Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Girl With the Sanpaku Eyes
Amane Mizuno has sanpaku eyes, which according to Japanese lore makes her look mean. But the truth of the matter is that she's a shy sweetheart desperately trying to muster up the courage to talk to her crush, Katou. She's just gotten to the point where she can almost say good morning to him without collapsing, but does she have what it takes to…share a textbook with him? Being in love is hard enough without being shy and looking mean to complicate things!
Even though the world has moved on from phrenology (the 19th century “science” of determining a person's psychology via their features and any bumps on their scalp or skull), some pieces of it live on in popular culture. In Japanese lore, one of the major remnants of phrenology is the idea of “sanpaku,” more commonly phrased in English as “sanpaku eyes.” The term translates to “three whites,” and it refers to eyes where you can see the whites all around the iris; in manga and anime, that typically takes the form of a character with pinprick irises inside a vast eye-shape. It's said to denote someone mean, and one of the more popular tropes is when a character with sanpaku eyes is assumed to be unpleasant but turns out to be the sweetest so-and-so around.
While Ryuji from Toradora! may be among the best known characters who fit this trope, there are plenty of others, and Denpa's release of Shunsuke Sorato's The Girl With the Sanpaku Eyes makes it the central conceit around which the romance functions. Amane Mizuno, the heroine of the tale, is in fact a girl with the aforementioned eyes, and she seems to have designed her look around them: she bleaches her hair and gives off a “stay back” aura. But that's just Amane's way of protecting herself, because inside she's desperately shy and uncertain, and the implication is that looking scary is a very effective way of keeping people away. Now she's a little worried that it could have backfired on her, because she has a major crush on the boy who sits next to her, affable Mitsuhide Katou, and she really, really wants to be able to talk to him.
The irony of the plot is that Katou isn't at all put off by her sanpaku eyes or seemingly cold demeanor, and in fact it's Amane's own shyness that's getting in the way of their relationship – and also that her looks are fooling exactly no one in her class. That's really what makes this volume so endearing: Amane's classmates all clearly like and respect her and want her to be happy, and numerous panels show them looking on, as Amane and Katou take tentative steps towards each other, with big smiles on all of their faces. It's like the would-be couple has an entire class of fairy godparents watching over them, and that's far more effective than if Sorato had tried to make them more prominent characters. It creates a sense of warmth and well-being in a story that could very easily have drowned in tropes of cliques and jealousy, making the book a definite feel-good read.
There are two classmates who get names, Amane's friends Yui and Miyo. Their main role is to support and encourage the heroine, but we could say that they're the embodiment of the entire class, or at least their ambassadors. Miyo and Yui (in this volume, at least) voice the encouragement that we see in the silent faces of the rest of the group, keeping things to a manageable amount of named characters but still allowing for Amane to have a social group. Katou does interact with the others in class and seem to have specific guy friends, as we see during the inevitable sports festival chapters, but since the majority of the volume is from Amane's perspective, his friends remain largely in the background. This could change going forward, of course, but this easing into the setting and cast works well in an introductory book.
The graphic novel is fairly short at only 128 pages, but that length is about right for the content, which could risk becoming cloying if too much was presented at once. It's also in full color, which may help assuage price tag concerns. The color palette is subdued, mostly using pinks, blacks, and purples, so it remains easy on the eyes for readers who prefer their comics in black and white. Chapters are short (perhaps because it was originally serialized online) and simple to read in their page layouts. The translation is also smooth, making this just a comfortable read all around.
While the majority of the story is in Amane's perspective and the book is presented in regular manga format, there are extras at the back of the book that mix things up a little. Katou gets his own point of view chapter rehashing the opening scenes and letting us know that he's just as nervous (well, almost; no one's as anxious as poor Amane) about talking to his crush, and then there are four-panel strips forming a chapter about Yui and Miyo. These also pick up roughly where the book ends, with Amane going shopping with her older brother, so it really does feel like extra story content rather than random bits and pieces cobbled together to fill out the volume. It's also nice to see how others feel about Amane directly, since she has so little confidence in herself.
The Girl With the Sanpaku Eyes' first volume is, simply put, adorable. It's sweet and silly and manages to lean into a hoary old trope without feeling like we've read it a thousand times before. And even if we have, this is just so good-natured that it's hard not to like it. It may be short, but this is a charmer of a book that's the perfect cure for a bad day.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Charming characters, sweet story, and nice full-color art.
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