Itazura na Kiss 8

December 18, 2014

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2012 – 23 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 15-16

The good folks at DMP have just started a new Tezuka Kickstarter (EDIT: I wrote this 6 months ago, so for a current Tezuka Kickstarter, go here), and I thought I’d celebrate by rummaging through my unread DMP backlog. For some reason, it did not occur to me to add my missing Tezuka reviews, but perhaps that’s because I had a powerful craving for some sugary shoujo.

Again, I’ve been taking a break from manga lately, and I’m not sure how wise it is to sample this series. It’s very predictable, to say the least. But it is also one of the sweetest, most adorable series I can lay hands on, and it is what I crave in my secret heart of hearts.

In this volume… well, there’s about what you’d expect. Kotoko gets accepted into the nursing program, and most of these stories are about her new friends/classmates. She gets assigned to a study group with four other students who, unsurprisingly, almost all have a huge crush on Naoki.

The first story is an entertaining one about how Kotoko doesn’t want to admit she’s the (disappointing) wife of the fabulous Naoki Irie. Other stories are about mixers between the doctor and nursing students, study sessions that (of course) interrupt peaceful vacations with Naoki, and lots about various topics in class. Kotoko is, of course, hilariously bad at drawing blood, securing patients to the bed, blood pressure readings, et cetera.

If there’s something I dislike about this series (other than Naoki), it’s that Kotoko has to be completely incompetent at everything. She’s always portrayed as sweet, and very tenacious, but very stupid. I keep hoping she’s going to find that one thing she’s good at… But it hasn’t happened yet. On one hand, I do like the positive message about her working hard for everything she does and not being naturally gifted (questionable relationship with Naoki excluded), on the other hand, I’m tired of these types of jokes.

There’s a cute subplot about a nerdish classmate of Naoki’s falling for a gold-digging classmate of Kotoko’s that is now ongoing. A nice story near the end discusses the unplanned pregnancy of one of Kotoko’s oldest friends, and the impossible family situation she finds herself in. And the meat of the second half of the volume is about a nursing student with a crush on Kotoko who goes for it in light of Naoki’s horrible treatment of Kotoko.

That storyline… yeah. The potential beau is right, of course, and is only proven more right when Naoki senses his attraction and doesn’t speak to Kotoko for months, despite her complete devotion to him. His behavior is so bad that even Naoki’s mom thinks Kotoko should leave him for the nice boy. This fairly abusive relationship makes the series hard to read through stretches like this, and the resolution isn’t very romantic or satisfying. Still, here I am, hoping DMP will get around to releasing the last volumes of the series in a 3-in-1.

Be that as it may, I love that we’ve moved on to married life and its grown-up problems. There are still a lot of the same types of stories from the early volumes, but I love that the storytelling has matured over the run of the series. It also keeps its charm and sense of humor, and I’m happy to see the upbeat Mrs. Irie continue her appearances, despite the fact she’s forever doing the same jokes.

Still great! And I have a feeling this one flies way under the radar, so here’s hoping we do get to see the end. Check it out if cute shoujo is your thing!

Itazura na Kiss 7

September 9, 2012

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2011 – 23 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 13-14

You know, one of the great things about shoujo manga is that it’s a constant tease. You read a romance, and you want the main couple to hook up and be together so badly. But when they do, there’s… hm. Less. Kotoko and Naoki got married last volume, so the back-and-forth between the two isn’t really an element of the series anymore (or shouldn’t be, but I’ll talk about that later). I do like this series, though, for looking at what happens after “I do.” It’s really rare a series continues with the rest of the character’s lives, and I’m excited to see where things go from here.

Then again, Naoki is such a jerk! The format of the series continues to be one-shot-ish stories for each chapter. More than one of them here are the types of conflicts where Kotoko is unsure of herself, and Naoki simply shuts her out. The theory behind his behavior is that she’s a strong girl that can figure things out for herself, but seriously? She’s unsure about the direction her life will take, and Naoki isn’t willing to indulge her in a discussion, because she needs to figure it out herself? Do you know how happy it would make Kotoko if Naoki showed even one shred of humanity?

Bah. I’ve always hated him, though. That’s nothing new. He sneaks to new lows when he tricks her into going on a vacation to visit his mother’s side of the family. She thinks they’re headed out for a vacation with just the two of them, but really, Naoki takes her to visit extended family that just badger her as an unworthy bride for two weeks.

