Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, August 07, 2010
      ( 8/07/2010 10:27:00 AM ) Bill S.  

“THERE ARE OTHER MORE NORMAL FISH IN THE SEA.” A hefty (360 pages) mega-popular shojo romance Kaoru Tada’s Itazura Na Kiss (DMP) is another of those series recounting the comic trials of a ditsy girl attracted to an impossibly talented boy. The series opens as our heroine, sweet-faced Kotoko, gathers up the courage to pass a note to the boy she’s been secretly pining after for two years. Said object of her attraction, Naoki Irie, is a beautiful genius effortlessly good at everything he tries -- top of his class with a rumoured I.Q. of 180 -- while our girl struggles to hold her own in the school’s “very bottom class.” In front of everyone, Naoki refuses to even look at the note, a public humiliation that we know will linger through the rest of Kotoka’s high school years.

But, then, comic contrivance in the form of a small-scale earthquake intervenes. Kotoka’s new home, built with “cheaped out” wood, is leveled, forcing father and daughter to move in with an old school chum. This auld acquaintance proves to be the father of the arrogant Naoki, so our twosome soon find themselves living under the same roof. Romantic tension and sit-complications ensure, especially when the two try to keep their respective classmates (including a GTO-styled boy named Kin-Chan with a major crush on Kotoko) unaware of their new living situation. Meanwhile, the duo’s parents -- convinced the girl and boy make a perfect couple -- start scheming to push ‘em together.

Tada takes this simple set-up and pushes it for crisply comic effect. (She's especially strong at inking energetic overreactions.) Naoki may be a dreamy looking know-it-all, but his people skills are zip and he’s about as mature as his spud-ly hero-worshipping little brother Irie Jr. Kotoko may be a space case, but she tries hard. Can she help it that she does things like hand a baton to the wrong person in a between classes relay race? If the two are apart in terms of smarts and abilities, we know they’re meant to be a couple: though she vows more than once in the first volume to have nothing to do with Naoki, she’s always drawn back to him. And though he may try to act like she’s not even in the room, Naoki ultimately can’t ignore her. The two are doomed to be together.

Which doesn’t mean it won’t take a good many comic complications for that to actually happen. Originally debuting in 1991, the series continued until Kaoru Tada’s unexpected death in 1999. DMP’s publication of the series will comprise 12 volumes, and though the teen-rated series never reached a full finish, I don’t think that most readers of this series will mind. After all, Archie Andrews has gone for decades without definitively choosing ‘tween Betty or Veronica. Some sitcoms work just as well, after all, when we’re allowed to imagine our own conclusions.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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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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