Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (manga, vol. 1) by Ririko Tsujita

The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko is an episodic series focused on school life. It was published by Tokyopop.

Synopsis:

Kanoko's family moves frequently, requiring her to switch schools often – in this volume alone, she attends four different schools. Kanoko seems to take this all in a stride. She sees herself as an impartial observer of her fellow classmates, a sort of young anthropologist. She doesn't attempt to make friends, because any form of favoritism would interfere with her impartiality. What she doesn't count on is that some of her classmates might try to be friends with her anyway.

In the first story, Kanoko accidentally finds herself becoming friends with three people engaged in a sort of love triangle. In the second story, Kanoko is at a new school, observing a seemingly perfect girl whose behavior seems to be a little “off” in a way Kanoko can't quite explain. In the third story, Kanoko is at a school where the girls move up in the social hierarchy by dragging each other down. A weird girl nursing a grudge against one of her classmates holds Kanoko's secret notes hostage in exchange for help. In the fourth story, Kanoko keeps an eye one girl in particular, a narcissist who firmly believes she is destined for greatness. In the fifth story, Kanoko visits the school from the first story in order to meet up with her old friends.

Review:

I purchased this because I'd seen good reviews and the series was short, only three volumes long. Sadly, Tokyopop fell apart before releasing the entire series, so only the first two volumes are available in English.

The first and fifth stories were a perfect frame for this volume. The revealed Kanoko's hidden depths in ways that the other stories didn't. On the outside, she appeared perfectly happy about having to attend a new school every few weeks (the amount of time she spends at each school isn't stated, so this is a guess). She had a steady supply of new students to observe, and there was not even a hint of self-pity in her signature statement whenever she transferred to a new school: “I'm the only completely objective observer in this story. I enjoy the drama of love and hate from a safe vantage point, too far away to be scorched when things get too hot.”

However, would someone who was content to always be an outsider be reduced to tears at the knowledge that she now had friends who'd wait for her after she got in trouble at school, or worry that her friends had changed and left her behind? For the most part, this volume barely hinted at the emotional effects that constantly switching schools had on Kanoko, but those hints made for great glimpses under her “impartial observer” surface.

Aside from Kanoko, the only character who appeared in every story was Tsubaki, one of the first friends Kanoko ever made. I wasn't impressed with him, at first. He paid attention to and flirted with Hanai purely to poke at Natsukusa and didn't seem to care that he risked hurting Hanai in the process. However, I thought it was kind of nice that he was intrigued enough by Kanoko (and concerned enough about her?) to find reasons to visit her at every school she transferred to. It wouldn't surprise me if a future volume turned their relationship into a romance, although, personally, I hope their relationship remains at the level of friendship. As things stand, a sustained friendship is, on its own, a huge step for Kanoko.

The drawback to the series' premise was that there wasn't a whole lot of time to get to know anyone. Readers got a glimpse into various characters' school lives and a closer look at the things that made them interesting to Kanoko, but that was it. By the time Kanoko managed to dig a little below these characters' surfaces and maybe even make more friends, it was time for her to move on. Not even Kanoko was explored as deeply as I would have liked. She was always on the sidelines, and Tsujita rarely showed what her home life was like. I knew she had a mother who worried about her and an aggressively positive and oblivious older sister, but that was about it.

All in all, this was a decent read. I enjoyed the various stories and was even surprised by how some of them turned out. Also, reading something with a heroine (sort of) who had absolutely no interest in romance was kind of refreshing. Although I'm a little peeved that Tokyopop never got around to releasing the third and final volume, this is one of those series that one could easily stop reading after the first volume – the first and last chapters are that effective.

Extras:

A few character profiles, four-panel comics between each chapter, and a two-page comic-style afterword from the author.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • The Pretender (live action TV series) - Does anyone besides me remember this series? The setup of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko reminded me a lot of it. No, not the bit about a super-smart main character who grew up as the test subject of a secretive corporation. I mean Jarod's outsider status and the structure of the episodes. In every episode, Jarod arrives in a new city, pretends to be someone new, and stays just long enough to help someone out before leaving. The series takes more than a little suspension of disbelief, but I loved it and wanted Jarod to finally find a place where he could settle down and really belong.
  • Beauty Pop (manga series) by Kiyoko Arai - This series stars three boys who perform makeovers on random girls. However, they have competition: Kiri, a hairstylist who disguises herself and transforms girls who need a change for one reason or another. Those who'd like another episodic series featuring a heroine who does good things from the sidelines might want to give this a try.
  • Kimi ni Todoke (manga series) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (anime TV series) - This series stars another outsider, but, unlike Kanoko, Sawako desperately wants to belong. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first three volumes of the manga.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga series) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - This series is occasionally a bit episodic, but I'm mostly recommending it for the heroine. Those who'd like another series starring a heroine who has zero interest in romance, despite the presence of several eligible and interested guys, may want to give this a try. I've written about the first half of the anime and the first volume of the manga.

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