Man. I don’t know what it is about this series. I don’t really like Kotoko that much (really, I like heroines with a bit more brains), but seeing her get mistreated gets me all wound up. But I still really like these stories. There’s something about them that is simply pure, undiluted shoujo storytelling. They read like plotlines that have been retread about a thousand times, but Tada is a charming writer, and I find myself drawn to the series more than a lot of contemporary shoujo. It’s good stuff, and I love the omnibus format.

One of the more bizarre storylines so far is one where Kotoko befriends a British exchange student. They start off on the wrong foot when Kotoko thinks Chris has eyes for Naoki. But really, it’s Kin she wants. There are a couple stories about the two of them not connecting. I’m happy about that… while neither Chris nor Kin are favorites of mine, it always felt wrong that Kotoko did to Kin what Naoki was doing to her. That’s just how things worked, but… you know. You just don’t see that kind of moral twist come up very frequently in shoujo manga. I’m glad it’s resolved.

I’m a bit behind on this, so I’m happy that I’ve got a couple more volumes to read. Hooray! It really is addictive stuff.

Itazura na Kiss 6

November 6, 2011

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2011 – 23 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 11-12

I don’t know what it is about this series. The beginning of this book was the ultimate in shoujo manga despair, making it look like the characters were moving in a rather disappointing direction. Part of me knew it was a shoujo manga, and that there was no way that Kotoko and Naoki wouldn’t wind up together. But part of me was worried. Maybe they stay as friends for awhile? There is some worth to that. Maybe the sudden death of a spouse takes place? I mean… it was going through with two different marriages, after all. And Naoki was still being a huge jerk.

And then Naoki pulled off one of the most un-romantic, asshole-ish love confessions I’ve ever seen. It was totally not satisfying, and he isn’t kinder to Kotoko at all. Seriously, what kind of shoujo manga does that?

But Kotoko was so happy. Mrs. Irie was thrilled. There was a cute wedding (which is on the cover of the book, so I feel like that’s not a spoiler), and a very funny honeymoon. And Naoki’s angry nature was turned against him when he was humiliated in grand style by Mrs. Irie. Sadly, Mrs. Irie’s role in the story becomes less and less now that the two are together, and the second half of the volume doesn’t have very much of her at all in it. It’s a shame, since she’s one of my favorites.

My favorite moment in the entire series happens in this volume. While on their honeymoon in Hawaii, Kotoko wanders off, and Naoki bursts into his parents’ room to have them help look for her. They aren’t supposed to be there, and were carefully spying on the two of them in disguise. The look of shock on the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Irie, Yuki, and Mr. Aihara is absolutely priceless.

The latter half of the volume is mostly about the married life of Naoki and Kotoko. Sadly, Naoki is no kinder to Kotoko once they’re married, and the first major storyline is one about how he stays after work and makes Kotoko worry without telling her a thing. Turns out he’s doing something very sweet, but a simple word to Kotoko probably would’ve gone a long way. What’s worse, the story demonizes Kotoko, making her out to be the jealous wife when Naoki won’t speak to her for weeks.

There’s also some nice stories about what Kotoko wants to do with her life. She’s coming up on her last year of college, and is trying to decide if she simply wants to be Naoki’s wife, or would rather work for a living. She isn’t sure what she wants to be, and gives teaching a try. This is, of course, meant with shock by every member of her family (during an argument, when Kotoko tells Naoki that she’s not stupid and knows the meaning of the word “teacher,” he simply tells her that she is stupid, which made me laugh really hard). A really cute storyline about Kotoko student teaching finishes up the volume. She tries her hardest, which is what makes her so easy to root for, and though she’s not perfect, it seems like teaching does suit her, to some degree. Naoki helps in his way behind the scenes, and he even dotes a little. It’s adorable.

I’m a little disappointed that Naoki hasn’t really softened up after marriage, though. He’s not even one of those prickly characters with secret soft moments. I would like him a lot more if he was. He’s still mean to Kotoko about 90% of the time, and he often hides his secret moments of weakness from her. But it’s hard not to like Kotoko. She really does try very hard to win Naoki over all the time, even after marriage, and watching her try her best at teaching, even after being told by everyone she knows, and the teachers at the school, that she’ll be horrible at it, is a lot of fun.

