I”s 15

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2007 – 15 volumes

Normally, after finishing a 15-volume series that I liked a lot (and one that took me, like, five years to read), I would have a lot to say.  But the final story arc in I”s is much like the rest of the series.  It doesn’t feel like much has changed, and what went on in this volume wasn’t too different than what came before.  Mostly it just felt like it stopped, and we were promised that nobody would ever do anything bad ever again.  The end.

I was furious that the last volume still went around in circles.  Ichitaka briefly entertains dating Aiko at the beginning of the volume.  He and Iori keep passing like two ships in the night.  When he finally does get to see her again, he gets tongue-tied and then decides to break up with her (which was one of the biggest “what?!” moments in the series for me).   Then he gets to be a knight in shining armor when a creep begins to stalk Iori.  All of this has happened before.  I hated that nothing changed and nobody seemed to learn any sort of lesson.  I still liked pretty much everything a lot, for some reason, which is the power of I”s.

Something relatively serious and strange did happen, and for a little bit I was concerned that the series was going to end on this bizarre note… then even the bizarre note began chasing itself around in I”s circles where Ichitaka lost his will and couldn’t talk to Iori.  And I got even angrier.

But the actual resolution, and Iori’s way of dealing with all the obstacles in her life, was relatively satisfying.  The series ends with a drunken party among all the friends, which is very, very important, and one of the things I”s does best (though this party isn’t nearly as spectacular as the ones that have come before).  And Teratani came through like a true friend through this entire volume, as always.

I guess, if I take anything away from this series, it will be Teratani.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but he’s one of the greatest characters shounen romance has ever and will ever produce.  Rock on, Teratani.  Rock on.

I”s 14

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2007 – 15 volumes

I’m not sure why I thought the twister fun would stop last volume.  I think I assumed we wouldn’t get to see the game, since it was a break between volumes and, well, the wild party is something the series has covered before.

But then we would have missed out on Masakazu Katsura lovingly drawing a game of twister.  Complete with face-sitting and Teratani getting increasingly irate.  It was certainly the high point in the series so far, and we can only hope that the climax will somehow involve a repeat of this beautiful incident.

A good chunk of the beginning of the volume was a party with Teratani, Ichitaka, Izumi, and Aiko, but after that, things sort of fell apart as Ichitaka kept getting more and more negative about Iori’s celebrity status and their relationship begins falling apart… and apparently Aiko’s does, too.  And yeah, she looks just like Iori, so go ahead and cue the fantasies that begin with Iori and end with Aiko.  I’m a bigger fan of the good times, and the series has had quite enough drama, but I suppose a little more for the road can’t hurt.  The climax is coming next volume, and it promises to be super-creepy, but I hope that Iori and Ichitaka wind up happy in the end, because that’s just how these things are supposed to work.

There must have been quite a negative reaction to Iori’s short haircut, because it’s back to its normal length here, presumably because time has passed since she got it cut.

On one last note, Teratani really is the best friend any shounen romance protagonist had.  He’s still just the right mix of creepy, fun, uplifting, and… actually the giver of good advice.  Not only does he own things like twister, but he also knows how to deliver some cool lines later in the volume.  Teratani is certainly the best thing I will be taking away from I”s, and he’s probably a better character than anyone in Video Girl Ai, too, seeing as how Moemi’s boyfriend/Yota’s best friend turned out to be a creep for no reason in that series.

I”s 13

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2007 – 15 volumes

Oh, I”s.  Just when I’ve thrown up my hands in defeat, thinking you’re all out of good ideas, Teratani shows up with the twister board.  That’s why I love you.  That’s exactly why I love you.

I was disappointed to see the story fall back on relationship troubles with Iori and Ichitaka, complete with break-up scene.  The break-up was drawn dramatically, but it was nowhere near as intense as the scene where they finally hooked up.  Plus, I knew it was fake, just like the plethora of fake love confessions that came before.  I was a little worried, since although in story time Ichitaka and Iori have been together for some time, it’s only been two or three volumes for us.  I feel like we should have some nice volumes of them having fun together as a couple for a change.

Unfortunately, there is a “new neighbor” plot device, which is one of the things working against their relationship.  Hilariously, the new neighbor looks exactly like Iori (with a mole as the only difference) and is named Aiko, which is a sly concession to the naming conventions in the series.

