October 26, 2010
Take one amazingly ditzy girl, a smart mouthed kid with a big case of older brother worship, a genius high schooler with fantastically good looks, 2 middle aged fathers reliving their adolescence together, and a mother who dreams of frills, lace, and a cute daughter in law and what do you get? A shoujo comedy with a cast that doesn't need the Mystery Machine to go on an adventure, but leaves you pondering why the wagon with the men in white coats have not appeared to take them all away. It is just as well that they haven't though, for this is one shoujo that is strangely compelling reading. In fact, it is one of my guilty little secrets. I KNOW there are more grown up and deeply meaningful shoujo and josei titles out there for me to read, but somehow, I can't tear myself away.
Kotoko's life is as chaotic as her mind and emotions: all over the place. While in the last volume we saw her not only get into the same college as Naoki, but the same club, she quickly discovers that her aspirations for romance are not so easily realised. If anything, it just got more complicated with the appearance of the intelligent, pretty, and tennis pro level club member Yuko, who has also held long aspirations of becoming Naoki's girlfriend, and later his bride!To make matters worse, she seems to be Naoki's type so much that despite knowing Kotoko's feelings for him, he agrees to go out on a date with Yuko.
This is where it all goes Hanna Barbara. Cue tennis club coach and sempai Sudo also having an unrequited love, but for Yuko, and the pair agreeing to help each other out by banding together. Donning questionable disguises, they trail the couple along the route of their date, creating havoc everywhere they go. Naoki and Yuko seem oblivious, but that ruse is soon exposed when Naoki has to step in to save Kotoko from herself after spilling a soda on a very irate gentleman with no qualms about hitting a girl. You'd think he would be seriously annoyed at this turn of events, but come on, this is shoujo, so it all ends more or less well.
Or so she thinks, until he announces that he is going to learn independence by working a part time job to support himself and move out to his own place. Packing his stuff and leaving, Kotoko is going insane wondering if her Naoki will ever return to the home they share (admittedly, she and her dad are free loading, pretty much!). Naoki's mother is anxious too, lest he not return, marry Kotoko, and live in the new wing of the house she plans to build for them. It takes very little effort to incite Kotoko into doing something utterly brainless. Kotoko discovers his part time job is at a local family restaurant. Aha! Operation Get Closer by Getting Job at Same Place time! When Yuko beats her to the punch at this as well, she gets despondent, but is determined to find out where he now lives at least. Not having learned her lesson about spying on people the first time, she follows him again. Where does he live now? Wait..that..that..that's YUKO'S house!!!!! WHAT?! Is her love doomed to fail?
From the deadpan foil of Naoki with his occasional smirk to Kotoko's wide eyed bimbo-like antics, to the offbeat cast of supporting characters, to the outrageous plot twists that Tada manages to insert into the most normal of scenarios, there is just something about this series that won't let me tear myself away from it. Classmate Kin-chan blindly chases after the only slightly brighter Kotoko, who chases after the popular handsome and smart guy Naoki, who in turn is also pursued by the beautiful but conniving Yuko, who is being chased unrequitedly by tennis club coach Sudo sempai. Classmates and family pop up along the way to encourage, incite, and bear witness to the zanier efforts these young people attempt while trying to sort out their lives and loves.
The vintage shoujo art style of the series suits it well, as it is breezy and fun to look at, much like the story itself. This is particularly appropriate during the animé club scene: poor Kotoko has somehow been signed up there as well and became a character in their mahou shoujo (magical girl) animé about a tennis playing super heroine. The resulting imagery is reminiscent of Sailor Moon, Wedding Peach, et al of the 90′s in a magnificent send up that fairly had me howling in laughter at poor Kotoko's expense. None the less, take heart, as Tada does give Kotoko a break or two along the way. Slowly, but surely, she and Naoki connect here and there, slowly forging the type of bonds that underlay any good relationship. Given all the ruckus though, it'll be a while yet before even genius Naoki realises, never mind Kotoko!