Bakuman: Initial Thoughts

When I first heard that there was a manga out there created by the same artist/author team that did Death Note, the first thing that crossed my mind was “money grab.”

Honestly, with Hollywood playing up the “from the same creative minds behind <insert blockbuster hit of five years ago here>” you can’t blame me for initially thinking such. Though considering the creative mind that is the meshing of artist Takeshi Obata and author Tsugumi Ohba, I guess I should have given them the benefit of the doubt. Upon reading the first volume of the manga, even without any shinigami, you could immediately tell it had that Death Note vibe, with Obata once again having his fantastic art competing against Ohba’s continuous onslaught of speech bubbles yet in the long run still making for a good read unlike the page compositions of some certain pirate manga that whenever bombarded with text just makes me want to puke… but that’s beside the point.

Story aside, is anyone actually surprised this series got an anime adaptation?

Having read the first volume of the manga, I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into… but nothing could prepare myself for the cheesiness that was the opening song. Darn you, Kobukuro and all your inspirational folk tunes.

So we’re introduced to the melancholic Moritaka, a ninth grader still fresh off the heels of his visions of becoming a manga artist like his uncle. Already somewhat down from his uncle’s less than uplifting story of how he became a manga artist in an attempt to get closer to a certain female acquaintance of his, the actual death of his uncle from overworking doesn’t exactly help Moritaka all that much. Disappointed with the world and its discouragement of following your dreams, the kid’s been in quite the slump, as a string of soliloquies demonstrates.

Enter Akito: the one blonde kid in class which of course translates to a person of interest. Noticing how Moritaka forgot one of his notebooks after class, Akito anticipated his coming back after hours and waits for him with a proposition in mind. Creeper status? Maybe. But it’s an anime, so we all know that his character design must match his actual character, meaning his intentions must be pure. In pure “because the plot calls for it” form, Akito is the perfect sidekick to Moritaka, being the class’ smart kid yet still holding out for a future more glamorous than your typical government job—the manga author to Moritaka’s manga artist.

“At this rate, you’re gonna watch your life pass by at a snail’s pace! You’re fine with that being all your life amounts to?”
“It’s weirder to have and strive for a dream in ninth grade.”

Still being the realist, discouraged from continuing his dreams after seeing the life his uncle lived, Moritaka is less than enthused at the blondie’s proposition, taking his notebook back and going home to play some videogames… which will forever be the kid equivalent to heavy drinking when in a slump. But it seems like Akito just can’t let Moritaka be, since he calls the guy in an elaborate scheme involving Moritaka’s crush to eventually get him to buddy up and actually try to make a living in the manga industry. So besides the obvious themes of following one’s dreams, Ohba also suggests that in order to strive for what we truly desire, we must be willing to come off as a bit creepy first. Yeah, this is an anime for otaku, alright.

To compare to Ohba and Obata’s other teamup project, this seems like a much better adaptation so far than Death Note’s. While the former really made a point of playing up the dark nature of the manga with its lighting and sudden lightning storms not present in the manga, Bakuman has done a pretty good job of keeping the same ambiance kept in the manga, not watering down the series to one basic theme (with exception to the opening theme, which I guess is allowed to pull that off). Swift changes between dramatic monologues and goofy school goings-on are well executed, with a lighthearted soundtrack that doesn’t keep viewers too down when the characters are getting too serious.

What I especially enjoyed this time around, though, was how the small little jokes from the manga were also kept for the anime. What brought down the Death Note anime for me was how a majority of the lighthearted moments were removed, all for the sake of maintaining the series’ serious atmosphere. Sure, there were Misa’s occasional outbursts, but the manga just had so much more to offer. With Bakuman, every memorable gag, no matter how small, was kept for the first episode from Akito’s stuttering to the ever so awkward meeting up with Moritaka’s crush.

My one fear for the series is that it’s been slated for 25 episodes total, with the manga series itself not even being finished yet, at 10 graphic novels as of late. Will the series pull an FMA and make a new ending while the manga continues? It sure seems possible, and based on the nature of the series, it’s not exactly the type of story to have that major of a twist near the end of the story to differentiate the manga from the anime. Still, only time will tell.


