This post contains SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.
Ninako has never been in love, so when everyone around her tells her she loves Daiki, because she's been friends with him for ages and because he clearly likes her back, she believes them. She wonders about all of this, though, because she's strangely reluctant to take the next step and be Daiki's girlfriend.
Then she meets Ren during her train ride home. He has always felt so far away from her, like a pop idol you can see and sigh over, but never touch. It turns out that he's actually a really nice guy, if quiet and maybe kind of shy. After he accidentally causes Ninako to drop her phone and her cell phone charm breaks, he goes out of his way to find another one he thinks she might like and gives it to her as a present. As Ninako witnesses more of his acts of kindness, she begins to fall in love with him, although she doesn't recognize what those feelings are, at first.
Meanwhile, Daiki notices Ninako's budding feelings for Ren before she does, and he's not happy. In an attempt to nip things in the bud, he tells Ninako something about Ren she doesn't know: he's dating Daiki's sister, a gorgeous model. Things start to get a little out of control when Daiki finally confesses his feelings and everyone around Ninako assumes they're dating, but Ninako knows what she has to do. Even if her feelings aren't reciprocated, she can't change them, and dating Daiki under those conditions wouldn't be right.
I had problems getting into this manga. Ninako seemed nice, and I loved the bit where she told Ren “If somebody does something for me, I appreciate it, no matter what it is” when he thought he'd given her a cell phone charm that wasn't to her taste. However, she also seemed dumb as a rock, and way too easily manipulated. I get that Sakisaka was trying to show readers that she had no experience with love and had no idea what that emotion felt like, but it was like she didn't have a clue about any emotions, not just love. She interprets her reactions to Ren as the beginnings of a cold, rather than as emotional reactions. This was played more seriously than humorously, and all it did was lower my opinion of Ninako's intelligence even further.
While I was glad Ninako figured things out within the first volume, I still thought it took her a touch too long to realize the meaning of her reactions to Daiki vs. Ren. This line prompted a huge eye roll on my part: “Why does my heart feel so heavy? Is this how it feels when the person you like does something nice for you?” In this case, “the person you like” is Daiki. Ninako hurt her ankle and was feeling a bit lonely on the sidelines while her classmates had fun. She was happy when Ren took the time to keep her company, but when Ren left and Daiki came and said he'd do the same, it made her heart feel heavy. And it still took her a couple scenes after that to figure out that Ren was the one she really loved.
Ren confused me. I couldn't tell whether he was already beginning to develop feelings for Ninako, or if everything he was doing was just him being nice. On the one hand, when Daiki confronted him and told him to focus on the girl he's already got, he didn't deny that he had feelings for Ninako. He didn't confirm that he did, either, but I would have thought he'd at least say something like “You're misunderstanding the situation.” On the other hand, his girlfriend said the two of them call and text each other every day. Even in this first volume, it's made clear that good people don't lead other good people on. When Ninako learns that Ren already has a girlfriend and that her feelings might never be reciprocated, she doesn't turn to Daiki instead. She tells him the truth, because to do otherwise would potentially hurt Daiki worse. If this is what good people do, then what's going on with Ren? He's supposed to be a good guy, so he doesn't strike me as the type who'd continue to call and text his girlfriend while nursing budding feelings for Ninako.
I liked that Ninako was honest about her feelings, once she finally figured out what they were. A lot of shoujo heroines would have remained conflicted, allowing the misunderstandings to grow to the point that finally telling the truth would hurt multiple people. Ninako doesn't let that happen. I also liked that Ninako's friends accepted her decision and didn't continue to pressure her into becoming Daiki's girlfriend. I had worried that Daiki would be the sort to blow up on Ninako when she finally made her feelings and her decision crystal clear. That didn't happen, and I appreciated that, too.
So, there were definitely things to like about this volume. It just didn't grab me as much as it should have. Ninako actively turned me off for most of the volume, Ren is still too much of a mystery (and not really in a “I must know more!” kind of way), and many of the characters don't have much personality yet. Ninako's friend might as well have been an amorphous blob – I couldn't pick any individuals out, and didn't realize the one character late in the volume was one of her friends until I started checking names prior to writing this post. The artwork is okay, but something about the way Sakisaka draws the girls (and, to some extent, the boys) makes it hard for me to tell them apart.
I'm on the fence about whether I'll read more of this series. Ren and Ninako's moments together were cute, but the same could be said about a lot of shoujo couples. If I do read more, it will be via ILL.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You (anime TV series) - If you'd like another romance starring a heroine who doesn't recognize her feelings at first and a hero who's popular and yet also really nice, you might give this a try. Both the anime and manga are good and pretty similar, although the anime ends sooner than the manga does. Just be warned, it takes Sawako a lot longer than Ninako to recognize her feelings for Kazehaya. I've written about the first three volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
- Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - Another romance starring a heroine who has trouble recognizing her own romantic feelings. Her excuse is that her first boyfriend, who she completely devoted herself to, dumped her, and she became so focused on getting revenge by becoming more famous than him that there wasn't room for much else. Which kind of makes her sound horrible, but Kyoko actually turns out to be pretty awesome. I've written about both the anime and lots of the manga volumes.
- High School Debut (manga) by Kazune Kawahara - Something about Ninako reminds me of Haruna, the heroine of this series. Haruna is a cheerful and athletic girl who, now that she's in high school, would finally like a boyfriend. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a clue how to get one. She ends up enlisting the help of a cool-looking guy named Yoh, who agrees to help her on the condition she not fall in love with him. Well, of course that doesn't last long. Yoh, like Ren, is quiet and doesn't smile often, but he turns out to be pretty nice. I've written about the first four volumes.