It's a sweet high school romance with a charming lead, but a few pacing stumbles and an unsatisfying cliffhanger leave this introduction a little lacking.
Writer/Artist: Karuho Shiina
Translation: Tomo Kimura
Adaptation: Tomo Kimura
What They Say
Sawako Kuronuma is the perfect heroine...for a horror movie. With her jet-black hair, sinister smile and silent demeanor, she's often mistaken for Sadako, the haunting character from Ringu. Unbeknownst to but a few, behind her scary façade is a very misunderstood teenager. Shy and pure of heart, she just wants to make friends. But when Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, befriends her, she's sure to make more than just that--she's about to make some enemies too!
Viz has gone with its traditional, solid-but-not-outstanding packaging treatment on Kimi ni Todoke with one obvious exception: they've included a sheet of stickers that would have been available with the Japanese releases as a bonus items. It's not enough to cover a person's walls; there are about a dozen stickers that feature the characters, and a handful of smaller ones with simple flowers. There are a few a few nitpicks to make about this (the sheet is difficult to remove, and "Bonus Stickers Inside" is printed on the front cover), but it's a nice little extra to have, especially when considering how few companies experiment with things like this. The rest of the packaging is solid; Viz has created a very nice theme of pinks and blues that reflect two major colors of the front artwork, and the fonts chosen also work very well. The cover itself is a nice picture of the two leads leaning towards each other, but the teal background is a little too empty for my tastes. As per their usual, Viz has provided a good translation with few flaws and two pages of translation notes at the back of the book.
Shiina's art is pleasing, in a traditional shoujo sort of way: characters are long-limbed and attractive, though Sawako and Yoshida have less stereotypical character designs, but hands are often spindly and over-sized. Fans of Kazune Kawahara's High School Debut will find some similarities here in the somewhat exaggerated but expressive faces and noticeably wide mouths, which may or may not be coincidence--Shiina mentions Kawahara in one of the sidebars. The layout and backgrounds are standard shoujo fare; limited backgrounds, sparkly screentones, and occasionally cramped frame layouts. There's nothing really creative about the overall artistic presentation, but it does mesh well with content.
Sawako Kuronuma has had the misfortune of not only looking like a villain from a horror movie, but also having a first name that is only one letter off from a famous one--Sadako. Her intense shyness doesn't help matters, either, especially now that she's in a class in high school without any of her friends from junior high. There are even rumors going around that she can curse people, which means that the faculty's afraid of her, too! She often admires the most popular and outgoing boy in the class, named Kazehaya, who is always kind to her and doesn't seem to fear her like the rest of the class. When he arranges a test of courage in the woods for the class, Sawako plays the role of the ghost and is thrilled when her classmates are (enjoyably) terrified. Some students mistakenly assume that Kazehaya and Sawako are dating, and though she's afraid of damaging the popular boy's reputation, he doesn't seem to mind, and asks Sawako if he can see her over the summer vacation.
Originally, the story would have ended here. Published as a one-shot story in Japan, it was only later picked up to be a full series (which the author's notes at the end of each chapter explain). The conclusion to "chapter 0," as it is titled in the book, is open-ended, but strongly implies that Sawako and Kazehaya will become a couple. So when the official first chapter comes along, the author must do a bit of retooling on the story to turn it back into one that focuses on whether or not the two leads will ever get together. It feels like backpedaling, and returns their relationship to the status quo: they both like each other, but do not think that their feelings are reciprocated. The friendship that they develop as a result of these incorrect beliefs is innocent and sweet, but it makes me fear that the author is going to drag out the story for many, many more volumes before ever reaching the point where Sawako and Kazehaya become a couple.
As I said, though, Sawako's growing friendship, not only with Kazehaya but also with Yano and Yoshida, is a rewarding thing to see. Her child-like joy at being brought into a circle of friends and accepted for her true personality is touching, and both Yano and Yoshida develop into likable characters during their somewhat limited screen time. Kazehaya is a different story. There are clearly layers to his personality, but as of the end of this volume, we've seen very little beyond the apparently perfect and incredibly nice aspects of him--and this is despite the heavy interaction that he and Sawako have, be it him encouraging her to be more outgoing or simply the two of them playing with his new puppy. Sawako's social awkwardness can also get a little overwhelming at times, especially when we're told that she had friends in junior high. Still, it's a refreshing change to have romantic leads in a shoujo series who are genuinely nice people that enjoy each other's company, without any ulterior motives. The other main sour note in the volume is the supposed cliffhanger of the last page where Sawako is accused of spreading rumors about Yano and Yoshida. It's such an obvious lie that I can only hope that the two girls have enough common sense to see through it immediately in the next volume.
Kimi ni Todoke was a fan favorite before it was brought to the US, and the reasons for that are clear: the art is pleasant, and the story is a subdued, more realistic version of the ever-popular "ugly duckling" stereotype. It's a feel-good series so far, one that's innocent and focuses more on the friendship of its romantic leads than their romantic development. But that's the very thing that drags it down: their constant blushing and internal monologues about how the other person doesn't actually like them are quite frustrating, especially when we were so close to resolution at the end of the first installment. If the series can avoid dragging out the romantic "will they or won't they" for too long, then I'll expect it to become a series not to be missed by shoujo fans.