All Sawako wants to do is make friends with everyone in her class. However, she bears an unfortunate resemblance to Sadako (the girl with long black hair in The Ring), and, although she doesn't realize it, everything she does has a tendency to come across as creepy.
Sawako is sure that, if she expresses her thoughts and feelings honestly, someday someone will understand her. In the meantime, she tries her hardest to make those around her happy, so she's usually the one who volunteers to do the things her classmates don't want to do. Her goal is to do at least one good deed every day. She doesn't seek recognition for the things she does and doesn't actually see her actions as anything special.
Someone has noticed her, however - Kazehaya, the friendliest and most popular boy in her class. She is shocked when he tells her that he admires her - how could he admire her when, from her perspective, he inspires people to do better just by being around them? Sawako gradually starts to open up to Kazehaya, completely unaware of his crush on her, and unable to recognize that her feelings of admiration for him are becoming something more.
I have heard many good things about this series. It's been on my TBR list for a long time, but I wasn't really looking forward to the time it would take to get yet another series one volume at a time via ILL. I finally decided to break down and buy it, or at least the first volume, just to try it out. Well, I've tried it out, and now I want the whole thing. It's fantastically cute and sweet - I only hope that it's just as good several volumes into it as it is right now.
Sawako is the kind of character who makes me wish I could step into the series, just so that I could hug her and tell her I like her. The poor girl's appearance alone is enough to frighten people, but then she inadvertently makes things worse by trying too hard. For instance, every day she tries to greet people in the most cheerful way possible. Her natural smile is very cute, but when she tries to smile at people she looks like something out of a horror movie. When she fails to connect with people, she assumes it's because she did something wrong. People talk about her, whispering that she attracts ghosts or that looking into her eyes for more than 3 seconds will give you diarrhea. Instead of thinking that they're being mean or insensitive, Sawako tries to think of ways to clear up what she assumes are misunderstandings between her and her classmates. She's so incredibly lonely it sometimes hurts to watch her, and she's so shy it's almost impossible for her to interact with others in a natural way.
Sawako is amazingly nice. She does nice things for other people because she likes them and wants them to like her back. She does nice things for cute animals because she likes them, even though they tend to fear her as much as other people do. Because she is nice down to her very marrow, she views the world through eyes that can see no meanness and ugliness. If someone is nice to her, or even just treats her the way they would anyone else, she assumes that that person is an exceptionally good person.
I was worried, at first, that it would turn out that Kazehaya was only being nice to Sawako because he was nice to everyone. Happily, he actually seems to be interested in Sawako. Sawako may be the nicest person on the planet, but most people aren't aware of that because she is usually incapable of voicing her feelings. Since Kazehaya actually took the time too look past Sawako's shyness and get to know her, it's completely believable that he would fall for her - who wouldn't like someone as sweet and kind as her? Unfortunately, Sawako is so unaware of her own good qualities that she can't even recognize that Kazehaya has feelings for her. I both laughed and winced when she unknowingly rejected Kazehaya - in this first volume, he's still just "the person I admire," not "the person I love." I only hope that, when she does finally recognize what her feelings for him are, she manages to tell him. Thankfully, Kazehaya recognizes the "rejection" for what it was and seems willing to wait for her and keep on encouraging her.
Not much happened in this first volume - it mostly just established the basic characters. Sawako has already made a few friends (which she is convinced is entirely due to Kazehaya's influence) and has potential romance in her future, but she's got a long way to go before she comes completely out of her shell. From the look of things, in the next volume she'll have to deal with a bunch of girls who are jealous of how close she and Kazehaya have become. I'm going to guess that either Kazehaya or one her her new female friends will defend her - even if it's that predictable, I'm sure I'll love it anyway. Sometimes all it takes is a really appealing main character.
This volume includes author sidebars (not all that interesting, since it sounds like Shiina doesn't have time to do much besides create manga), a few one-page "making of Kimi ni Todoke" comics (better than the sidebars), and a couple pages of notes explaining some of the names and aspects of Japanese culture that come up throughout the volume (my favorite kind of manga extra).
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - This manga has also been adapted into an anime, but I haven't seen it and don't know how similar it is to the manga. The main character of this series, Sunako, is similar to Sawako in that she looks like Sadako and has a tendency to frighten people just by existing. Four handsome guys are told they can live in Sunako's aunt's mansion for free, the only catch being that they have to turn Sunako into a "lady." Gradually, the guys learn that, when she's not crippled by her fear of beauty or wallowing in her love for horror movies and all things creepy, she's actually beautiful and really awesome. Although this series has some romantic elements, do not read this if you'd primarily like another romantic series - you'll only end up disappointed, as Hayakawa goes so far with the romance and no further for volume after volume after volume. What this series is best at is humor.
- Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Every time someone treated Sawako like another human being and she chose to view that as evidence that the person was incredibly nice, I was reminded of Mihashi, one of the main characters in this series. Mihashi loves baseball, particularly pitching, but his terrible experiences in middle school destroyed his self-confidence. Although he was determined to quit baseball once he entered high school, to his joy and horror he found himself added to the team instead. Now, for the team to excel, everyone, particularly Mihashi and Abe, his catcher, must learn to work together. If you'd like another series with an incredibly sweet, shy main character whose self-confidence could use a boost, you might want to try this.
- High School Debut (manga) by Kazune Kawahara - Haruna, a cheerful tomboy, has never had a boyfriend. Now that she's in high school, she's determined to change things. Unfortunately, she has absolutely no idea how to become more feminine and attract a boy's interest. When she meets handsome and popular Yoh, she gets him to agree to teach her about dating and what boys like. The only condition: Haruna must not fall in love with Yoh - and of course she and Yoh both fail miserably at this condition. This is another sweet romantic school story featuring a likable heroine who tries way too hard. One of the things I love about this series is that Haruna doesn't end up with Yoh because she changes herself, but rather because Yoh gets to know her and likes her for who she is.
- Azumanga Daioh (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma; Azumanga Daioh (anime TV series) - This humorous slice-of-life series focuses on a bunch of quirky high school girls and their eccentric teachers. I added it to this list primarily because of one of the characters, a cool-looking girl who secretly loves cute animals, even though almost all animals hate her.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - After Tohru Honda's mother died, she went to live with her grandfather, but, rather than get in anyone's way while his house was being remodeled, she opted to live in a tent in the woods. When Yuki Sohma, the most popular boy at school, and Shigure Sohma find out about her, they offer to let her stay at their place. Tohru soon learns that the Sohma family has been hiding a big secret: when certain members of the family become weak or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into one of the animals in the Chinese zodiac. Those who'd like another series featuring an incredibly nice heroine might want to try this. In addition, Yuki, who has been put on a pedestal by his classmates, is similar to Kazehaya in some ways, although his loneliness makes him like Sawako, too.