And yes. I am a big girly girl at heart, and I can’t help but like stories with weddings in them. I’m curious where else the story will go in the second half of the series, but I am looking forward to it. While I have appreciated all the character development and time invested in getting Naoki and Kotoko together, this series also excels at portraying moments in everyday life, and I think there will be a lot more of that to come.

It’s wonderful, wonderful shoujo manga, and I do hope enough people are reading it to make it worth DMP’s while to publish it.

Itazura na Kiss 5

October 26, 2011

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2011 – 23 volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols 9-10

For a series that’s supposed to be so upbeat and happy, these last few volumes have really been depressing me. Part of that is the fact that Kotoko still can’t seem to give up on Naoki, even though he’s among the biggest jerks in shoujo manga. Part of it was the fact that the Irie patriarch fell very ill in this volume after a fight with Naoki, and had to be hospitalized while Naoki gave up on his dreams of being a doctor and took over his company. Part of it was also the fact that Naoki got engaged to another woman in this volume.

Gasp! It’s true! I’ve never seen a manga go through with this in the way that Itazura na Kiss does. I know it can’t actually do this, because it’s only about half over, but it certainly goes through all the motions, and Naoki never once shows any remorse or sorrow over his fiancee. There is a lot of other relationship shuffles in this volume too, like a last ditch effort from the elder Matsumoto sister to confess her feelings to Naoki. Kin-chan also tries hard to get closer to Kotoko, both through his skills as a chef at her father’s restaurant and, eventually, as a rebound date when Naoki gets engaged. While I feel bad for Kotoko, I feel terrible for Kinnosuke. Kotoko is only slightly nicer to Kin-chan than Naoki is to her.

And yes, Mr. Irie runs a big, failing business and is hospitalized after he gets worked up about Naoki switching his major and not telling him. So Naoki does the dutiful son thing and runs the business for him, which is the type of thing that only happens in manga (in this manga, Mr. Irie is president of a company that’s supposed to be Bandai, which makes it even funnier). Kotoko is there to support Naoki, of course, working part-time as an office girl with the usual disastrous results. But it’s through this job, and even Kotoko’s meddling, that Naoki meets the woman that he becomes engaged to.

Of course, Kotoko and Matsuda try to stop Naoki and his bride-to-be. Mrs. Irie even gets in on the action by purposely being rude during a meeting with the girl’s parents. But nothing works, and Naoki insists on marrying his fiancee, who is sure to make the perfect wife.

This entire volume was like a depressing train wreck. But I had to keep reading. Tada is just so good at writing her characters, and making each chapter an utterly endearing one-off story that’s still connected to the main plot… she’s wonderful at it. I don’t think I would like Naoki or Kotoko in the hands of any other writer, and I think over-the-top Mrs. Irie and younger brother Yuki Irie would be too much in any other series. But here, they’re just another detail in a happy home. And when a volume like this threatens to break up the happy home, I have to keep reading.

It’s wonderful. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I hope that the shoujo manga fans are supporting it en masse, because it’s so rare for an old gem like this to get published in English, and it is worth reading.

Itazura na Kiss 4

May 22, 2011

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2010 – 23 volumes
this is an omnibus containing volumes 7-8

I love this series. It’s great at capturing little events and moments in the lives of the characters, and I also like that time is moving forward with every chapter. Again, each chapter is a standalone story, and while the stories themselves aren’t anything to write home about (a summer vacation retreat where the entire cast happens to appear, a tennis tournament where Kotoko is an alternate but winds up playing due to a train delay, a birthday chapter, a Christmas chapter, a coming-of-age day chapter, et cetera), the little nuances are what makes this series great. Kotoko’s friends blowing her off repeatedly to hang out with their boyfriends, the story where Kotoko and Yuuki investigate a ghost story in the hospital, the tennis coach’s continued ploys to get Naoki and Kotoko in the same place so he can get closer to his crush Matsumoto… it’s not the plots of the stories that make them great, but all the little details that go into them. The way the stories play out doesn’t revolve around a joke, but rather character interaction, and the characters are always a little more fleshed out in the end. And, to be fair, the plots of the stories were probably a little less tired in the early 1990s. Apparently this series was very “influential,” too, in that these plots have been recycled for the last 20 years starting here.

