Fall In Love Like a Comic by Chitose Yagami (amazon)
Rena Sakura is a high school student and a mangaka. She’s getting pressure from her editor to include more realistic scenes in her racy manga, but the problem is that she has no life experience to draw from. She’s never had a boyfriend. When Rena accidentally drops some pages from her work in progress, Tomoya Okita picks them up. He’s the most popular boy in school. He comments after reading her manga that it looks like she hasn’t been in a relationship before. Rena asks Tomoya to be her boyfriend for research purposes. She’s shocked when he agrees.
Yagami’s art has the cuteness factor dialed up to the max. Characters frequently slip into chibi mode, and Rena literally melts into a shapeless amoeba whenever she’s overcome with emotion from Tomoya’s attentions. Of course as their relationship progresses, real feelings start to develop and Rena can’t keep telling herself that she’s only hanging out with Tomoya to become a better manga artist. Tomoya is totally perfect but his personality is a little blank, leaving the reader to wonder why he’s attracted to Rena in the first place. This is addressed a little bit in a bonus story in the back of the book focusing on him, but hopefully later volumes will explore both characters a little more evenly. In general, Fall In Love Like a Comic is light frothy fun, and the details included about Rena’s job like meetings with editors and Japanese terms for manga elements will likely appeal to readers who want to create their own manga.
High School Debut by by Kazune Kawahara (amazon)
While Fall in Love Like a Comic features a heroine who needs a boyfriend to make her manga better, High School Debut has a heroine who needs a coach in order to get a boyfriend in the first place. Haruna threw herself into softball in middle school, spending all of her time practicing and ending up on a championship team. She has decided that her goal for high school will be to find a boyfriend. Haruna studies magazines and fashion trying to figure out what will make her attractive to guys, but she has no internal filter to tell her what actually looks good on her so when she goes out hoping to meet a boy she just looks like a desperate mess of fashion trends. Mami, one of Haruna’s former softball teammates points out that since coaching was so useful in sports, maybe Haruna needs a love coach.
Yoh is one of the coolest guys in school, and Haruna asks him to be her coach because she thinks he’s the ultimate authority on what guys look for in a girl. Yoh refuses, saying that he thinks babying a girl who wants a new life in high school would be annoying. He stalks away saying that he hates girls. Haruna is amazed at his insight into her motivations and vows to make him her coach despite his refusals. Yoh’s sister Asa finds Haruna amusing, and tries to help out by lending her some clothes. As Yoh sees more of Haruna, he gradually comes around to the idea of being her coach and agrees to help her if she promises not to fall in love with him – he doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of inconvenient emotions.
Yoh and Haruna’s relationship is hilarious. Haruna’s single-minded determination to find a boyfriend has led her to keep magazine clippings, scrapbooks, and notebooks of tips. Yoh tells her to throw her notes away because her main problem is that she’s trying too hard. Haruna will sit next to Yoh, trying to think of something to say to him and he’ll say exactly what she’s thinking because her thoughts are so transparent. Yoh takes the task of finding suitable clothes for Haruna as a personal challenge, and he doesn’t give up until he finds a skirt that manages to make her look cute despite her sports-conditioned calves.
While the storyline of a guy making over a girl has been used over and over again, High School Debut manages to rise above the cliche due to the strength of its characters. The sullen cool guy is also a shojo standard, but Yoh’s facial expressions and the exasperated lines around his eyes when he’s reacting to Haruna make him intriguing. The art in High School Debut is a cut above run of the mill shojo titles, as it avoids the same faces with different hairstyles art style that many artists seem to get bogged down in. Each character has a distinctive look and facial expressions that suit their personalities. I’ll be checking out future volumes to see the outcome of Haruna’s determined quest to find a boyfriend.
Review copies were provided by the publisher.