Sunday, February 25, 2018

REVIEW: I Am Here! (manga, vol. 1) by Ema Toyama, translated by Joshua Weeks

I Am Here! is a romance series. I got this volume via interlibrary loan.

This review includes a reference to a revelation that I feel is probably too obvious to count as a spoiler, but, just in case, here's your spoiler warning.


This is actually an omnibus collection of the first three volumes of the series. Hikage Sumino is an eighth grader who'd like nothing more than to have friends like other people do. Unfortunately for her, she's practically invisible. Even when people notice that she's in the room, they soon forget she's there. It isn't just people her own age who don't see her - adults constantly forget she exists too. She's been left behind on field trip days, ignored in restaurants, and even hit by someone on a moped when she tried to help a cat. The only times she seems to truly exist are when she's taking care of the sunflower she's been growing and when she's blogging. She has two regular commenters who encourage her: Black Rabbit and Mega Pig.

When two of the school's most popular boys, Hinata and Teru, talk to her, it starts to look like maybe Hikage can finally have her time in the sun. First, however, she must struggle against her own introversion and low self-esteem, as well as jealous classmates.

I might have liked this a lot more if I weren't a longtime manga reader. As it was, I could think of several series this reminded me of, and most of those were better. The one that came foremost to my mind, for example, was Kimi ni Todoke, which had a more believable setup and more enjoyable heroine. Toyama pushed Hikage's invisibility a bit too hard and ended up making it seem almost like some kind of unfortunate superpower. People literally didn't see her, or forgot she was there even if she was within view. Only Hinata and Teru were exempt from her powers, at least until Toyama decided that it was necessary for some of Hikage's female classmates to hate her.

The bit with the jealous girl was cliched but not necessarily bad, although, again, I preferred the similar storyline in Kimi ni Todoke because of the way it tied in with the main character's first female friendships. In this series, Hikage just went from no real-life friends to actually talking to someone for the first time and almost immediately getting dumped on by jealous girls. The scene where everyone suddenly stood by her when she finally defended herself was nice, but felt a bit forced.

The way the volume ended indicated that the second and final omnibus will deal with the identity of Hikage's "anonymous" online friends. Since they're almost certainly Hinata and Teru, I'm more interested in finding out how Hikage reacts and how they learned that "Sunflower" was Hikage. I somehow doubt that Toyama will ever explain how, out of all the blogs in existence, they became commenters on a supposedly anonymous blog written by one of their classmates.

I got the feeling that Toyama didn't have much of a concept of just how big the Internet is. The first volume of the series was originally published in 2007, so it isn't like this was written in the early days of blogging and the Internet. Toyama also didn't always think through how certain scenes were supposed to work. For example, if Hinata was Black Rabbit, how did he comment on Hikage's blog minutes/seconds before knocking on her door? The characters in this series only had flip phones. Was it possible to use flip phones to comment on blogs? (I only ever used mine as a phone and an alarm clock, so maybe that was a function I didn't know about.)

Although this was pretty mediocre, it did remind me of my first blog, which I started back when I was in the midst of my post-grad school job hunt. It wasn't a good time in my life, and my blog was meant to serve as both a way to keep track of what I was doing to make myself a better job candidate and as an emotional outlet. In real life, I talked to maybe a handful of people a week, my parents and my supervisor and coworkers at my part-time job, and the longer I went without being able to give them good news about my job hunt the worse I felt. Unfortunately, I also felt like I couldn't talk about most of what I was feeling. My blog gave me a place where I could vent a little without worrying that I was upsetting anyone around me.

Amazingly, I got several frequent commenters and, as far as I can remember, every single one of them was kind and supportive. If you were one of the commenters on my first blog, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you. You all helped me so much.


There are various author sidebars, plus two pages of extra comics that take a humorous look at Hikage's invisibility. The sidebars reveal that Toyama had similar issues with going so unnoticed at her school that her own classmates didn't know who she was, although she admits that it wasn't on the same level as Hikage's invisibility.

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