The Rise and Fall of Manga Scanlations

For the first time in at least four years, I bought a manga from the bookstore. The manga in question, Pluto, is a nice short series that I had always planned on purchasing, having already read the series and was very pleased with it as a whole. But where exactly did I read the series in its entirety? A friend? The library? Please—if you even considered either possibility, I will be forced to ask you in return just exactly when you’ll be deciding on replacing your VCR with a DVD player. As most are well aware of, or at least most familiar with the topic, manga, like most things, is most accessible through them there thing the kiddies call the internets.

Let’s face it—even if you want to be as legitimate as possible when it comes to your manga reading, whether it be buying official volumes when released or borrowing them from friends/the library, it cannot be ignored that reading manga online via scanlations is much more efficient. Sure, the eye strain from staring at the screen for hours on end is a con, but the same was said about comic book nerds back in the day when reading their printed weekly releases. Not only does the internet have a wider range of titles to read from than any friend, library, or bookstore has to offer, but you also have the whole “instant gratification” factor working for you as well, getting your freshly scanned and translated manga titles available on a weekly basis.

… but that still doesn’t stop the fact that this is technically stealing, if the manga title has an official releaser in whatever region of the globe you happen to be in. I, myself, made something of an effort to fight the good fight back in the day. Before I even knew what scanlations were, I would buy volumes of manga on a regular basis, keeping up with multiple series at once and buying every single volume, even in the case where the plot started to noticeably dip. What choice did I have? I enjoyed the series and was hell-bent on reading the series to its end, in hopes that the plot would get better as long as I kept buying volume after volume. Back then, manga wasn’t exactly mainstreamed, and when it came to things like SSR-time during school, I was happy to share some of my volumes with friends. But as time passed and friends started to get hip to the times, the ancient-old trend of having to “be in on the conversation” kicked in. Manga conversations about things I had no idea were going on in any of the series I was following started to become somewhat regular conversation among some peers. For a while, my mantra was that I would wait it out until the corresponding volumes were officially released in the states, but a guy can only take so much until he wants back in on everything.

So I started catching up and reading scanlations, and for a time that seemed perfectly fine.

Of course, leave it to the corporate guys in suits to bring on the guilt-trip.

Sure, manga scanlators would occasionally bring up instances of cease and desist orders from companies and would eventually stop their scanlations altogether, but that only led to the burden of scanlations being passed on to another group, continuing what the guys before them started. In the world that is the internet, it always feels as if having an infinite amount of resources at your fingertips means that even things like cease and desist orders are nothing more than a temporary setback. But this… I mean, just read ANN’s opening statement on the issue:

The 36 publishers in Japan’s Digital Comic Association and several American publishers are forming a coalition to combat the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations — illicit digital copies of manga either translated by fans or scanned directly from legitimate English releases.

36? Try typing that out: thirty-six. Yeah, that looks like even more than before, right?

Now in general, I don’t exactly keep up with the latest and greatest in news concerning the manga/anime fandom, but in this case, I stumbled into this story at least three times (the third source being—what else—facebook) online and with each read of what was to happen, I became more and more anxious and began to mentally plan myself for what I’d have to do in the worst case scenario. At least with the bigger name titles out there, American publishers have really started to get their game-face on and are practically on the toes of their Japanese publishing counterparts, which made me consider getting back to renewing my domestic Shonen Jump subscription. And of course, when it came to the more small-time titles, I guess that would just mean more time spent at Borders and Barnes & Noble snooping through the shelves and seeing exactly which chapters I’ve yet to read. I honestly didn’t make all that big of a deal of things at first, but as notices were put up on my go-to scanlation site and buddies constantly brought up the topic, I felt like something on my part had to be done just to prepare.

All this planning and preparation for the manga-apocalypse ultimately resulted in my purchasing of Pluto Volume 1 today and I must say that actually having gone through the process of stepping foot in a bookstore and leaving with manga at hand has reminded me just how utterly and ridiculously out of proportions the situation has gotten.

Yes, publishers are finally cracking down on scanlations, but this does not in any way affect the online scanlating community as well as the manga community as a whole. Just doing a quick google search right now, there are still plenty of scanlation sites still up and running, ripe with perfectly intact manga titles—I’m not condoning scanlations, I’m just saying that realistically, there will always be people out there that want their instant gratification and are willing to go to any seedy underbelly reach to get their fix. So while I’ll admit that I’ll be looking up a new site for my scanlations, I’m more than willing to reach some kind of middleground and go back to picking up some titles from the bookstores—sporadically reading through a series while on the can is more comfortable with a tangible book than with a laptop, anyway.