One thing that still impresses me in particular is the relationship between Kotoko and Mrs. Irie. They wind up scheming together a lot, of course, because both of them are trying to get Naoki to fall in love with Kotoko, but it’s more than that. Though unrelated, they have the perfect mother-daughter relationship. Mrs. Irie is always willing to speak up for Kotoko, even in non-Naoki matters, and Kotoko is always willing to indulge Mrs. Irie her strange whims, be they sneaking around the campus or any number of crazy things she decides to do. Reading this, it breaks my heart that mothers are often evil or a nonentity in modern shoujo manga, because Kotoko and Mrs. Irie are just about my favorite part of this series.

On the minus side… there’s Naoki. We are eight volumes into the series, and he mostly only tolerates Kotoko, which is a step up from the outright jerk he’s been the past several volumes. He’s always willing to help her out, and always sticks up for her when she gets over her head. There is that, and Kotoko does get overwhelmed pretty frequently when she follows Naoki around everywhere. But that I’ve been reading this for eight volumes, and Kotoko is still following around Naoki with no sign that he may, one day, look her way. That’s three years of story time. It’s just sad. Things do come to a head at the very end of volume eight, when Naoki points out that he hates having his career and love life decided by his parents. This is bad news for Kotoko, of course, but Naoki throws her a little bit of personal information, and she seems okay again. Yuuki mollifies me for the time being with a juicy tidbit, the first solid proof we’ve had for eight volumes that there might, in fact, be something to this relationship, but even so. My point stands. Every chapter without romance is just damning evidence against Naoki. He is literally one of the biggest jerks in shoujo manga at this point in the series, good deeds aside.

Ugh. Naoki Irie makes me so mad. It’s a pretty good indication of quality though when I still love a shoujo manga to pieces even when the main relationship is so rotten. I promise the character development really is the best, and the little slice-of-life moments are totally worth reading. And even I almost forgave Naoki when he came to Kotoko’s rescue on Christmas Eve. That’s been my favorite chapter so far. If only he were a little nicer.

Itazura na Kiss 3

March 12, 2011

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2010 – 23 volumes
This is an omnibus collecting volumes 5-6.

As I was perusing my to read pile, it occurred to me how lucky English-language manga fans are now. These Itazura na Kiss volumes are such a good value, and it makes me happy to be reading this series, with admittedly low consumer appeal, two volumes at a time for a few dollars more than one volume of most other series. I’ve heard people say that the US manga industry is in quite a slump, but if omnibuses of series like Itazura na Kiss (old), Inu-Yasha and One Piece (long), Fushigi Yugi (out of print), or Gunslinger Girl (just plain value and speed) are the result; I sincerely look forward to what the other side of a slump looks like after this.

Anyway, this is such a sweet series that it’s hard not to look on the bright side after finishing a volume. Not everything is rosy just yet, though. Kotoko and Naoki still aren’t a couple, and quite honestly, Naoki’s rudeness is starting to wear me down. Even Kotoko almost gives up on him towards the end of the volume when it turns out he may be moving out of the family house and in with Kotoko’s romantic rival Matsumoto. That is some serious stuff, and it gets even the cheery Kotoko down. Not even four years of constant rejection get to her like that does.

I felt bad for Kotoko throughout the volume. Naoki shows his human side a few times (helping her out at a part-time job, saving her from a yakuza-like thug after she’d been following him on a date, taking her on a date of her own, et cetera), and he does seem to silently take Kotoko’s feelings into consideration much of the time, but man… he can be really mean. I think this is the start of a turnaround, because he admits somewhere in the first half of the book he’s going to accept the Kotoko challenge head-on, and he is looking out for her. But it wouldn’t kill him to be nice to her. After four years, unless he really doesn’t like her romantically at all, you’d think he’d agree to take her out at least a few times (in his defense, he does this, but it’s usually an accident). Unless he really does take pleasure in her longing, in which case he’s an even bigger creep than I thought initially.