Also hilarious is a scene where Ichitaka dreams of the various women in the series showing up in his bedroom to chastise him, and when he wakes up and finds Iori, he asks straight out if she’s real.  Because… because he dreams of this stuff all the time, you see.

Iori’s career seems to be the next new focus, so let’s see where this goes.

I”s 12

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2007 – 15 volumes

After reading a good volume of Pastel, I thought I would dip back into one of the better series in the shounen romantic comedy genre.  It didn’t disappoint.

This went from being a wussy “does she or doesn’t she” series for ten volumes to getting all hot and heavy after the confession.  I couldn’t believe there was a real, no tricks shower scene at the beginning of this volume.  And there was even a little bit of a bed scene later.  It didn’t go as far as I thought it was going to, but it went a lot farther than I”s has any business going, and I commend it for that.

Even better, both of the scenes in the first half of the volume are handled with way more sensitivity than you’d normally expect or find in these types of series.  Much like the confession was absolutely perfect after taking so long to get there, both sides of the couple had their reservations about what was going on, and both scenes were incredibly tender (or as tender as they could be).  Ichitaka’s thoughts of Iori, which are conveyed in a gigtantic 2-page montage at the height of the action, are quite sincere, and I liked I”s a whole lot more after this volume.

Even better was the fact that those scenes ended with the two characters going to find their friends, another strength of this series (normally such friends are kind of jerks… the friends here meddle, but they aren’t nearly as bad as, say, Pastel).  The series passes over another group party scene in favor of a talk between Teratani and Ichitaka.  Now, Teratani is alternately irritating and awesome, sometimes both, but he is certainly the best friend Ichitaka could possibly have.  Ichitaka seeks out his opinion once again, and he gives some really solid advice.  You can feel the love.  And even when he follows it up with his usual pervy comment, I couldn’t help but like Teratani.

But then… Izumi.  Ugh.  We gotta deal with this now.  This is the story venturing back into romantic comedy territory, though things are more promising at the end of the volume.  Maybe Izumi will finally go away.  That doesn’t stop whatever weird thing is going on in Iori’s room, though.

I”s 11

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2007 – 15 volumes

There’s all sorts of loopy weirdness here.  I figured Izumi would be a little more of a problem than she was, and the series didn’t do the usual “Iori saw them kiss” plotline.  Every once in awhile it really impresses me by not taking the obvious path.  The actual misunderstanding between Iori and Ichitaka didn’t make as much sense as Iori being mad about a kiss, but it was cute anyway.

This volume saw the characters graduate from high school and Iori’s career start to take off.  Of course Iori can’t ever be with Ichitaka now, which I’m already bored with, but I loved all the graduation scenes.  The series definitely pegged all the appropriate emotions surrounding that.  I also liked everything about Ichitaka’s entrance exams, since once again the obvious path is not taken.  It left the storyline open to a few different interesting possibilities.

Amusingly, the characters are on a graduation trip at the end of the volume.  Wacky, I”s-like hijinx are ensuing, and I love every minute of it.  The cliffhanger ending lets me know that I’m in for even more of it next volume, which makes me happy since I know this will probably be the last of these types of scenes.  Sigh.  I think things are going to get a bit more serious after this.

I”s 10

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2006 – 15 volumes

Oh man.  All that teasing that I’ve been talking about?  All those situations that were so terrible that made you groan out loud?  Totally worth it.

I did not believe it had actually happened.  I mean, it happened last volume.  There was a two-page spread commemorating the occasion and everything.  But, as usual, things went badly for Ichitaka and Iori didn’t understand.  When it happened here, commemorated with another two-page spread, I didn’t believe it for a second.  I thought there would be some pun with the announcer on the train, or Iori just plain didn’t hear it.  Plus, it’s a shounen romance.  When do the heroes in shounen romance ever successfully convey their feelings?  And I”s has no problem lying to the reader, too.  When something incredible starts happening randomly in the middle of an important event, it usually turns out to be Ichitaka’s fantasy.  That happens early on in this volume, too.