Urasawa’s Mind Must be Creepy as all Hell

I’m not that big of a Star Trek fan, but when the latest movie came out I figured I’d give it a shot. And surprisingly enough, it was a pretty good movie—nothing crazy amazing, mind you, but in comparison to the crapton of sci-fi movie flops, it was definitely a must-see. In that same sense, I guess I can see where people come from when they talk about manga-ka Naoki Urasawa.

For the uninitiated, Naoki Urasawa in a nutshell is one of the bigger name manga authors out there, writing critically acclaimed series Monster, Pluto and 20th Century Boys just to name some of his bigger titles. While he started off writing gag manga, most people know him for his psychological thrillers, making use of a story-telling style putting readers on end while jumping between multiple characters’ stories. In that sense, it’s like NBC’s Heroes… except done right.

Last year, my dorm neighbor first introduced me to Urasawa with 20th Century Boys. Being about a group of ragtag kids finding out which one of their friends has become a terrorist in their adult lives, the series does a good job of telling the story in a rather nostalgic way, making me actually wish I was born before the days of the Amber Alerts, so I could walk down to the Malt Shops and do whatever the hell they do at those places. But while the concept was solid, the story got pretty ridiculous with their technology as they moved from the ‘70s timeline to the less factual world of the new millennium. By then, I really just started reading for the sake of finishing the series. Thankfully, though, the series picked up in the home stretch and delivered quite the excellent finale, wrapping up all loose ends, if not efficiently at least in an understandable manner.

Later that year, I followed up with Pluto, Urasawa’s dark take on an arc from Osamu Tezuka’s well known series Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu for you purists). Again, the story starts off solidly, coming off as more noir-like than anything else, with a detective trying to figure out who’s been killing off all the more advanced robots in the world. Details like the robot laws (which I’m absolutely sure I, Robot had to have taken a page from) really made for a more believable futuristic society. What ended up disappointing me this time, though, was the ending of the series. While Urasawa was just cranking out awesomeness after awesomeness in each chapter, it seemed as if he was really trying too hard to focus the story on Atom (this series’ “Astro Boy” equivalent) even though he already formed a solid story with all the other characters. This resulted in a rather rushed finale, with everything coming to quite the abrupt end. Some kind of epilogue as was done with 20th Century Boys would have really helped.

Now, with my current winter break being everything past breaks have been cracked up to be, I was able to finish up the title I’ve heard the most acclaim for: Monster. A doctor, questioning his place in the world, must hunt down a young boy he brought back from the brink of death, who’s now become a serial killer. Once again, a solid story… but what about the middle and end? Actually, I found little to complain about this time around and was pleased with nearly every point in the story; each step was clearly done to move the story forward, rather than backwards, sideways, slantways, or any other ways, like the other two titles did. If anything, I was more concerned with how each point in the story was told, with some minor events taking a bit longer than expected, and some of the more major events happening almost too quickly, especially during the climax.

Having read some of Urasawa’s big-hitting series, I figured I’d continue my trek on the bandwagon and start following his latest series, Billy Bat. The story starts off in America with a Japanese-American cartoonist making it big with his hit series Billy Bat—an Adventures of Tin Tin-esque kind of series filled with mystery and adventure. Little does the author know that he somehow subconsciously stole the character from an already existing series in Japan. While the story is interesting enough to draw readers in, I’m sorry to say that so far, only a mere 24 chapters in, the series has already taken a turn for the worse in explaining the cause of the author’s subconscious plagiarizing in the first place. Seriously, bringing Christ into the plot will either make it or break it for you. Furthermore, Urasawa is beginning to insert his morals into the story in a rather flawed fashion. With his previous series, there’d be occasional “Public Service Announcement” talk integrated into the story lines, ranging from alcohol abuse, to drugs and sex (wondering just how many tag searches I pulled in just by typing that). But while such talk was rather obvious to point out, it didn’t detract enough from the story that it came off as obnoxious. In Billy Bat’s case, though, later chapters especially dealing with racism seem to be just so over the top when it comes to preachiness. I mean, I could almost hear myself rolling my eyes as I was reading through those chapters. Definitely the black sheep (or more accurately, “the Heroes seasons 2+”) of Urasawa’s works.

