Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, July 19, 2009
      ( 7/19/2009 10:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  


"IF SADAKO COMES, A REAL GHOST MIGHT APPEAR." That Sawako Kuronuma, the 15-year-old heroine of the Shojo Beat manga series Kimi Ni Todoke (From Me to You) (Viz Media), looks like she belongs in a different manga series altogether is one of the central points of this lightly comic romance. With her jet-black long hair and "pale skin, even in the middle of summer," Sawako is nicknamed Sadako after the dripping wet ghost from the original Ringu and is victim to all manner of creepy rumors by her fellow students. "If you look into her eyes for more than three seconds," the rumor mill has it, you'll be cursed. Though our girl knows that she has no such powers, she still has moments when she begins to believe the stories about her.

As a result, the ultra-introverted girl largely keeps to herself until the appearance of the mega-dreamy Kazehaya in her class. Undeterred by the rumors surrounding her, he strikes up a friendship simply by being nice enough to call Sawako by her real name. Our girl opens up for the first time to the rest of her classmates, though in her eagerness to be a part of the group, she's incapable of telling when they're making fun of her. Thus, she volunteers to be the ghost on a school Haunted Trail activity, clueless to the fact that her doing so will only fuel the stories surrounding her.

How far you'll be willing to follow Kimi Ni Todoke most likely depends on your tolerance for its cute but socially inept protagonist. Me, I found myself occasionally wanting to shake her. Originally created by Karuho (Crazy for You) Shiina as a stand-alone one-shot, the high school romance has found a devoted following in its native land -- the tankĊbon reprinting the series are currently up to eight volumes in Japan -- so clearly there's a sizable group of shojo reading teengirls who identify with Sawako's plight.

Shiina hammers her plot points in this teen-rated series none too subtly (if you don't get that Sawako's every move is being watched and misinterpreted by the rest of her class, you're not even bothering to read the word balloons), but since the high school years aren't typically a time of much subtlety, the approach works. By mid-volume, when a substitute teacher who acts like he stepped out of the pages of Great Teacher Onizuka tries to thwart the romance between our two and is stricken with diarrhea, you can already anticipate the rumors that'll follow.

The scenes between Sawako and the object of her growing affections are handled a bit less broadly, though, again, they can grow repetitive. Still, Shiina's delineation of the miscommunications and misunderstandings that can accompany a developing relationship can be rather sharp. Another of the series' central jokes lies in the fact that both our central girl and boy are honestly "too nice" people; their unwillingness to hurt each others' feelings keeps 'em from taking risky steps in the relationship.

At times, watching these two slowwwwly proceed through the tentative steps of their nascent relationship, you wish for the presence of a wisecracking classmate to keep things moving. Though Shiina introduces several supporting characters in the first volume, none of 'em stand out enough to make an impression. Hopefully, one of these extras'll have more to do in future volumes; otherwise, this series could quickly become suffocatingly insular.

The pitfalls of Introvert Love.

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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