Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Itazura Na Kiss
After her time away from home to think, Kotoko has decided upon a course of action – she will transfer to the nursing school and become a nurse! Of course this isn't as easy as she likes to think – after all, who would have thought there would be scary things like needles and dissections? But aided by her new group of friends, Kotoko perseveres...even though one of those friends may have more than friendly intentions. Will their marriage make it to the two year mark?
If most of us are honest with ourselves, we rarely give any thought to what happens in a story after the main couple gets married. It's “happily ever after,” right? What more is there to say? The late Kaoru Tada thought that there was plenty more, and she's been exploring the married life of protagonists Kotoko and Naoki for a few volumes now and proving that there's much more to the story after the vows are said.
In volume seven, Kotoko was forced to realize that there is more to life than just being a wife, and her decision to go to nursing school despite the extra years in the classroom was a major one. It marked the first time that she expressed a goal that wasn't solely about Naoki (although it could be argued that she only wants to be a nurse because he's training to be a doctor) and Tada takes care to show us that incompetent and less than brilliant though she is, she's studying very hard. That is one of the characteristics that has made Kotoko endearing all along – she's determined, whether it is to get the guy, help a friend, or improve her test scores. The fact that her good intentions often run afoul of reality adds some humor to the situation, although one dramatic moment when she goes with her longtime friend Satomi to meet her boyfriend's mother shows things going awry in a way that really makes you cheer for her. Unfortunately Kotoko's partners in the nursing program are less impressed with her habits, admirable or otherwise, as she stumbles again and again, often to their detriment.
This volume introduces the most new characters we've seen in a long while. Kotoko falls in with a group of four at school – Marina, Keita, Moto, and Tomoko. All four have distinct personalities separate from Kotoko's other friends, and they play off of each other well. Tomoko particularly has some good moments, although Keita is not far behind. Kin-chan also gets a bigger role than he's had for a bit, not counting his freak outs when British exchange student Chris appeared in volume 7. In fact, Kin's role in this book is one he has not hitherto played, and Tada once again gets to showcase the fact that her characters don't just move through time, they mature from their experiences. Most of the character development this time around belongs to Kin-chan and Naoki, with the former helping the latter in surprising ways. Naoki's maturation also helps us as readers to find him more sympathetic, something that is on occasion difficult given his personality. If nothing else, readers leave volume 8 with the knowledge that Naoki is in fact human.
While most of the book is devoted to Kotoko's initial months at nursing school, two sections deal instead specifically with Naoki and Kotoko's relationship. The first is Kotoko's determination to have a “real” date with her husband, right down to meeting up downtown despite the fact that they live together. The other chapter is about their upcoming second wedding anniversary, and naturally involves the overbearing Mrs. Irie, who thankfully does not pull a repeat of her shenanigans from the previous book. While neither section is as romantic as one might wish for, they are both suitably sweet.
Although Tada's art has improved from the initial volumes, it is still not traditionally attractive, and her grasp of anatomy remains mostly tenuous. (The exception is a diagram of an arm as part of a nursing lesson; presumably there was a reference involved.) Tone usually replaces background art except when a building is drawn to give us our setting, but Tada is trying increasingly interesting angles, such as one scene with Naoki and Kotoko talking in bed, which changes point of view direction with every panel. The early nineties are more easily seen this time around as they develop their own fashion statement separate from the late eighties, and every so often contemporary readers will have to remind themselves that cellphones were not then the norm, as there are a few places where, to modern eyes, their absence is noticeable. Also included in this book is a black and white reprint of what looks to have been a full color special from the original magazine, a funny “Cinderella” retelling starring Kotoko and Naoki that in some ways sums up their relationship perfectly.
Itazura na Kiss remains a landmark shoujo manga, despite its sometimes clumsy art; it is a story that takes “happily ever after” and asks what happens next. As the characters continue to mature and deal with the little roadblocks that life throws them, the story continues to engage readers in a way that it might not have otherwise. With its smooth translation, high page count, and ever evolving characters, this is a series that shoujo fans really should not miss. If you haven't picked it up yet, give it a try – it is easy to see why, as DMP tells us, this series has sold over 30 million copies around the world.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : C
+ Characters continue to grow and mature – even the side ones. Naoki and Kin-chan both become appreciably more human.