Kimi ni Todoke Volume 8

By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Viz.

Well, I didn’t really get what I wanted at the end of Volume 7. Kazehaya and Sawako are still misreading and frustrating me. Not just me either, as Yano is starting to be driven a little nuts by the whole thing. However, there’s a new guy on the cover, and this is really his volume, as Kento, who was introduced at the end of Vol. 7, makes a full appearance here, and hits the cast like a nuclear bomb.

Kento is, of course, the male rival that this series really did need, and the counterpart to Kurumi. But Kurumi was rather sneaky about her manipulation, projecting a facade of sweet young thing while working to get rumors spread… and yet strangely open with Sawako, who she always referred to by her correct name. Kento is, by contrast, very open and obvious about his manipulations, going right to the source and instilling doubt and confusion with no need for intermediaries. What’s more, I noticed that he refers to Sawako as ‘Sadako’ whenever he speaks to her, but when talking with others when she *isn’t* around, he uses her real name.

His conversation with Kazehaya is devastating to the latter, as Kento feels (whether this is true or just something he’s saying we don’t know yet) that Kazehaya is only interested in Sawako as she’s an ‘outsider’ and that Sawako is better off developing on her own rather than having to worry about jealous girls trying to sabotage her maturity. (Oh Kento, you’re a good 4 or 5 volumes too late.) What’s more, he notes – and Ryu and Chizu both later agree – that Kazehaya doesn’t understand Sawako at all, and that the two are quite far apart.

Kazehaya gets a lot of attention this volume, which is good, as he needed a crisis of some sort. We see him almost managing to work on a confession at the start of the book, after seeing Kento and Sawako bond so quickly, but then he chickens out, and later proves to be awkward around her. Sawako doesn’t really get it, but everyone else immediately notices the difference. Now he has to genuinely aalyse his feelings, which can be quite difficult for a high-school boy, even one as squeaky clean as Kazehaya.

Yano and Pin, as always, get the best moments in the manga in terms of figuring things out. Yano is particularly aggravated here, as the relationship between Sawako and Kazehaya, not exactly a fast-moving one to begin with, is now actually moving backwards thanks to Kento and Kazehaya’s own insecurities. As she notes to Chizu (who has now, as of Volume 8, finally realized that Kazehaya likes Sawako ‘that way’), she wants Sawako to be more confident in herself before they start dating, so that it doesn’t look as if he’s doing it because he feels sorry for her. Kazehaya becomes so paralyzed at this proposition (which Kento brought up) that it requires Pin to kick his ass into action. Pin noting that starting off knowing nothing about the other person is how ALL relationships are, of course – that’s WHY you get closer.

As for Sawako herself, despite being a bundle of nerves due to Kazehaya’s treating her differently (and a small mini-breakdown in front of Chizu and Yano), she is getting much better at dealing with others, though I’m not sure it translates into more confidence in herself, as she still hasn’t equated her actions and behaviors with actual good things, but it’s great to see. Kento *does* have great interaction with her, and it’s rather startling how quickly they bond – and what’s more, Kento’s direct ‘Do this, do that’ advice seems to be working better than Kazehaya’s mild positive reinforcement.

So we end with another cliffhanger, this time with Kazehaya going off to confront Kento and Sawako. Now, the sensible shoujo fans knows that Kento is not going to win the day here (it’s not even clear if he’s actually interested in her romantically), but the fun is in the journey, and I look forward to seeing if Kazehaya can throw off his doubts and step up his game.

Kimi ni Todoke Volume 7

By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Viz.

Once again, there are so many fantastic individual moments here in this volume that it makes me forget that things are moving at a crawl. In any case, we get 4 new chapters here, three of which are devoted to New Year’s Eve. Since the last volume had Sawako spend Christmas with her family, even though it’s a couples day in Japan, it’s fitting somehow that this New Years’ she gets to go around with Kazehaya. Even if she has to be tricked into it. And even better, her birthday is New Year’s Eve.

Yoshida and Yano give Sawako a makeover (which is adorable, and I love how it’s their birthday present to her) and then promptly ditch her right as Kazehaya arrives, turning their group outing into a duet. Of course, they then continue to watch from the sidelines, which leads to comedy (poor Yano really suffers in this volume, from needing to keep Joe occupied the whole time to running into Pin at the end) and some nice sweet moments (Ryu has been grumpy the entire time, thinking that Sawako and Kazehaya don’t need as much ‘help’ as the girls are giving, but finally gets Yoshida away for a quiet New Year together).