But, yes.  10 volumes of watching Ichitaka self-destruct make this the best love confession scene in manga history. And the way in which the aftermath is conveyed is really a storytelling technique unique to I”s.  After the confession, we fast-forward, and the rest of the night is told in an often-interrupted flashback by Ichitaka to Teratani.  The two of them run a John Madden-type analysis on the evening, making what happens even more hilarious.  Ichitaka’s fantasies are also mixed into the flashback, which make you doubt the story being told once again, but make it that much better when certain parts wind up to be true.

I still don’t think Ichitaka got so lucky, but you know.  Apparently.  I do wonder if the story will ever surpass this volume, though.  I’ll continue to read faithfully to the end, but I really feel like this will be the highlight of the series.

I”s 9

Masakazu Katsura – Viz – 2006 – 15 volumes

On one hand, I have to sort of force myself to read I”s.  I’ve sort of fallen out of love with shounen romances, because I hate the plot devices they use.  On the other hand, I can’t help but squeal and laugh at every volume of I”s, because it simply revels in all those plot devices.  Its debauchery is unparalleled in even the most gratuitous shounen romance.

The first part of the book has the whole Izumi-wants-Ichitaka situation going.  Of course, Iori walks in at three or four inopportune moments.  I would loathe this in any other series, but I cracked a smile every time it happened here simply because you could see the scene setting itself up for the glorious moment of misunderstanding.  There’s a fine art to this type of thing, and I”s has it down.  It’s the pacing, the way the scenes play out, and the emotional balances between the characters that make everything perfect and make stupid things like that work every time.  I’m not emotionally invested in any of the characters at this point, really, but I love watching them move along their paths.

Later, Ichitaka has an extended fantasy sequence the way he does where Izumi shows up in his room soaking wet and then has sex with him.  Izumi interrupts the fantasy to do just this.  Again, it’s too hokey not to like, especially when there are so many lovingly-rendered T&A panels.  As I’m sure I’ve said before, Masakazu Katsura is a true Rembrandt when it comes to panty shots.

There’s a Christmas Eve date misunderstanding, a karaoke party, a drunk love confession, and the end of the volume is setting up the inevitable confrontation between Izumi and Iori when they realize that Ichitaka promised both of them Christmas Eve dates.  All of it is beautiful, but the love confession scene in particular is quite remarkable.  Even though I’m not really into any of the characters, the timing, the way the pages and panels played out through this particular scene was truly amazing.  It was one of the best love confessions I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t surprise me all that much that it came from I”s.

If you like shounen romance, and you like panty shots, don’t settle for anything less than I”s.  It really does do absolutely everything right.

I”s 8

Poor I”s.  I resolved to read it, then completely forgot about it after I moved forward two volumes.  Well, here’s one more volume.

This volume has a hot springs scene, as you might expect from a series like this.  It starts out like any good hot springs scene, with Ichitaka’s best friend tricking him into the women’s bath.  Then, of course, somehow Ichitaka is trapped in there with Iori and Nami… and then is spotted by the girl he was hitting on at the beach earlier.  From there, it turns into one of the more over-the-top hot springs scenes I’ve seen, which is really saying something, since these are supposed to be naughty.  Naked sitting and hiding under the water is involved, along with an agonizing conversation between the three girls that dances around Iori’s feelings for Ichitaka.  And then it ends, again, as all good hot springs scenes do, with Ichitaka suddenly bursting out of the water and embarrassing himself in front of all three girls.

Also, Nami begs Iori to show her “peach,” which I like to think is something that I”s invented.  It’s… well, just sticking your butt above the water so that it looks like a peach.  There is no point, and yet, it’s just one of those extra fanservice steps that I”s takes to ensure that you are paying attention.

The new girl in this volume is named Izumi, a girl that Ichitaka picks up on the beach.  The two have a mutual attraction, and Izumi is a nice and normal girl without the weird standoffishness that Iori has or the over-the-top reactions to misunderstandings that every other girl in a series like this has.  And yet, Ichitaka can’t bring himself to date her because he still has feelings for Iori, though he’s blown it with her big-time twice already.

For more silly romance manga games, later we see a special rock stacking love ceremony with a surprise ending.  Not quite as epic as some of the other storylines, but appreciated all the same.

