Manga-ka: Kaoru Tada
Publisher: Digital Manga
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2010
Synopsis: “Naoki keeps fleeing further and further from his meddling family! He thinks working a part-time summer job at a posh resort is the perfect way to find some much-needed peace and quiet… but his pushy parents, bratty little brother, school friends and (of course) Kotoko are all hot on his trail. Will this vacation turn into a total nightmare… or will someone get the sweet surprise they’ve always dreamed of?”
Like many a shoujo-heroine before and after her, Kotoko was endearing at first. Her one-sided love for Naoki garnered my sympathy and her penchant for failing at just about everything gave the series plenty of humour. Naoki being shown as little more than a jerk early on also made it a lot easier to cheer for her. Four double-sized volumes in, however, and not only am I flabbergasted that almost nothing has changed in the relationship that frames the series, but I’m spending almost all my time hoping that Naoki can finally break free of this suffocating romance.
Near the end of this volume Naoki has a great lash out at Kotoko and his parents that I hope felt have as satisfying to him as it did to me. The antics of his Mother constantly trying to push him and Kotoko together, Kotoko’s obsessive attitude about him and Naoki’s Father pressuring him to take over the family company have quickly turned this series into a case of Naoki’s mental survival. Poor guy. Suddenly his jerk-like behaviour doesn’t seem so bad anymore.
One of the larger plot points in this volume was Naoki agreeing to help his Father at work as his temporary assistant. I liked that through this story we finally got to learn what Naoki’s Father does for a living. Turns out he’s head of a huge toy company titled Pandai (not named after a large existing company I’m sure). To no one’s surprise, Kotoko is quick to ask for a job there as well so she can remain attached to Naoki. Seeing her dressed as the classic Japanese office-woman (from uniform in school to uniforms in the office!) did help me finally accept she’s college-age, a fact that’s easy to forget when she doesn’t look or act any different. The time Kotoko and Naoki spend together there offers up some of those rare moments when I feel a little spark between them, yet even then it’s still bordering on friendship over anything else. It’s a shame that despite some of the funner scenes, its most memorable feature ends up being learning that Naoki’s Father can be as conniving and selfish as his wife.
Other escapades include a tennis tournament, deep forest hiking and another go at having the perfect Christmas. The tennis tournament offers Naoki another chance to show off his super athletic skill (to go with his perfect grades, business prowess and apparent good looks) and Kotoko another chance to show us how super clumsy she is. She’s an entertaining character but doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities to let me pass her flaws off as charming quirks. It’s bad enough that when the ‘twist’ in the final pages comes about, I was actually groaning instead of sighing or squeeing giddily as I suspect was more the desired result.
Secondary characters bulk up the story and provide a pleasant reprieve now and again. I especially liked a budding relationship between a new character out for Kotoko’s affection, and one of the two sisters constantly vying for Naoki’s attention. Kotoko’s two best friends don’t offer a whole lot to the story past occasional plot-devices yet I find when the artist takes the time to give us a glimpse of their lives – be it their new boyfriends or grades – the whole world feels a little more in-depth. There’s also the constantly doting Kinnosuke who always shows up with comedic gusto, though he feels a bit wasted when Kotoko brings enough goofiness to the page on her own. A great go-between character for everyone is Naoki’s little brother. He’s as bratty as ever yet someone keeps getting more likeable as a third party privy to all the going-ons around him, complete with snarky commentary.
Despite its flaws, I don’t dislike Itazura na Kiss. While the overarching plot is hard to swallow, the circumstantial entertainment is genuine. I have fun reading the volumes but there’s always those nagging elements. Kotoko’s every stalker-ish move or selfish decisive is constantly forgiven on the grounds of being a girl in love while Naoki is expected to live a life others plan for him simply because he’s a guy. I want to see Kotoko grow up, I want to see Naoki free to live his own life and have us be able to see what that is when Kotoko isn’t there. I’ll be sticking with Itazura na Kiss a few dates more but it’s going to take a lot more than what’s been offered so far to win my heart.