By Kazune Kawahara and Aruko. Released in Japan as “Ore Monogatari!!” by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (Betsuma). Released in North America by Viz.
There are precious few manga series where one can finish the first volume, set it down, and say “Wow, that was just adorable.” Luckily, we now have a new one with Viz’s release of My Love Story!!. Its unlikely lead does not detract in any way from the fact that this is sweet, heartwarming, and designed to make you smile broadly. Takeo may look and act like he’s from some other, less fluffy genre, but he really is a shoujo character at heart – this isn’t like dropping Onizuka into a shoujo manga. The juxtaposition is the starting point, but by the end of the first volume you’ll wonder why you ever doubted he’d fit in at all.
The fact that this is adorable and heartwarming should not be a surprise given that it’s Kawahara; after all, 3/4 of High school Debut ran on that same fuel. We have a different artist here, who has been working steadily in Japan at the same magazine but who’s being seen in North America for the first time. (Her Yasuko and Kenji series was briefly announced by JManga before they closed.) The art is excellent, though, with every shot of Takeo reminding you that he stands out like a bright primary color. Everything he does is BIG and LOUD and he has no idea how to deal with more subtle emotions. Not that this stops him from being the BEST FRIEND EVER, though. It’s clear from the outset that Yamato fell for Takao on first sight. His best friend, the cool and reserved Sunakawa knows that. The reader knows that. Yet Takao knows that girls like her falls for guys like his friend, and so gets everything wrong.
I get the sense this was written as a one-shot and then picked up for series, like many shoujo manga are. The first chapter could easily be stand-alone, and resolves everything nicely. Luckily, we get more later on, which gives some added depth and adds Sunakawa’s older sister, who it turns out also had feelings for Takeo but hadn’t said anything as he was still too young. It’s amusing seeing her attempt to derail his budding relationship, only to be thrown off by the fact that Yamato is an utter sweetie pie who shares many of Takeo’s traits. (Yamato’s confession that she’s not pure as she’s fantasized about holding hands with Takeo makes you want to say “…”) Luckily, both siblings are basically nice people and more importantly, both get why Takeo is who he is and appreciate him deeply. Sunakawa has not been rejecting girls left and right as he’s a cold male shoujo lead, he did it because they kept calling his friend ugly. It’s touching.
I anticipate that future volumes of this series are going to have to add more conflict and a few characters that don’t make you want to say “aww”. But for the moment, we can enjoy this romantic comedy, whose lead is meant to be incredibly out of place but in actuality fits right in, and is someone that every reader can root for. An absolute delight.
(Also, the entire manga is worth buying just for Vol. 1’s final gag, which is AMAZING.)