For some reason, he gets his confidence at the end of the volume and decides to admit his feelings to Iori directly… but is thwarted.  And it seems like the plot is ready to go off on a tangent next time, so… yeah.  That’s just how these things go.

I”s 7

I think the thing that differentiates I”s from the standard Shounen Jump cupcake series is probably the fact that the jokes about the main character being kind of dorky aren’t made by the other characters.  Ichitaka makes fun of himself, and I get a lot more pleasure when the other characters aren’t constantly demeaning the main character for things that boys do.  The fact that he feels embarrassed does come up, which is a big part of this type of thing, but it’s all in Ichitaka’s mind.  The I”s magic is that all the commentary comes from Ichitaka and not a female harem that hates him.

Also, unlike most other manga, there is a lot of narration given by Ichitaka.  In the strictest sense, I suppose you could consider them thought balloons, but it’s generally a description of whatever is going on from Ichitaka’s point of view given inside thick-bordered round balloons with no stems.  If you put them in a little box at the bottom of the panel, they would be narration (something you’d find in any American graphic novel to describe nearly everything).  I have no idea why this technique isn’t used more frequently in manga… but it just isn’t.  Baoh uses it (and Jojo too, to a lesser extent), and I”s uses it extensively, and those are the only two series I can think of.

Moving right along, the name of this volume is “Spank.”  That had nothing to do with its contents.  That’s the other reason this series is magical, because it does revel in absolutely everything you would find in a shounen romance without being trashy about it.  Well, without being too trashy.  The characters revel in it as much as the reader, I think, which also makes a difference.

After the game of “Kings” is done, Ichitaka has some serious problems gathering his thoughts on Iori and whether or not she feels the same way he does.  All signs point to yes, and Ichitaka’s friend helps him along by casting the pair in some sort of gender-crossed love story where Ichitaka, as a girl, has to confess his feelings for Iori at the end of the movie.  It’s… kind of weird, and exactly what you think it is, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Ichitaka beat himself up internally throughout.

But, of course, things do not end well for Ichitaka, and he’s rather crushed by the end of the volume.  This series is great for its humor, but it can also do fairly heartbreaking scenes, like Ichitaka hitting “rock bottom” at the end here.  That’s another good reason I”s is better than most other shounen romance series.

I”s 6

Woah!  When was the last time I read this?  2006?  All right.  It’s one of my roommate’s favorites, but I set it aside at the time because I was reading Video Girl Ai simultaneously, I liked that better, and they are essentially the same series.  I have it on the same shelf as Oh My Goddess, and recently I had to start moving I”s off for space reasons.  I figured I may as well read it if I was moving it elsewhere.  Sadly, time was not kind to this book.  The pages are very yellow, despite the fact that I’ve kept it on a shelf out of the sun for three years.

I didn’t have much trouble jumping back into the plot.  I would have been concerned if I did.  Ichitaka decides he’d like to start dating Itsuki, but after circumstances (an attack disguised as a swimsuit photo shoot, a common Katsura plot device) make his mind continuously wander back to Iori during their date, Itsuki tells him to pursue his true love.  Ichitaka is heartbroken.  Later, Ichitaka, Iori, and a group of friends hang out together at someone’s house and play a game called “Kings” which eventually leads to kissing, stripping, et cetera.

The thing about I”s is that it is somehow more tasteful than most shounen romances while engaging in the exact same activities.  I would argue that this is because Masakazu Katsura is some sort of Picasso when it comes to fanservice.  Not only are his lovingly rendered panty shots the highlight of my reading experience (they appear when you least expect it, sometimes in the middle of a fairly serious scene), but he somehow keeps me interested in a plot that, admittedly, could be found in any number of other series.  Somehow, he also incorporates fanservice into the plot in a tasteful way, rather than having it interrupt continuously, something that a lot of other shounen romance have a problem with.  The interesting plot is probably a direct result of the well-written characters.  I like Ichitaka, and I like that he has good friends and realistic relationships with any number of people his own age, not just the object of his obsession.

Katsura is a master, it’s true.  Why else would I have loved that game of Kings as much as I did?  I took real pleasure in the slow way that whole scene unraveled.  You could see it coming a mile away, but it was still awesome all the same.  I can’t explain it.


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