Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, December 05, 2010
      ( 12/05/2010 10:56:00 AM ) Bill S.  

”IT’S LIKE I’M WATCHING A VIDEO OF MYSELF FROM ONE YEAR AGO.” The stakes grow more broadly comic in the second volume of the shojo romcom Itazura na Kiss (DMP). Our pratfall prone heroine Kotoko and the arrogantly talented object of her desire Naoki Irie have both entered college together -- the latter enrolling in the same school as Kotoko even though it’s clear he could attend a more prestigious institution -- but while the setting has changed, the characters remain the same. Our girl continues to struggle academically and with getting a modicum of respectful attention from Naoki, who continues to infuriatingly and effortlessly glide through both class work and athletics.

“It’s exactly like a continuation of high school,” Kotoko thinks at one point, only with the volume notched a little higher. Kin-Chan, the former classmate with a major crush on our heroine, shows up working in the college cafeteria, ready to loudly and embarrassingly proclaim his still-strong love for Kotoko, while a new rival, a brainy hottie named Yuko, quickly forces Kotoko to find new ways to remain in Naoki’s orbit. Her big strategy, joining the tennis club where both Naoki and Yuko excel, proves particularly battering.

As a further complication, Kotoko and her father, who have been living with Naoki’s family since an earthquake trashed their house, are about to move back into their rebuilt home -- a change that is especially distressing to Mother Irie, who has been zealously and vicariously following the flickering relationship between her son and the girl she would like to see become her daughter-in-law. (When it looks as if the two are off again, she plunges into a deep depression.) Also paying attention to our leads’ still nascent relationship is Sudo, a member of the tennis club with a moustache Bradley Whitford’s Dan Stark would envy and an unrequited attraction for Yuko.

Writer/artist Kaoru Tada (who regularly credits her assistants at the end of various chapters throughout the book) treats her comic material with a sure, light hand. Our central couple may provide a familiar shojo dichotomy (sweet clueless girl, arrogant super-boy), but Tada makes them individual enough to surprise us. Kotoko keeps having moments of insight that we at first don’t expect her to have, while Naoki periodically shows glimpses of something more than Golden Boy detachment. As in the first volume, Naoki spends time coaching our girl -- this time in tennis, not academics -- while we wait for Kotoko to have her own special teaching moment with him. Probably won’t come for a few more volumes, though.

There’s a kiss in this entry, incidentally, but the meaning of this moment is kept ambiguous. That doesn’t keep Mama Irie and our duo’s overly interested freshman classmates from reading a lot into it, of course. As Tada wittily demonstrates, Life is High School even when it isn’t.

(First published in 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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