Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 24th 2008
Love*Com (Lovely Complex)
Five-foot-eight Risa Koizumi never thought she'd fall in love with five-foot-two Atsushi Ôtani—but as fate would have it, it's their final year of high school and she's still trying to win his heart. However, Risa has recently been distracted by attractive new teacher "Mighty" Maitake, which has aroused Ôtani's jealousy. Will he finally make the move and say the words Risa has been longing to hear? Going out as boyfriend and girlfriend brings its own set of troubles, though, and things only get worse when Ôtani's neighbor Mimi suddenly gets in between the two. Behind Mimi's super-sweet exterior lies a ruthless mind, and she'll stop at nothing to steal "Atchan" away from Risa. After so much struggle to get to where they are, this couple could be doomed to an early failure ...
Love takes time to grow. That's the sweet, simple lesson of Love*Com's seventh and eighth volumes, which accomplish the unthinkable: after two-plus years of heartache, suffering, and hilarious back-and-forth dialogue, our oversized heroine finally gets her midget man! And it's not something that happens in a loud declaration, but in a moment of dramatic quiet—which goes to show why this series is still the standard by which all other modern romantic comedies should be measured. Energetic and boisterous, then thoughtful and gentle, and flowing effortlessly between these emotions—that's the way love should be, and this part of the series absolutely nails it.
Volume 7 is the real heartstopper, containing the pivotal moment where Ôtani admits his feelings in the most roundabout way possible. In a clever mirroring of events, this time it's Risa who's slow on the uptake, and after those countless chapters where she abused Ôtani for his thick-headedness, there is something satisfying about seeing the boy return the favor. But of course, the more important favor being returned is that the two are now fully in love—and no, that's not a spoiler, because everyone knew it was going to happen eventually. What sets these chapters apart from the typical love-confession plotline is the way that it happens: quietly and behind everyone else's back, delivered with snarky yet sweet dialogue. "I do not go around kissing people I consider to be 'just friends'" has got to be one of the all-time masterpiece one-liners, and it couldn't happen to a more likable pair of characters.
But the thing about Love*Com is that it has plenty of other likable characters, and they all just seem to love butting in on the main couple. Risa's longtime advisor Nobuko gets some choice moments in this arc, dishing out advice like "they're newborn fawns, struggling to stand on their spindly legs"—but the real show-stealer is Volume 8's Mimi, a perfect send-up of the mean girl stereotype that will leave readers cracking up at her psychotic behavior. Unfortunately, the joke kind of runs itself into the ground—Mimi is basically a one-note character, yet she takes up a good three-quarters of Volume 8 making comically evil faces until Risa finally proves that her love is purer and more worthy of Ôtani. Actually, speaking of one-note characters, Mighty suddenly drops out of the story early on in Volume 7, after a certain out-of-the-blue plot point causes his fangirl army to disband. Clearly, Nakahara loves bringing fun side characters into the series and using them to reinforce Risa and Ôtani's relationship; she just seems to have a problem getting them out (Mighty leaves too abruptly; Mimi overstays her welcome).
Aside from the buoyant storyline, what also makes the characters so delightful and convincing is their wide range of facial expressions. Mimi's comically evil faces are just one part of the equation; Risa will always hold the top spot here with her many expressions of delight, disgust, sarcasm, hope, heartbreak, relief, and—on those rarest of occasions—love. And it's not just the character expressions that are diverse, but the character designs as well. Consider this: there's a relationship diagram in the back of Volume 8 showing all the major players, and the surprising thing is just how easy it is to identify everyone on sight. However, with all this focus on characters, Nakahara sometimes skimps on the backgrounds, letting entire stretches of dialogue go by with little more than some cute patterned screentones to set the stage. At least those dialogue scenes are very well paced and laid out, with plenty of white space and dramatic pauses as needed, making each key moment all the more picturesque and memorable.
Of course, drawn-out dialogue scenes with minimal backgrounds are much more enjoyable when the dialogue is loaded with energy and wit. A couple of choice quotes have already been mentioned above, but even when there isn't a smash-hit one-liner, there's still the rhythm of the back-and-forth exchanges (whether between Risa and Ôtani, or any of their other friends) that make the whole series come alive. Admittedly, the English translation will never exactly capture the unique lilt of Kansai dialect, but sprinklings of contemporary slang help to give the text its own particular flavor.
As far as supplemental material goes, Volume 7 is pretty light (may we interest you in the lyrics of Risa and Ôtani's favorite music artist Umibozu?), but Volume 8 hits the jackpot, with a "Love*Com Rangers" spoof short, a complete summary of the series so far presented in a quirky "class notes" manner, and—as if that wasn't enough—a pop quiz to test the knowledge of true fans. Considering that this latest volume basically brings the main characters up to their final semester of high school, it's a very good place to look back and see how far they've come.
Connoisseurs of romantic comedy don't need to be told to check out Love*Com—they've already been following the series from the beginning. Meanwhile, those who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet just need to know that making the trip through the first 8 volumes of the series is well worth it. This is young love at its best, a giddy celebration of all those emotions you go through when there's that one special person that makes your heart do backflips. Volume 7 is where it all pays off, that moment where you raise your arms in triumph and go "YESSS!!" ... and Volume 8, while not quite as momentous, is still a whole lot of bouncy fun. Love takes time to grow, and watching it grow with such a delightful cast of characters makes it all the sweeter.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Great characters, great dialogue, and eye-catching art all add up to a hilarious and touching portrayal of how an unlikely couple gets together.
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