Uncharted Territory: First Steps into the World of Shojo

I dunno when it started to get to me, but as of late, I’ve just found it incredibly timid people incredibly well… annoying. I mean, it’s one thing to be the standard definition and just blend into the background, but it’s another thing entirely try to stay in the background even when other people are trying to help you out with something. Sure, I can make some exceptions; like for kids, it’s completely understandable to be at least a little shy, but when you get older, I seriously think it’s something you have to at least keep in check. But oddly enough, I know a decent number of people like this and boy howdy does it just get to me.

That said, I recently got into Kimi ni Todoke, a manga about an incredibly timid girl that slowly but surely begins to grow as a person when a random yet friendly classmate is the first person at her high school to talk to her on a regular basis.

Alright, being a guy reading a shojo title, I think I have to first take the time to justify my reading of such a title before I delve any further into the topic. Coming from an anime history of manly men beating the utter crap outta each other, you’d think that shojo of any caliber would be the last thing I would get into. Well, after picking up my first lady-friend, I figured some compromises had to come eventually and whaddya know… she forces me to read the entire series of a shojo called Saikano. Consensus on that title? I honestly thought it was crap. You have the typical boy/girl scenario, but with the twist being that the girl ends up being this beastly war machine called on occasion by the army. Furthermore, character interactions seemed a bit too shallow and there were a bit too many instances of the author just assuming that the reader would get how people would get from point A to point B, giving little to no explanation on things you’d think would need some reasoning in the first place.

So, again, why am I currently reading yet another shojo now? Well, given my current backstory, you should assume one of two routes were taken—either 1) I was suckered by the lady to pick up another title, or 2) breaking up with the lady, I figured I’d take a look at some shojo titles just to relive the old times and all that cheese. Yeah, go with the latter, of only for the fact that I like using the term “latter.”

Anyways, wanting to fill my now lady-less void, I wanted to take a look at some manga titles that appealed to the “X” in my XY chromosome. Knowing absolutely little on the shojo titles, I figured to look into the one I’ve heard the most about—Nana. And while the series has a big following, I honestly wasn’t able to even make it halfway through the first chapter just because I couldn’t find any kind of connection with the character. That’s the problem with shojo—unlike shonen, having complex personalities actually make a big difference in whether or not I’ll read it or not.

Well, having just snubbed one of the most well-known shojo out there, you’d think I’d just stop there. But really, with Naruto and Bleach having devolved into something that I just read for the sake of being there when it ends, I was in serious need of a new manga series to get into. So, thinking back on some random titles I’d come across in my old US Shonen Jump issues, I figured I’d give one of those series a try; reading the first chapter sample of Death Note in US SJ worked, so maybe it would work a second time. That was when I got into I”S. In short, while it wasn’t technically a shojo, it was something good and different in a heartwarming way that I’ve been in need of. Baby steps.

Well, after the well-written gush fest that was I”S, I figured I had enough of that kind of stuff for a while, and took things in a different direction looking into the “girly but for some reason it’s more acceptable for a guy to like these things” anime, mainly The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and its life partner, Lucky Star. And while Haruhi had a different kind of charm that I’d yet to see in any anime and Lucky Star’s amount of spoofage was something I hadn’t seen since the days of Tiny Toon Adventures, I still wanted something else—something that kept things in the “slice of life” genre without being too over the top about things. That’s when I thought of the earlier chapters of Bleach. While it was clearly took on elements of the fantastic, it had one of the most interesting character interactions I’ve seen in a while, actually enjoying the character’s down time at school more than the hectic fight scenes (which was part of the reason why I didn’t enjoy what I’ve seen of the anime nearly as much, since they watered down a good chunk of those better school scenes).

So now that I had some kind of standard, would I ever find something that would come to match it? Skimming through some titles in rightstuf’s catalog (an actual tangible catalog; weird, yeah?), the title We Were There caught my interest, but reading the first chapter and a half, I just couldn’t see what would separate it from every other “girl meets guy” story and stopped there. Augh, where to look, next?

Well, that’s where the twitter-feed comes in handy. I must have seen “Kimi ni Todoke” as a part of Anime News Network’s tweets at least twice a month over the last three or so months, being talked about as one of the best translated manga titles of the year and all that cool stuff. So, in the words of Doc Brown, “I figured, ‘what the hell?’”

Like I said a couple billion words back, Kimi ni Todoke (err, “Reaching You” or “From Me to You” if that better suits ya) focuses on a shy girl why starts to come out of her shell when a random friendly guy classmate starts talking to her. It seems so standard, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to stop reading it. While it clearly has your typical shojo relationship, it pulls off everything so perfectly that I can’t help but be endeared by not just the plot, but each of the characters and their interactions with each other. The main cast starts off as rather distant, but through a series of chance encounters, you begin to see them slowly begin to interact with each other. Furthermore, character interactions don’t necessarily mean an “automatic protagonist or antagonist,” as each episode leaves you curious as to just what the characters think of each other. Early on in the series, main female lead Sawako begins to interact with Yana and Yoshida—two girls who at first glance you would assume were raised on the wrong side of the tracks. At first, you’re led to believe that they merely talk to Sawako out of convenience, but you soon realize that their intentions aren’t as bad as initially thought to be. In that sense, I guess it’s kinda like the interactions in Heroes… but nowhere near as outlandish.

And if excellent character interactions weren’t enough, the series covered two main problems I had with previous romance series. One big problem I had with I”S was its use of humor, seeming to put them in the most random of places, making for a weird fit as you’d read the gag. Kimi ni Todoke just does such a great job of seamlessly inserting bits and pieces of humor into characters’ dialogue without distracting the reader from the overall plot. As for Saikano, one of its more prominent problems was the back and forth between the lead male and female characters. To be blunt, the number of times they seemed to make out throughout the story was just too much for me, especially when I think more focus could have gone into the actual story. Really, you’d think only American movies would be guilty of pulling something like that. Again, with KnT, things are just much more natural, with the two leads having barely made a move on each other, which makes you want to further read to see just when some kind of something between them will really start to happen. Overall, it’s just a sweet story that’s written in a way that doesn’t make me, a dude, feel embarrassed about reading in the first place.

… and when I found out there was an anime adaptation of the series… oh boy.

One thing I really like about anime adaptations of manga that have long been finished is that they don’t have the problem of spreading things out too thin so they don’t get ahead of the manga. From the first three episodes, it looks like the pacing is just right, with each episode covering a chapter in the manga. As for its overall look, the first episode seemed ripe with watercolor effects, while later episodes found it more fitting to use the artsy effect more sparingly. Some minor nitpicks I noticed so far have merely been in the addition of some things. The relationship with Yana and Yoshida, for example, seems to have been played out so that the audience automatically trusts them to at least be allies of Sawako, while the manga left readers guessing about that for a couple more chapters in. There also seems to be small inklings of a character that I’ve only just started to notice in the manga, too, which I guess isn’t all that bad; foreshadowing is always fun to mess around with, after all.

But enough about that. Moral of the story? Dudes should check out some shojo every now and then. I hear the ladies dig the whole sensitivity factor.


About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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