What people sometimes tend to forget is that Shonen Jump showcases just as many romance stories as it does action stories. On the other hand, it's easy to forget that when the manga in question are as dumb and forgettable as today's selection.
STRAWBERRY 100% (Ichigo 100%), by Mizuki Kawashita. First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2007.
Junpei Manaka wandered up to the school roof one day to think, but instead he encounters a lovely girl who accidentally flashes him her strawberry patterned panties. From that moment on, all Junpei can think of is this mysterious strawberry panty girl. His search for her leads him to Tsukada, a pretty and extroverted girl. Her advances leave Junpei flustered, so he seeks out advice from his shy, bookish classmate Aya. As their relationship progresses, Junpei starts to wonder if Tsukada really is the strawberry panty girl he's been seeking, or if she's still out there waiting for him.
I didn't have high expectations for this story. After all, it's a story that hinges on a single pair of panties. We are not dealing with a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. What I couldn't have anticipated was just how frustrating Strawberry 100% would be to read because everything rides on Junpei being as annoying and oblivious as humanely possible.
Yeah, it's safe to say that I rather hated Junpei. He's incredibly shallow, even by teenage boy standards. He literally doesn't care about about what this strawberry panty girl may be like as a person or even what she looks like. He just wants to see her panties again. Literally the only value she holds for him is her choice in undergarments. Someone please tell this kid that there's an entire internet full of porn where he could see literally any pair of panties he could ever desire. Like so many shonen romance leads, he's also an incredibly awkward kid who can barely strike up a conversation, yet somehow he convinces Tsukada to go out with him. In all fairness, he manages this only by performing a stupid stunt that makes Tsukada feel so bad for him that she agrees to a date out of pity. He then spends the rest of the book agonizing over every little thing she says and does, completely unsure of how to react or what to say because his mind of full of nothing but thoughts of the strawberry panty girl. Apparently the obvious answer of "just talk to her like a normal human being, you putz" is too much for his simple, panty-addled mind.
This is where Aya enters the picture, and this is where what little patience I might have had for this story snapped. The two of them have the start of what could be a decent friendship, as he has an interest in film and she has an interest in creative writing. Yet he constantly burdens her with his problems and his needs without taking her own into account. True to form, he's also completely oblivious to her very blatant crush on him, but then he's also just as oblivious to the fact that everyone in the story - INCLUDING HIS OWN FREAKING GIRLFRIEND - is clubbing him over the head with the fact that Aya is in fact the strawberry panty girl. Unfortunately, Junpei is as dense as a black hole, mostly because it allows the writer to stretch out the obvious for what I'm sure will be an excessive number of volumes. Meanwhile, poor Aya is ignored solely because she's a Hollywood-style nerd. Time and again, the story tells us that she would be so pretty if she just let down her hair, took off her glasses, and got her nose out of her books. Heaven forbid that she might want to see clearly, keep her hair out of her face, and do something with her time other than pine for an idiot more interested in underwear than anything else.
Shonen romances often tend to be dumb and contrived, but few reach the depths that Strawberry 100% does. The leads are shallow archetypes who internalize everything, guaranteeing that every little problem that they have is stretched out until it becomes completely ridiculous. It's got a lot of regressive ideas about girls and relationships and honestly just about every conflict here could be solved with just five minutes of honest conversation between our three leads. There's no joy or humor to be found here, just annoyance at having wasted your time reading such nonsense.
You know, would it kill the guys who draw shonen romances to put even a little effort into their art? Just because it isn't a fluffy, frou-frou, flowers-and-bishonen sort of romance doesn't meant that you can't put some effort and skill into it. If only someone would have taught Kawashita that lesson. What's really weird is that he clearly takes a lot of influence from Masakazu Katsura, the creator of I"s and Video Girl Ai. It's especially obvious in the character designs, who all have the squashed bobbleheads with the weirdly tiny faces that Katsura tends to draw. The big difference is that Katsura had a far better eye for detail. Everything from the fashion to the fanservice clearly had a lot of time and effort put into it, and while it's far from classy it's aged very gracefully. Kawashita's work in comparison is far lazier and broad. The characters are given these weirdly wide-spaced eyes that makes them all look alien, and the girls' faces all tend to look the same. Their bodies also look odd, as if their proportions don't properly fit their awkwardly squat bodies. Oddly enough, for a series that centers on a pair of panties, there really isn't a lot of fanservice. Most of what we see comes solely from Junpei's imagination, and even then Kawashita doesn't put much passion or imagination into it. Otherwise he tends to play things very safe and aside from the rather unappealing characters, everything looks very mundane.
Strawberry 100% is 100% awful. It's boring, stupid, derivative, ugly to look at, and is anchored to a lead with all the wit and intelligence of a rock. If you need an example of what not to do when writing a shonen romance, look no further than this manga. Better still, don't look at it at all and go read something else.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 19 volumes available. 14 volumes were published and all are currently out of print.