So, there you go: four of the great Naoki Urasawa’s critically acclaimed titles taken apart by some lowly blogger who clearly has no concept of what true writing’s all about, right? Well for those who haven’t already exited out of this entry, let me make a feeble attempt in justifying myself. Urasawa is clearly not your run-of-the-mill manga-ka, writing stories that captivate readers due to their complex and thought-provoking storylines more than anything else. But even with all the praise he gets, I still think, based on his more popular series, that he has yet to reach the peak of his work. So far, we’ve seen that he has been capable of setting up an excellent basis for each of his stories, but is still lacking the “oomph” needed to really bring everything together. Regardless, many see his works as literary genius not because of their overall setup, but because of the ideas and concepts brought up in them. Like, imagine seeing the theory of relativity explained written entirely in crayon—the concepts discussed are clearly well done, but its delivery is rather lacking, is all.

Or if that doesn’t work for you imagine JJ Abrams’ Star Trek. So many people gave such positive reviews of the film, but that’s not to say that it’s the greatest thing in the history of forever. It’s more like there were so little works of the same genre to compare it to at the time (and the later ones that did exist were seen as crap), that in comparison, of course it would come off as the greatest thing in the history of forever. I mean, let’s face it: as much as I love DBZ, it doesn’t exactly have the kind of “makes you think”-ness that any of Urasawa’s work delivers. But because I’m a fan, I’m probably more likely to use my $25 Target Christmas card to put a pre-order for the latest Dragon Box, while the live action sub 20th Century Boys will probably end up on my Wish List for future events.

So don’t get me wrong – I definitely see Urasawa as a genius when it comes to his topics of choice he covers in his manga. He just needs some time to perfect that genius, is all. Eh, I’ll stop now before I go crazy with the analogies again.

Red, Blue, Green and Yellow

Pokemon. I’m sure by now, we’ve all heard of the term. And whether it be through the anime, videogames, or those sermons telling you how devilish the series’ undertones are, I think we can all agree that pokemon in any and all forms has made its way into our pop culture.

But one form of media most American fans may not be aware of is its manga form. Back in the early 2000s, the US started to dabble in bringing some manga titles over stateside. I remember back in the day when I’d go to the Stanford shopping center and find these Pokemon Adventures paperback manga the size of a textbook (not in terms of width, mind you, so I guess a more accurate comparison would be to a “Where’s Waldo?” book) with a chapter or two telling of some stories based, not on the anime, but going straight to the source and having its stories based on the videogames themselves.

Every week, I would check out that very corner of the bookstore to see if there would be any more chapters available. And in some cases, I would even go as far as buying those crazy big books, taking them home and re-reading protagonist Red’s wacky adventures ranging from getting lost in the Safari Zone to entering a cycling competition only to meet a Snorlax road block in the middle of everything. It didn’t matter that there would be massive holes between the chapters I read (at this point, I think I was under the impression that only select events from the videogame would be made into manga form, skipping humongous chunks as the author/artist pleases); as long as the story was interesting, and did a good job of fleshing out the already ginormous world that was created in the videogames, I was plenty satiated.

So, a few years pass, and Pokemon Adventures becomes nothing more than a memory. Note that at this time, manga has finally hit the mainstream in the states and I became more preoccupied with other titles (you know the ones: DBZ, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Bleach…), and apparently, so did Viz, the company in charge of cranking out these titles for the American audiences, since I didn’t hear another word about the series for quite some time.

It probably wasn’t until a random chance search that I even got back into the series. Whether it was from the site’s search suggestions or because I randomly remembered the series and wanted to revisit it, I forget, but whatever the case, I remember being completely shocked to find that Viz had released entire volumes worth of Pokemon Adventures. Finally being privy to such awesome knowledge, I just had to hunt down these volumes to add to what will eventually become a rather large collection of manga. And of course, the order of events was still not a concern to me. I remember reading the Red/Blue/Green story arc from last, to middle, to first. The same goes for the Yellow story arc, though in that case I ended being completely lost, since the manga started to verge from the videogames on a noticeable level. I mean, the Elite Four being an evil organization? Red getting lost with some androgynous character replacing him as the main protagonist? Blasphemy! But either way, I ended up hunting down each volume Viz released, which ended with main character Yellow’s story at volume 7. So that was it; a nice short collection of volumes telling the story of various characters based on one of my favorite videogames has come to a close. If I didn’t know any better, I would have just assumed the manga ended there and gone on with my life.

