Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Love Story!!
Takeo Goda is a big, muscular, masculine guy of the sort who very rarely gets the girl. But that doesn't stop him from falling for a series of sweet young ladies, only to watch them fall for his best friend, the classically handsome (for shoujo anyway) Sunakawa. Then one day Takeo saves a girl from a groper on the train. He then punches the groper in front of a cop and gets suspended from school, only to have the girl, Rinko Yamato show up at his house to thank him! Takeo falls hard, but suspects that she really likes Suna...but maybe, just maybe, this time things will be different?
Shoujo manga often gets itself into a rut, especially the high school romances. Take one sweetly naive girl, add two dudes with different hair colors and opposite personalities, a wacky friend, mix, et voila! Eighty percent of the genre. While this can be plenty of fun and many are done very well, it is nice to see a series mix that up a bit, and that is precisely what My Love Story does. Written by Kazune Kawahara of High School Debut fame and illustrated by Aruko, whose English-language debut this is, My Love Story takes the basic tropes of shoujo romance and gives us a different spin on them. The result is very enjoyable.
The case of the story is really very small – we have hero Takeo Goro, his best friend Suna, and the girl, Yamato. Later on one more named character is added, but most of the book revolves strictly around these three. Takeo is visually the kind of character we tend to see relegated to the background, not just of fluffy romances, but of manga in general. He's huge (he'd have a nickname like “gorilla” in most series), buzzes his hair into a flattop, and has the thick lips generally used to denote an unattractive character. All the guys love him, all the girls think he's just a big, loud, dumb guy. But underneath his exterior beats the heart of a nice guy. Takeo knows he's not as attractive as his friend Suna, but he tries not to let it bother him. He's quick to help anyone in distress and has a strong sense of social justice. He doesn't help cats out of trees or stop creepers because he's big and strong, he does it because in his mind, that's just what you do – help people out. So when he spots the groper bothering Yamato on the train, it never crosses his mind not to do something.
Interestingly enough, it was Suna who initially saw the groper in action. His response to the situation was to tell Takeo, which at the time feels like he's just sort of a passive player in life. We first meet him turning down any number of girls, most of whom Takeo had a crush on at one point, and while he initially feels like a cold jerk, it slowly becomes evident that, like with his friend, there is more going on with Suna than there at first appears to be. This is sort of the unwritten rule of My Love Story – that the surface really hides what's going on underneath. In a way it is vaguely reminiscent of Aya Kanno's Otomen, but less about gender roles and more about who people are versus who they look like. That said, you'll probably enjoy this if you like Kanno's series.
Since Takeo is the point of view character, we hear very little of the inner thoughts of the other players unless they're speaking them aloud. This close perspective is an interesting device in this story, as Takeo's own naiveté makes him somewhat suspect as a narrator. He fully admits not really understanding girls, which leads to a misunderstanding when he is asked, in Yamato's presence, what it is he likes about her. Rather than being treated as a miserable social gaffe that will take pages to rectify, Kawahara simply writes it as a learning experience for both he and Yamato, and although her reaction does have some overtones of social commentary, it is not harped on. This story is a learning experience for Takeo, and that certainly helps add to its charm.
Aruko's art is very soft and pleasant although nothing spectacular, using a fair amount of screentones but never allowing them to overwhelm the page. Takeo is not what we tend to view as “attractive” within the genre, but he is by no means ugly and the contrast of his physical build to Suna's is visually interesting. Very thick lines between panels are used to denote different time periods within the story, which can be missed if you're reading quickly, but overall this reads easily, both in image and in translation.
My Love Story is a delightful story about the underdog becoming the romantic lead. Takeo is a charming hero, even if his lack of ability to judge people can be a bit absurd at times, and the rest of the cast is equally interesting, particularly Suna. With its first person point of view keeping us out of the other characters' heads, pleasant artwork, and changes to the high school shoujo romance formula, this is a series for both fans of the genre and those who are sick of it.
Overall : B+
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Takeo is a likeable hero, story plays with the basic shoujo romance by casting him as lead. Some interesting social commentary in one spot, Suna is more intriguing than he at first appears.
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