The majority of the three chapters, though, is the usual back and forth between Sawako and Kazehaya. They’re both incredibly poor at communicating, and both find each other very hard to read, which leads to a huge amount of awkwardness. Kazehaya is clearly blown away by Sawako’s makeover, and isn’t quite sure where to look. Luckily as the night wears on and he finds it’s her birthday, he relaxes, and even goes so far as to swap fortunes with her (he gets good luck, she gets bad, though both fortunes are rather perspicacious when it comes to their love lives). Still, when the night is over they simply part. Sawako now realizes that having Kazehaya as a friend isn’t enough anymore. She wants him to be a boyfriend.

Of course, knowing and doing are two different things. The last chapter is far less sweet than the previous three, and features the ‘villain’ of the series, Kurumi, making her return after a volume and a half’s absence. It’s Valentine’s Day, which means chocolates, both obligation and love types. Kurumi, of course, has made chocolate for everyone, but finds it incredibly hard to give Kazehaya his. To make matters worse, Kurumi (who’s better than she was, but is still enjoying making life miserable for Sawako) notes Kazehaya always refuses chocolate that isn’t friendship chocolate. Except for Kurumi’s. Mostly as he feels guilty for turning her down. And so, in the end, Sawako does nothing. We’re left on a cliffhanger.

I really feel for Yano here, as watching Kazehaya and Sawako clearly be head over heels with each other and yet barely move forward an inch can be mind-numbingly frustrating. Still, there’s lots of little moments here that continue to make this one of the best shoujo manga out there, and I’m hoping that Volume 8 might resolve things a little better (a hug? can I at least get that?). Plus we get a hint that we’ll meet a new male character soon, who I suspect will be to Kazehaya what Kurumi is to Sawako. Good times!

Kimi Ni Todoke Volume 6

By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret (“Betsuma”). Released in North America by Viz.

I’m starting to notice a problem with the fact that a great deal of the shoujo manga we see here comes from Hakusensha titles. I’ve grown used to their fast, somewhat chaotic and cluttered style. So when I get to a title from, say, Shueisha, the pace always seems too slow and pedantic for me. That’s the complaint I have with this volume of Kimi ni Todoke – it’s 180 pages, but with only 4 chapters, and with the art and plot as spread out and relaxed as it is, it feels like very little happened here.

Well, that wraps up my complaints. Now back to gushing. Wow, this continues to be one of the best shoujo manga titles coming out here in North America. Sawako mostly takes a backseat for 3/4 of it, as we wrap up the arc featuring Chizuru and her crush on Ryu’s big brother. The cliffhanger we left Vol. 5 with is resolved almost immediately, as Big Brother returns home for the holidays with his fiancee in tow. So most of what we get are Chizuru trying to come to terms with her crushed dreams, and the fight she subsequently has with Ryu.

A lot of the fun in this volume comes from characters not reacting the way that we think they should. Even Ayane notes this out loud, saying that a Chizuru trying to act ‘normally’ while repressing everything is something that she can’t deal with. Meanwhile, Ryu is normally the most perceptive of the group, but here is forced to actually step out of his passive role, and finds it very awkward going. Chizuru can easily scream and yell, but when he’s angry or frustrated, he has no such vent. As a result, we completely understand why Chizuru is so confused with his behavior – why on earth is her steady, reliable friend giving her mixed signals NOW?

We don’t actually end with any sort of confession – far too early in the series for that, and the manga’s at 12 volumes and still running in Japan. But things do wrap up well, with Chizuru and Ryu’s brother working things out as well as they ever will, and then having her and Ryu make up. Their talk at the dockside is the sweetest, most touching part of the volume, and makes you yearn for them to get closer. But at least they’re friends again.

The last chapter is also excellent, reminding us that while Sawako has come very far since the start of the manga, she’s not remotely a normal, sociable girl yet. What’s more, she’s not yet at the point where Christmas is a time for friends and lovers rather than family – though we can see her struggling with it. Luckily, Kazehaya continues to be the best boyfriend ever, and is totally understanding of what she needs to do. He also gets her the perfect Christmas present. But I’ve gone on about Kazehaya’s perfection before.

Basically, even though the pace seems sluggish to me as a reader of much more pacey shoujo manga, it’s not that bad in its own context. And if the pacing is all I can complain about, then you’re in for a treat. Kimi ni Todoke continues to be one of the best manga being published today. Seek it out.