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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Love*Com Vol. 1 by Nakahara Aya 
9th-Aug-2008 09:06 pm
Golden
Nakahara, Aya. Love*Com. Vol. 1. Trans. Pookie Rolf. San Francisco: VIZ Media, 2007.
          Summary: Risa Koizumi is the tallest girl in class. Atsushi Ôtani is the shortest boy. To their classmates, they have become known as the “All Hanshin-Kyojin,” after a famed comedy duo that featured one tall guy and one short guy, and everyone at school assumes that they must be dating. Needless to say, the very last thing the two want is to be a couple, and so Risa and Ôtani join forces in the pursuit of their true objects of their respective affections. But conspiracy soon leads to companionship—and when their plans don't ever seem to turn out exactly as they had hoped, will it turn into something more?
          Comments: In Japan, psychosexual hang ups have been turned into elements of the popular vernacular. Everybody, it seems, has some sort of complex. There are Lolita complexes, Shotarou complexes, brother complexes, and mother complexes…and none of them, except perhaps in the escapist worlds of anime and manga, are considered especially attractive. So what might possibly constitute a “lovely complex,” the long-form title of a shoujo manga by Aya Nakahara otherwise known as Love*Com?
          Why, a complex about one's own height, of course! Such a banal character flaw. What person has not, at some point or another in his or her life, wished to be either taller or shorter, after all? Okay, so it's vaguely annoying how Ôtani thinks that tall girls are an assault on his masculinity and how Risa thinks that being tall makes her unfeminine. But let's face it: a lot of people do believe similar things about height and gender, whether consciously or no. It's a premise as bland to the palate as a loaf of Wonderbread, calculatingly pitched to the widest possible number of consumers.
          And just like its premise, the manga's art is unobtrusive and inoffensive. Like any number of popular shoujo manga titles, the art is attractive, clean, and controlled, with moments of easy visual charm similar to that of Hana Kimi. There is also the merest touch of Ai Yazawa's signature design in the facial expression of the characters. On its own terms apart from the story, though, the art displays little of particular interest. Nakahara's single nod to individualistic style is her penchant for shading characters' cheeks with hash marks, spirals, and knotty scribbles. Most other mangaka only use one, or two at the most.
          Indeed, everything about Love*Com is safe. Romantic comedy genre codes are present and accounted for: Risa and Ôtani claim hate each other, and they bicker like it's a screwball comedy. This means, naturally, that they are destined for each other. The only question this manga has to answer, then, is how long and under what circumstances it will take them to realize it. At first they try to hook each other up with their respective crushes. Risa likes Suzuki; Ôtani likes Chiharu…but Suzuki and Chiharu like each other. When this becomes incontrovertible fact, the good-hearted Risa and Ôtani become off the cuff matchmakers, helping bring their shy friends together. By the end of volume one, they have even dared each other to see who can find a boyfriend/girlfriend faster, and they have discovered that they are compatible in every conceivable way save stupid, preconceived notions of gender-appropriate height. The story as it stands now only has two long-term possibilities: either “All Hanshin-Kyojin” becomes a couple for real and has various additional adventures, or “All Hanshin-Kyojin” becomes a couple for real and concludes the story. Suffice it to say that readers looking for a suspenseful tale should be looking elsewhere.
          Those looking for endearing characters and the occasional laugh, on the other hand, might want to check out Love*Com in the hypothetical absence of anything better. Strong-willed, puissant heroines have become much more common in shoujo manga over the past decade or so than they used to be, and Risa is an excellent example of the type. Somewhat less common, though, is Ôtani. Shoujo manga romantic heroes, whether brash or aloof, tend to be somewhat distant figures. Love*Com makes Ôtani much more of an active player in the plot than average because he becomes Risa's partner in a non-romantic sense. He is not so idealized or placed on the pedestal in his depiction. Besides, it's rather nice to see a romantic relationship grow organically out of a friendship. Cross-sex friendships can be difficult for Japanese people. So while a shoujo manga modeling the sort of relationship that actually lasts, as opposed to a whiz-bang star-crossed romance, is not revolutionary—it may be useful.
          This particular use is lost in a Western context where relationships between men and women are not quite so overtly dysfunctional. So all we are left with is a Wonderbread plot with decent art and a bizarre VIZ Media adaptation that gives the characters a Southern accent. (“He is so fine,” anyone?) There is nothing “complex” about Love*Com—and not all that much to love either.
          Notes: paperback, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by by Shuueisha in 2001
          Rating: 4.5/10 - You could do worse with this one...but why bother when there are so many opportunities in the shoujo manga genre to do so much better?
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