puns on Yagami's own publisher and magazine.) It competes with Shuueisha's Ribon and Kodansha's Nakayoshi. However, because Rena talks about writing “risqué” manga, wants sex with Tomoya, and even gets caught in the nude in the shower, VIZ Media has rated both volumes “For Older Teens”—the same rating that it gives many other shoujo manga on its list originally intended for a significantly older readership.
Once one understands that Fall in Love Like a Comic! was actually meant to be read by nine year olds, things start to make sense. The insipid plot? All that a small child's mind is going to be able to handle. The fact that Rena and Tomoya get married while still in high school? Sheer fantasy! A child that young cannot actually conceive of what real adulthood will be like. High school is the outer limits of her imaginative universe. Why does the fifteen year old Rena look like a nine year old? No, Yagami isn't a lolicon; she is drawing a protagonist with which her readers can empathize.
Unfortunately, even after one understands its original cultural context, it is still mighty tough to appreciate the manga on its own terms. The series' problems just do not end. As mentioned above, the plot is silly and shallow. Character development is equally lousy; none of the characters are fleshed out beyond the basic narrative assurance that Tomoya is the perfect guy and that Rena, despite her utter ordinariness, is unimpeachably loveable. The art is aggressively average and cynically cutesy. Even the character designs, which in Rena's case are a millimeter of skirt length short (pun intended) of bishoujo manga-style panty shots, are tiresome and derivative. Rena, especially when drawn in her school uniform, looks like she was cut and pasted from a Cardcaptor Sakura doujinshi—and given the way that Nakayoshi is Ciao's better circulated competitor, it is not surprising that material found in the latter is inferior overall and, stylistically at least, slavishly derivative.
Both volumes include one bonus story each. The first volume features Yagami's debut one-shot “Magical Project,” a wizard school fantasy about a girl who uses magic to transform her loyal pet dog into a human boy that seems to beg for dirty jokes about bestiality. And like Rena, this story's protagonist looks like Sakura of Cardcaptor Sakura. The second volume includes “Bewildered Princess,” a poorly-plotted, near incomprehensible story about two students who find love while giving a puppet theater performance. Also in the second volume is a thirteen-page “how to draw manga” strip. The advice itself seems sound, especially the parts about layouts and visual pacing, but it can be quite difficult to take Yagami seriously given the extreme weakness of her own creative endeavors.
All in all, two volumes was two too many. If it had not been about manga creation and featured subplots involving fandom (perennially popular subjects), VIZ Media would not have ever licensed it in the first place. “Fall in love like a comic”…? What a joke. It's just a shame that it could not have been “fall in love for real.” If it had, maybe there would have been more to enjoy about this sorry excuse for a shoujo series.
Overall : D
Story : D-
Art : C+
+ Parents who don't mind a bit of bawdy content might consider giving this series to their elementary school daughters.
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