Itazura na Kiss

Itazura na Kiss is a charming romantic comedy. The story focuses on clumsy, average (and generally unintelligent) Kotoko Aihara, and handsome boy genius Naoki Irie. Calling Naoki a genius is really an understatement; he’s more like a prodigy. He’s good at everything. He instantly memorizes anything he looks at once, he’s good at sports, he can cook, he’s popular (not in that he has a lot of friends, but that he has many followers), top of his class, one of the best in the entire country, skilled at just about everything he attempts, and is good looking on top of all that. Poor Kotoko is…less intelligent. She’s closer to the bottom of her class, has difficulty studying, can’t cook, isn’t particularly good at sports, isn’t exactly drop-dead gorgeous, and is really the total opposite of the kind of girl Naoki would normally be interested in.

In fact, the book starts off with Kotoko attempting to give Naoki a love letter…which is rejected before it even leaves her hands. Poor Kotoko is devastated by his callous rejection, and vows to put that jerk out of her mind forever. But when an earthquake destroys the new house her father just built, they are forced to move in with an old friend of her father’s…who happens to be Naoki’s father. Naoki makes her promise not to tell anyone of their situation, but circumstances (like Kinnosuke, who is in love with Kotoko, following her home) ultimately reveal their situation to the entire school. Then rumors start spreading that they’re dating, then that they’re getting married, and Naoki is not happy. Making the situation more chaotic is Naoki’s mother, Machiko, trying to push the two together against their (or well, at least Naoki’s) will. She is thrilled to have a girl in the house to dote on, and thinks Kotoko would be a perfect match for her son.

Against Naoki’s wishes, he continually finds himself involved in various situations with Kotoko. He helps her study for her exams because she blackmails him with a childhood photo, Machiko makes up an excuse to clear out the house so Naoki and Kotoko can be alone for a couple of days, and in general Kotoko causes him unending trouble. Naoki is unused to such a hectic life, and Kotoko’s presence throws everything off for him. But for this goalless guy who has no real passion for anything, Kotoko’s enthusiasm is just what the doctor ordered.

What makes Itazura stand out from a sea of shojo titles, is its time span. The story follows Kotoko and Naoki through their final year of high school, their time in college, through internships, and official jobs. All of the characters grow and change over the course of their lives. Some of them get married and have children. It’s not just a moment in time; it’s a lifetime.

I really think I was too hard on Itazura before, when I saw the anime. I didn’t like Kotoko at all; I’m not a fan of girls who throw themselves on or fawn over guys who obviously don’t like them, or put up with such obvious cold treatment. But I’ve read Sarasah recently, which is infinitely worse, and realized that Kotoko isn’t so bad. The heroine of Sarasah really has no redeeming qualities to speak of; but I’ve come to understand that Kotoko is compassionate, caring, supportive, and an incredibly hard worker. All admirable qualities; she just needed Naoki to give her a chance. Circumstances threw her into his vision, and he was forced to see her for who she really is, and not just judge her by her standing in school. And, you know, Naoki really isn’t that bad; he’s the sort of person who is so consumed with studying, that he doesn’t really know how to properly interact with people or convey his emotions. He’s a snob, certainly, but it seems to be a wall that he puts up to avoid interacting with people. It really takes an open, passionate girl like Kotoko to pull him out, and it’s going to take all of her effort to get Naoki off his lofty perch, and down where the normal humans roam.

Itazura na Kiss is published by Digital Manga Publishing, for $16.95 (for a double volume). The manga remains unfinished due to the mangaka's untimely death, but it was finished in the anime, which used her intended ending. A copy was provided to me by Digital Manga Publishing for review (thanks!).