I find it difficult to write about things that I unabashedly love. I always feel that I can’t accurately express how much something has affected me, so even if I write pages upon pages of words, those still wouldn’t be enough. Maybe I’m just hesitant to commit to something; there’s no way to take back a fangirl gush once it’s already out in the ether.
On this blustery September day, however, I will attempt to write about a series that I have loved from the first minute I saw it: Kimi ni Todoke. It’s a series that I feel is generally well-known, especially for fans of “old-school” shoujo (which I will explain in a bit), but which has also gained the begrudging respect of a more mainstream audience as well. It’s a simple high-school romance — what is there about it that makes it so appealing?
Even though I’m a sucker for pretty things with little substance, I think Shiina KARUHO has managed to find a good balance between pretty art and an engaging enough story in Kimi ni Todoke. I really like the character designs for the main ensemble of characters, and especially for her leads, Sawako and Kazehaya. She is drawn like the typical high-school girl, unremarkable from the crowd, yet when the occasion calls on her to look beautiful or scary (Sadako mode!), Karuho deftly draws her to fit the mood. Kazehaya, in turn, is Mr. Perfect & Popular. He isn’t drawn model-gorgeous (like Yoh of High School Debut), but he fits the image of a sporty, all-around friendly, approachable guy.
I really love that her characters are distinct and identifiable. I’d never confuse Sawako and Chizu, and Ryu looks nothing like Kazehaya. Even the two characters who resemble each other the most in the manga, Ayane and Kurumi, are still easily distinguishable; just look at their eyes to make sure, Yano-chin (Ayane) wears more eye makeup! I know this isn’t primarily a problem only in shoujo manga, but I find it annoying when all of the characters within a single series resemble each other to the degree that I have problems telling them apart. Maybe I’m a lazy reader and don’t want to exert a lot of effort, but it could equally be a lazy artist, who can’t be bothered to make up distinct designs for their characters. I’d understand if different characters among a number of series look like each other — that’s typical — but within a single work, two characters shouldn’t look like twins, unless they are!
Storywise, Kimi ni Todoke treads on familiar territory. It’s a story of a first love, of an average girl liking the popular boy, of two people who like each other but can’t seem to make the other person see just how much they do. When I mentioned the term “old school” shoujo earlier, it’s meant to describe the long, drawn out, sometimes frustrating road that our leads have to take just to get to the part where they can tell the other person that they like them. For a person who’s not familiar with shoujo manga conventions, watching Sawako and Kazehaya figuring out their relationship is worse than watching paint dry. It’s an interesting contrast to a series where the lead male and female start off their relationship fighting (like Makino and Tsukasa in Hana Yori Dango and a variety of Hollywood romantic comedies) so of course, by the time their feelings turn to affection, it’s after many chapters of misunderstanding and conflict. In Kimi ni Todoke, Sawako and Kazehaya are mutually attracted to the other from their first meet cute, but somehow, the misunderstandings took over before anyone realized it.
The anime, which lasted for two seasons, served as a gateway to the audience that wouldn’t have been following the manga to begin with. I mean, Production I.G. at the helm of a shoujo anime!? Maybe it’s worth checking this out.
What the anime was also able to show effectively was the series’ humor. When the manga’s main sight gag is how much the main character resembles Sadako from The Ring horror series, the anime does a better job of setting up the gag and the corresponding reactions than the manga ever could.
The anime also makes sure that it lingers just long enough at the moments where it needs us to pay attention, to see how Sawako and Kazehaya are falling in love, despite all of the obstacles that they or others have put in the way.
And then there’s the movie, which is the latest version of this series, and which is probably my least favorite incarnation. Even though it tried to get the essence of what makes Kimi ni Todoke represents, I felt that it rushed through the important moments and dawdled on the trivial things. For instance, I think that without establishing the back stories of Chizu and Ayane, it’s hard to understand why they would feel friendly towards Sawako. The two of them are considered “outcasts” themselves, maybe not to the same extent that Sawako is considered one, but if you were made aware of that in the movie, then it explains why their friendship started.
Though I have to agree with the author — the actors that they found for Sawako and Kazehaya are pretty much perfect. I’ve gone this long without using the adjective refreshing in this write-up, but Haruma Miura’s portrayal of Kazehaya is exactly how I pictured him to be, if he were a real-life Japanese high school boy. The way he smiles, the way he looks at Sawako, the way he does little things for her… it’s enough to make me want to be a high school girl again.
I sometimes look at my reading & watching patterns and even to myself, I find it curious why I’m gravitate so frequently towards series set in high school. I can’t explain why I like these stories and why they evoke a (fake) feeling of nostalgia since my own experience in secondary education was nothing like this, I didn’t even have a Kazehaya to dream about. Maybe that’s just the power of a good story, in that you’re drawn in to it, even without a personal frame of reference to judge on. Maybe I just like stories where a girl can find happiness and love, and possibly good friends and a cute boy to kiss and hold hands with. Maybe that’s it.