Bookshelf Briefs pointer

For those who read my reviews by category (like me), I have reviews of Dengeki Daisy 6, Itazura Na Kiss 6 and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 2 in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs.

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 5

By Kaoru Tada. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Wow, there’s a lot going on in this volume. No, Kotoko doesn’t suddenly grow up and get mature, nor does Naoki come out with an amazing love confession. But in their own way, they inch forward, and this volume has more moments that I really enjoyed reading, both romantic and dramatic. Tada-san has also shown herself to be very good at tension-building cliffhangers, including one right at the end of the book.

The main thrust of this volume, even though it doesn’t technically start until almost halfway through, is Naoki’s father having a heart attack. Naoki has been keeping his transfer to the medical school from his father, mostly as he knows there will be a giant argument once it’s discovered, and sure enough, he’s right. The heart attack is a surprise though, and is played very seriously. It also gives us Kotoko’s best moment in the manga, as unlike Naoki’s hysterical mother, she stays level-headed in the crisis, calling the ambulance right away and going to the hospital with food and supplies. Naoki even gives her one of his rare smiles – and praises her!

Unfortunately, life is getting in the way of Naoki’s dream. With his father recovering, someone needs to run the toy company – and Naoki seems to be the only one who can, given the company is not doing very well. His leave of absence from school is rather sad, but not played for melodrama (except maybe by Kotoko) – it’s just life throwing grenades into your path, that’s all. Speaking of life, Kotoko is starting to finally realize that she’s a flake – she talks with Naoki about her future dreams, and sadly notes they’re all ‘I’m helping Naoki in whatever profession he’s in’ rather than any dreams for herself. Naoki manages to cut her down *and* give her some support – which is becoming his specialty.

On the romance front, Matsumoto finally makes her move here, confessing her feelings to Naoki. He’s slightly nicer about rejecting her than he would be with anyone else (including Kotoko), but it’s still a definitive rejection – complete with Naoki noting he’s kissed Kotoko before. Kotoko, of course, is listening in to all of this, but still doesn’t get much relief. Especially as we’re then introduced to Sahoko, the daughter of a colleague of Naoki’s father who gets set up with him for an omiai. She is, essentially, the perfect Japanese woman, a type we’ve been missing here with all the sporty girls and ditzes. She also likes Naoki, and appears to be the perfect match for him. Naoki being Naoki, he accepts their meetings somewhat straight-faced, but doesn’t really show his feelings outwardly.

Kotoko, meanwhile, takes this badly, as you might expect. So badly that she’s even willing to go out on dates with Kin-chan. It’s pretty clear that her mind is elsewhere, however, and there’s no suggestion she sees him as anything but a friend. However, we’re moving to a crisis point. The relationship between Naoki and Sahoko is going so well that Kotoko’s family is moving out of the Irie home. And what’s more, Kin-chan is doing the same thing that Matsumoto did earlier this volume, confessing his feelings in order to make them transparent even to her. He goes one step father, though, actually proposing. I actually regard this as sort of desperate, given how he knows that she’s still broken up over Naoki’s actions. But then, desperation os Kin-chan’s character. Hopefully Kotoko won’t overreact.

Still very happy DMP is bringing out this series, though some of the translation can read awkwardly. “I have kissed… with Kotoko.” being the main culprit that leaps out at me. Naoki continues to bottle everything up and show his true feelings only rarely. And that’s just not working anymore. Given Kin-chan’s proposal, something has to give soon. Will Vol. 6 be the one where we finally get the long-awaited confession? Hopefully we’ll find out soon…

Itazura Na Kiss Volume 4

By Kaoru Tada. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.

Thank you. After begging for three volumes to have Naoki be slightly more open and approachable, we finally get some progress here. Oh, he’s still mostly a stone-faced jerk, but the ‘soft’ moments are starting to happen more and more often, and we can now be sure that his complete lack of open affection for Kotoko is more due to his personality than anything else. The black shoujo coffee still has no sugar, but at least we get a little milk added here.

My favorite of these was in a chapter introducing yet another rival, this one on Naoki’s end. Taketo is young, cute, pre-law, and decides that since Naoki and Kotoko still aren’t going out, he’s going to take Kotoko for himself. He then promptly gets into a fight about this with Kotoko’s obsessed stalker friend Kin-chan. Kotoko, who has little experience with guys liking her, much less fighting over her, is mostly ineffectual here, having no interest in Taketo but frustrated by her lack of anything with Naoki. Naoki then shows up, notes they’re all being stupid, and then leans in snarkily and notes that it’s all useless, as “the one Kotoko’s in love with is ME.”

This is important, as it’s really one of the first times we’ve seen he actually cares about that. Sure, he’s been shown being nice to Kotoko on occasion, and tolerating her far more than is sometimes warranted, but we’re at a point now where we have to find out what the lead couple see in each other. One of the main premises of the entire manga is that Kotoko isn’t ‘good enough’ for someone like Naoki, given her poor studies, flakiness, tendency to overcompensate wildly, etc. Here we find Kotoko’s simple devotion really does register with him… and he likes it.

The other major Naoki plot we get here is seeing him decide on a career. Because this is old-school shoujo, we don’t really see much of what leads Naoki, at the end of this volume, to consider a career in medicine. One can assume it started with Yuuki being hospitalized, and watching all the doctors and nurses there. But seeing his indifference at running his Dad’s company, even though he proves to be excellent at it, gives us a better look – Naoki likes to be challenged, and finds anything that doesn’t do this boring. Perhaps a career as a doctor will give him what he seeks.

Kotoko remains Kotoko throughout. Now that Naoki is finally developing into a nicer (well, relatively speaking) brand of shoujo hero, I feel the urge to see Kotoko do the same, but know it’s going to be a much harder road. It’s very difficult for these dippy shoujo heroines to stop being spunky, I am useless at everything but will try harder sorts. Heck, halfway through this volume we see Kotoko got fired from her part-time job as SHE FORGOT TO SHOW UP FOR A WHILE. She’s a flake. And now that I’m no longer frustrated by Naoki’s grumpy stoicness, I can allow my frustration at Kotoko’s incredibly slow rate of character development come to the fore. She needs to mature.

Still, we’re now only 1/3 through the series. And the leads are already 20 years old, which puts this a leg up on other shoujo. Hopefully further volumes will not only develop Naoki and Kotoko’s relationship, but also Kotoko’s own sense of self and independence.