One of the problems with the the great manga boom in the past is that I think some good titles got lost in the deluge of new series. Gatcha Gacha is one of those series that I think deserves a second glance. This series was published by Tokyopop, and it probably wasn’t helped by the presence of the similarly titled Gacha Gacha from Del Rey. I picked up the first three books in this series after seeing some reviews over on A Case Suitable for Treatment.
In a manga publishing world filled with cookie cutter heroes and heroines, the main characters in Gatcha Gacha are all a little bit off in a way that makes the series refreshing even while it steps through some shoujo plot cliches. Yuri is the heroine of the manga whose decision to “live for love” has left her with a string of horrible ex-boyfriends. Her tendency towards serial monogamy has given her the reputation of being a slut, even though she optimistically just throws herself into relationships hoping that everything will work out. One day Yuri’s attention is captured by Motoko Kagurazawa, a super popular ultra athletic sociopath who enjoys checking out other girls in their gym costumes. Kagurazawa notices Yuri staring at her, and Yuri soon finds herself tied up in a closet for interrogation. Yuri promises to not tell anyone about her observations and as she escapes the clutches of Kagurazawa she runs into a lanky boy names Yabe running from a gang. He turns around and beats them up when one of them bumps into Yuri. Yuri decides that Yabe is the coolest guy she’s ever seen.
Yuri and Kagurazawa strike up an unlikely friendship, as Kagurazawa offers up details about Yabe saying that he makes “your other boyfriends look like champions.” When one of Yuri’s ex-boyfriends tries to offer her up to a gang to pay his gambling debt, Kagurazawa beats them up, then tells Yuri that she owes her. A love quadrangle promptly develops in the series as Yuri pines after Yabe. Yabe and Kagurazawa have an unspoken connection. The student council president Hirao runs into Yuri as she’s trying to chase Yabe and develops a crush on her. But the calm collected Hirao is utterly unable to confess his feelings, so he spends most of his time stalking Yuri, much to Kagurazawa’s amusement.
Gatcha Gacha has a certain seedy quality that makes it entertaining. If most shoujo manga is Beverly Hills 90210, Gatcha Gatcha is Melrose Place. One of the reasons why I like the series is that none of the lead characters have the bland, calculatedly likable personalities that you usually find in manga. Yuri’s blind stupidity about her dating life leads her towards picking the most inappropriate guy possible for her, but her pathological cheerfulness combined with the variety of random skills she’s picked up from her many exes ensures that she’ll obliviously come out ahead in most situations. Yabe is a serial womanizer and delinquent. Most of the time when Yuri is able to catch a glimpse of him he’s being chased by a gang of thugs or by an angry ex-girlfriend. Kagurazawa seems to enjoy spending most of her time observing other people mess up, making cutting comments, and occasionally kicking people in the face. Hirao seems to be the prototypical shoujo hero, but his stalker-like behavior and inability to express his feelings make him somewhat pathetic.
The first volume sets up the characters and their relationships. The second volume shows the relationships developing, often through the lens of a supporting character. So Hirao is shown thinking that he’s pathetic because he can’t talk frankly to Yuri, but we also see Hirao through the eyes of his vice president who also has a helpless crush on him. While Yuri is oblivious of Hirao’s feelings, other girls notice him staring at her and she has to fend off some attacks from mean girls. One of the things that I find amusing is the way random violence sometimes is used to resolve conflicts in this series. Kagurazawa’s unlikely background and past with Yabe are also detailed. Even with her love of low-brow pastimes like professional wrestling, she comes from a privileged family. The girl that Yabe might never be able to get over is Kagurazawa’s lost sister.
I find the character designs in Gatcha Gacha very appealing, particularly Yabe who looks like a punked-out Shaggy with his goatee and earrings. Yuri’s short curly hair makes her look like an adorable moppet, and Kagurazawa’s long and lean look makes her slightly menacing athleticism believable. Gatcha Gacha isn’t particularly deep, but at the end of three volumes I was entertained and wanted to find out what happened to the four main characters.