Sorry, life; I’m sure if you were somehow personified, you’d be pretty pissed off at me and refuse to go to any of my birthday parties ever again.

Further looking into the series, and with the birth of Wikipidia finally reaching topics as obscure as manga series, I realized that the series, originally known as “Pokemon Special,” is still an ongoing series, spanning 30+ volumes. However, with manga scanlations for the series being pretty much non-existant to my knowledge, the best I had to deal with were story arc summaries—stuff about a Gold and Silver character with later references to the older cast just made me want to hunt down those later parts of the series even more, but to no avail… that is, until I just recently decided to do a search for it again. (note: this author does not condone the distribution of licensed manga)

Alright, so having reached volume ten of the series, I gotta admit that I thought the earlier chapters were much more entertaining. Later chapters just seem like the author is trying too hard to tie everything together and still having it connect to the videogame stories. And with an all-too-fast pacing as well as a new cast I can’t really get a close connection to, I must say that so far, I’m just reading the series just for the sake of getting to the end… y’know, kinda like Naruto and Bleach.

Going through later chapters, I finally reached a wall of sorts. It just so happens that the scanlators of the series were actually given a “cease and desist” from Viz, leading people to assume that Viz has taken an interest in the series once more, and maybe even releasing the series past volume 7 this time…?

With the series going through a resurrection of sorts with the new videogame remakes, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There were also some inklings of this from Viz, themselves, having released “Best of” versions of the Red/Blue/Green arc and Yellow arc of the series.

From what I saw flipping through those volumes, they seem to be the same chapters from their older releases (even flipping the chapters to read from left to right) only skipping some of the “filler” portions and keeping the size of the volumes to match those of their current manga. Not the best move, but still, something.

It wasn’t until just recently that I’d see a couple true re-releases of the older Pokemon Adventures volumes. In fact, I was even considering picking up a volume just for the sake of comparison, but considering my level of interest in the series as well as some problems I found skimming through things, I just couldn’t see myself taking the time to make a double-dip purchase—sorry!

Flipping through the re-release of the third volume, my all-time favorite volume of the series, you could immediately see a good number of pros to buying the series. For one, the pages are kept so you read them from right to left. Second point, and a biggie at that, was that they left the pages at the beginning and end of the volumes covering which locations on the Kanto map were covered in which chapters as well as the main characters’ pokemon lineup and what level each one is at, at that time—things that weren’t included in Viz’s original run of the series.

However, with the good, there’s also gotta be the bad. Already having my suspicions, I flipped to a certain match in the series that got a bit suggestive near its conclusion and, to my quasi-surprise, I found that some censorship and re-writing was amuck. Granted, I know that the states has their own boundaries for what the kiddies these days are allowed to read, but really… even though it’s got the “Pokemon” name attached to it, I think any story that shows a snake getting sliced in half, spirits re-animating what is clearly shown as rotting flesh as well as evil corporations extracting DNA from their own workers for the sake of the completion of a new species at the least warrants a slight “T” rating. And if you really want to get technical, chapter titles are still not true to the original, which always started with a “vs.” followed by the name of whatever pokemon was featured in that chapter. The names of two of the protagonists have also been kept switched as in the original printing. I guess us Americans still have a problem giving the female protagonist a “masculine” colored name…?

Still, overall, I’d say those are understandable changes (honestly, I doubt there’ll be enough censorship in a series like this for it to affect the purchasing of volumes I don’t have) and I highly suggest you pick up on the series.

Oh, and with signs finally showing that Viz is following through past the 7th volume of the series, I think poke-fans everywhere should be rejoicing by now.

I’m no expert on the history behind this series, but going through a certain forum where I found out about the 8th volume’s release in the first place, I noticed that I wasn’t the only person interested in the series. In fact, it turns out that entire regions of the planet were interested in the manga series to the point that they actually continued on with releasing volumes while little ol’ us kept getting shafted in the states. From what I’ve read, some fans would go as far as paying major bucks to import these later volumes just to keep up with a series that had long been forgotten by the states until just recently. So, including the scanlators, that makes a total of three different English translations of the same series, making for quite the number of possible name switcheroos here and there once the US releases start to get caught up. And while this has led to more questions being asked than answered, I’m just glad my oldentime seven volumes of the series can soon be accompanied by the following 20+.

external links:
Pokemon Special Official Website: Everything’s in Japanese, but boy howdy are the pictures purdy!

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.

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