Monday, December 10, 2018

Kimi Ni Todoke vol. 30 - an end and a celebration (Manga Review)

Volume 30
Kimi Ni Todoke is a landmark shoujo manga series. This week, it came to an end in its English translation in volume 30. It would be a grave disservice and completely inappropriate for me to review the volume in the traditional sense. Instead, let this be a celebration of an incredible work of art and storytelling. Because, needless to say, if you've read through to volume 30 you already love the series.

So right off the bat, volume 30 hits all the right notes in ending the series. It has the same beautiful, slow pacing, hints of comedy, gorgeous art, softness and delicacy, intimacy, and emotionality as the series as a whole. It doesn't try to do some big thing to end, instead, it is focused on how each "ending" is a new "beginning" but also a continuation. While the series is ending, it is clear these character's lives are only just starting. It is wistful, melancholy, loving, romantic, sad, hopeful and so many things, all without being overly dramatic or plot heavy. As Karuho Shiina-sensei has done throughout the entire series, volume 30 is a perfectly balanced "conclusion" to the series (if not their lives).

Kimi Ni Todoke tells the story of Sawako, a shy, brilliant, but odd and oddly-misunderstood young woman who finally comes out of her shell when two other misfits realize there is a real person inside of her. From there, the rest of her class gets to know her and embrace her. This isn't some story of bullying and awful peers and the terrors of being a teenager, but really one about how we sometimes get slotted into roles and with the right openmindedness by everyone (ourselves included), those roles can be overcome; that there is inherent good in everyone and we can be embraced by others.

One young man in particular, Shota, has always been intrigued by Sawako. As she comes out of her shell, is embraced by the class, they get to know each other. This is the story of their falling in love. The final volume concludes their highschool journey, already dating, and into the transition to college. Without giving any spoilers, it is a fitting advancement in their relationship, done with sweetness and delicacy and all the quirks we expect of these two shy lovebirds.

Sawako Kuronuma and Shota Kazehaya

As I said, volume 30 is the perfect, delicate ending to the series. But what makes this series so amazing? 

First, it isn't overly dramatic. It perfectly blends sweetness, comedy, angst, love, passion, anger, frustration, daily life, confusion, and a host of other real feelings in the day-to-day lives of a group of teenagers. There are no big plot points or dramatic reveals. There are no hidden pasts that link them together through tragedy. There are no terrible parents or accidents waiting to happen. Instead, there are kids growing up normally and doing so sweetly.

The art is also exceptional. The range of depictions (stylistically) as well as facial expression for Sawako are incredible. In one moment she looks like the gothy cursed terror people initially assume her to be and in the next we see her subtle, radiant, classical beauty. And everything in between, including lots of funny faces, shy faces, blushing faces, ecstatic faces, loving faces, etc...

The line work is always top notch, the use of screen tones going beyond the minimum, adding depth and sparkle to scenes. The art is mostly realistic, with the long lines of classic shoujo, but delving into super deformed for humor effortlessly and without breaking the feel or pace. It is quite frankly, some of the best shoujo art to be found anywhere (and I don't say that easily, I'm really pretty picky).

The writing is soft and subtle but clear. It is nuanced and slow and purposeful. It doesn't interject unnecessary events to create drama, instead the drama comes from the natural interactions and collisions between people.

And let's talk about the people. Sawako and Shota are wonderful, they are the lead couple, we get to know them both as real people. But there is SO much more. The side characters are really given lives of their own and their stories are just as powerful and meaningful as our leads. Sawako's two closest friends, Ayane and Chizuru, couldn't be more different than each other or Sawako, but together, they complement each other so well. 

Each side character (and the guys too - Pin especially is a fan and personal favorite - boy does he have some hidden depth!) is given a unique and meaningful emotional and relationship arc, without any judgment, and without any pathos. Each takes a very different path forward, but their journeys are well worth the read. It is a rare manga indeed whose side character stories are just as well constructed and deep as the main characters' stories. This alone has been a huge influence on my own writing. It really opened me up to what true character building and the interrelations between side characters and main characters can mean for a work of writing.

I could go on and on, but you probably already love this series and have bought and read the final volume. If you haven't, and you like shoujo, this is one of the finest shoujo series ever written and is an instant classic of the genre, certain to hold up over time, and remain an influence on works to come. 

If you're not sure about starting the series, feel free to start with the anime which covers the first few volumes and is close enough to give you a taste. Just know that the entire series goes so much further with such subtle beauty and brilliance that the anime, no matter how well done, cannot fully capture. 

Thank you to Karuko Shiina-sensei for a stunning and profound work of art, and to Shojo Beat for the English translation.

🚺

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