Last time we looked at a couple of supernatural romances. This time I want to look at something simple, just some classic, girl-meets-boy sort of stories. Today's review certainly fits that description, and its age would define it as a classic, but has it aged gracefully?
ITAZURA NA KISS (Playful Kiss), by Kaoru Tada. First published in 1991, and first published in North America in 2009.
Kotoko is a sweet young high school girl, if not something of a ditz. That doesn't stop her from crushing on Naoki Irie, the star student of Class A. She confesses her feelings, and he turns her down flat. Her classmates rally around Kotoko to support her, but her troubles are only beginning.
Her father's new home is damaged in an earthquake, and now their only option until the new house is built is to stay with her father's oldest friend. Said friend also happens to be Naoki's father. Now Kotoko is stuck in the same house as the boy she both loves and hates, all while her father and Naoki's mother conspire to bring their children together in love. Will Kotoko and Naoki learn to like one another, and will Naoki ever begin to return Kotoko's feelings?
The set-up should sound familiar: a spunky girl loves a distant, dickish guy, and bit by bit the latter learns to like (and eventually love) the former. Does Itazura na Kiss do anything different with this well-worn plotline? Nope! If anything, it takes too long to get to the point and does far too good of a job of making its leads total opposites.
Kotoko may be good-natured and spirited, but the story (not to mention many side characters) make no bones about her being rather oblivious, a poor student, and a terrible cook. It gets to the point where it goes far beyond rehashing lame jokes and well into mean-spirited territory. It's only pride and determination that keep Kotoko from feeling dejected, and it's only those feelings that keep this story from getting too depressing. It does help that her classmates are rather sweet in their support of her and her relationship, despite being a lot of dummies and thugs. The only downside to that is that their leader, Kin-chan, is very possessive and pushy when it comes to his own crush on Kotoko. Still, I would just as soon have him over Kotoko's actual love interest.
Naoki is nothing but a horrible, arrogant jackass. He's the sort who is perfect at pretty much everything he tries, and because of it he never has to exert himself at anything and sees everyone not as his level as not worth his time or notice, including Kotoko. Worse still, he has a little brother who is just like him, with the addition of a small child's willfulness. I wish I could say that Naoki gets any better by volume's end, but truthfully he does not - sure, he may come around a little bit to Kotoko, but his few kind words always come with backhanded compliments, so the progress is half-hearted in a 'one step forward, two steps back' sort of way. I feel like Tada forgot that the romantic leads in a story like this need to be both realistically flawed AND sympathetic. You can't lay all the faults on one for a joke and make the other so perfect and distant as to be a douchebag.
The story may be clichéd, but it's nowhere near as dated as the art. Characters are delicately drawn, with huge eyes, big dated hairstyles, flat simple round faces and equally big, round chins. Expressions are simple and big, to the point of being wonky on some of the supporting cast. There's a similar sort of simplicity to the backgrounds, which alternate between blankness and simple overlays of screentone. The panels are relatively spacious, and this space combined with the delicacy of the linework keeps the artwork relatively pleasant to look at.
The only extra is a single, black-and-white splash page.
This series was published by Digital Manga Press. The series is complete in 12 omnibus editions, and all are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!