If Kotoko makes me feel bad, I feel even worse for her potential suitor Kinnosuke. He’s a gag character, mostly just there to be loud and annoying about Kotoko, but at this point he’s been after her just as long as she’s been after Naoki. And at the end of the volume, he winds up almost freezing to death in a blizzard while looking for her (admittedly for very selfish reasons). This is passed off as a joke. Perhaps the theme of the relationships in this series is that the chase is more meaningful, in some way, than the catch. Which puts it in the same category as Happy Mania. Happy Mania and Itazura na Kiss are two series that should never come up at the same time, but there you go.

I’m still enjoying the one-shot chapter nature of the stories. Each “volume” has four stories, and the omnibus has eight. The whole plotline is usually resolved in one of these, with some circumstances carrying over into multiple stories. The second volume is all about Naoki moving away and Kotoko dealing with not having him in her life anymore and putting up with her horrible rival, but even there, there are stories about Naoki’s job, Kotoko getting sick and Naoki taking care of her, new student recruitment at the tennis club… things like that. It’s a fun format, and the stories are always super-sweet, which is why I spent so much time complaining about the dark stuff here. It just doesn’t go with the general upbeat nature of Kotoko and the stories.

Charming series like this are few and far between. Even though I complain, the characters in this series are easy to like, and it’s so much fun watching Naoki and Kotoko getting badgered by meddling parents, harassed by the anime club, or just to see the lengths poor Kotoko will go through to get a glimpse of Naoki. Actually, the latter is quite sad and depressing in this volume. But I’m hoping her luck will turn around soon, along with Naoki.

Itazura na Kiss 2

September 18, 2010

Kaoru Tada – Digital Manga Publishing – 2010 – 23 volumes
the DMP editions are two-volume omnibuses, this volume contains 3-4 of the original series

After reading Sarasah, the one thing that struck me through the second volume was how similar the heroines were. Which made me cringe, since I hated the heroine in Sarasah, and I’m quite fond of Kotoko. I think Kotoko is kinder and more good-natured than the heroine in Sarasah, but I’ve seen a lot more of Kotoko, too. They share a similarity in the fact they both chase after a boy that has soundly rejected them on more than one occasion. Kotoko does it marginally less obnoxiously than Ji-Hae (ie in private), but it always winds up turning into a public spectacle, anyway. I can sympathize with Kotoko more, though, since she holds onto her feelings in private and others are the ones that air it out to Naoki, and Naoki ridicules her in public for it several times… when she hasn’t really done anything.

On that note, Naoki struck me as much more of a jerk this time. They do share a first kiss, but it was the most vindictive kiss I’ve ever seen. I think the implication is that Naoki does secretly have a crush on Kotoko, but it comes off much more as exasperation in this volume, and the kiss was… some sort of wager on his part when she vowed to forget him. And then he kissed her and told her to go ahead and try. With no real romantic subtext at all, on his part. What a jerk. And yes, Kotoko does try to keep her feelings from airing out in public, but Naoki does things like ridicule her in front of two classes for it, and somehow everyone else winds up knowing that Kotoko carries a torch, too.

I feel bad for Kotoko. She is upbeat and a very nice girl, and I’m glad she has good friends at school and such an advocate in Mrs. Irie. Aside from the latter’s enthusiasm about a future marriage between her son and Kotoko (also a source for frequent public humiliation for Kotoko), the two have a sweet mother-daughter relationship.

This volume is less about Kotoko leaning on Naoki to get her out of a mess (although that happens twice) and more about her transition into college and trying to give up on Naoki, who treats her very poorly and hasn’t given her much of a reason to like him. The transition to college is interesting, because it is hyped up by the characters as a major life change, then, true to form, winds up being much the same as high school was. It does open new opportunities, however, like the tennis club Kotoko and Naoki are now a part of, and a new “romantic rival” for Kotoko that Naoki seems equally uninterested in.

Strangely, for all the indifference Naoki shows Kotoko, he gets even more wicked and vindictive when it looks like Kotoko may be going out with another guy towards the end of the volume. Oh, Naoki. I’m pretty sure he gets nice eventually, but this is hard to sit through.

I enjoy it, though, because it is a pure, undiluted girls comic. Valentine’s chocolates, entrance exams, college club recruitment, romantic misunderstandings, wacky parents, and yes, even Kotoko’s ill-conceived plans to win over Naoki are delightful. The art is wonderful, the nice characters are great, Kotoko’s support network does her good… there’s so much to like about it. I’m hoping the negativity will be toned down when Kotoko and Naoki do finally get together.