The understated drama of We Were There is sure to make it a favorite for those who like their shoujo a little quieter and more realistic.
Writer/Artist: Yuki Obata
Translation: Nancy Thistlethwait
Adaptation: Tetsuichiro Miyaki
What They Say
Nanami Takahashi falls for Motoharu Yano, the most popular, carefree boy in class. For Nanami, it's first love, but Yano is still grieving the death of his girlfriend who died the year before.
Nanami starts high school with high hopes of making lots of friends. She develops a crush on the enigmatic Yano, but he may have too many secrets for her to handle.
Viz has gone a step above their usual packaging with the release of We Were There. The cover is a very appealing, if slightly understated illustration of Nanami and Yano standing in a field that captures the essence of Obata's simple, attractive artwork. The cover, rather than being uniformly slick in texture like most Shojo Beat releases, has a slightly more textured feel to it, while the front cover title has the usual slick, glossy appearance and feel. The back cover is also very lovely, featuring another lovely illustration of Yano and Nanami, framed in cloudy pastel blues. The summary is present, as are two quotes from the first volume. Internal credit pages and the table of contents also have a cloudy black-and-white gradation. Viz has stressed the "soft" visual aspect of this packaging, and it works very well considering the content.
Obata's artwork is, above all, simple and clean. Characters are drawn in a minimalist fashion, with over-large ears, hands, and eyes. One aspect of the art that may bother some is that they eyes are, essentially, pupil-less, which makes the characters look as though they are blankly staring at everything. Even these eyes disappear when they are covered by a single strand of hair, or are placed anywhere near the edge of a panel; the author just opts not to draw them. However, the characters have a wide range of expression that rarely descends into SDs. The expressions themselves can add more depth to the characters’ emotions than words alone can, and greatly enhance this series with all of its focus on internalized emotions. Panels and text bubbles can be cramped, but this does allow for much more plot progression in such a conversation-based series.
The translation for this series is solid throughout; it's very easy to read and feels natural, particularly when the characters begin to discuss more delicate aspects of their emotions and pasts. Japanese honorifics are retained, which becomes important when trying to differentiate between "Nana-chan," our main character, and "Nana-san," Yano's ex-girlfriend. It does hit a few minor snags, particularly during a conversation that Nanami and Takeuchi share on a bus. While believing they are talking about the same person, Takeuchi is talking about Yano, while Nanami thinks they are discussing Yuri. As the English translation requires gender-specific pronouns, the translators opted to use the word "it" instead and have the two of them be talking about the situation, rather than the people involved. It's a moderately distracting snag from an otherwise solid translation.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Nanami Takahashi, age 15, is faced with an unenviable dilemma: even on her second day of high school, she's yet to find anyone she went to junior high with or manage to make new friends. When she manages a friendly conversation with two girls who are already close, Nanami promises to nominate one of them for class president. The only problem is that Nanami can't remember the girl's name, and when she asks another boy in their grade, he purposefully gives her the wrong name--and Nanami ends up as class president. After that mortifying situation, Nanami knows that she has at least made her first unfriendly relationship with one Motoharu Yano.
However, things don't stay that bad for long. She manages to get on cordial terms with the girl who sits next to her in class, the standoffish, intelligent Yuri Yamamoto, and at least finds herself fitting in with her classmates a little more easily. And despite the way that Yano treated her before, Nanami is unable to resist his personable charm and easy going nature, even as she finds out more and more about his past. It turns out that Yano was dating Yuri's older sister, Nana, when she died in a car crash, but that Nana had been cheating on him. Even knowing that she could never compete with the gorgeous, older, deceased Nana, Nanami summons her courage and confesses. Yano's reaction is only more confusing for her, as he is unconcerned and kind by turns, often expressing that he simply "doesn't know."
We Were There's first volume is a quiet introduction into a series that, so far, promises to have subtle, emotional drama far beyond what most of its contemporaries settle for. Nanami's character, which could have easily descended into the somewhat dim-witted, energetic heroine, manages to avoid many of the clichés through simple self-awareness. She has a crush on Yano, despite his sometimes rude and hypocritical actions, but knows both of these things. The only real hindrance to this story is that charisma is hard to portray via illustrations, and Yano sometimes comes off looking like the smooth talker that he is rather than someone with natural likability. However, by the end of the first volume, he manages to redeem himself by solving Nanami's problems with little fanfare. The complex characters and realistic, understated drama promise to make this series a must-have for shoujo manga fans as it continues.