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Book Review: Itazura Na Kiss, volume 1 (manga)

Itazura Na Kiss (vol. 1) – Kaoru Tada [series onging]

Itazura Na Kiss, v.1

It seemed appropriate, on Valentine’s Day, for me to review one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE shojo manga series, Itazura Na Kiss (translated, it means something close to “mischievous kiss”). For those unfamiliar with manga and related terminology, good shorthand for “shojo” might be “girl-friendly” (i.e., think of a story with a good dose of romance and/or romantic hijinks).  Itazura fits that label perfectly and is best described as a romantic comedy. Funny, sweet, and lovely. I can read this over and over again and never tire of it.

First, a little background about this series.  According to Digital Manga Publishing’s original press release for Itazura, this popular series has sold over 30 million copies worldwide since its Japanese debut in 1991.  It has spawned a 25-episode anime series, as well as live-action drama series in Japan (Itazura Na Kiss), Taiwan (It Started with a Kiss), and most recently Korea (Mischevious Kiss).

Mischievous Kiss (Korea)

Sadly, the author/mangaka (Kaoru Tada) tragically died at the age of 38 in 1999 with a slip and fall in her home before completing the series. Her husband, however, reportedly gave permission and guidance on how to complete the anime series in a way that was true to his wife’s original vision. You can read more about the background/start of the series in this great blog post by Deb Aoki. The author’s web site is unfortunately in Japanese, but wikipedia has a decent entry about Kaoru Tada and her work if you want to read some more about her.

Itazura Na Kiss Anime

So now that you have some idea about just how popular this story is literally around the world, time for a little introduction to the story itself.

The heroine of the series is Kotoko – an adorable idiot who always sacrifices her dignity on the alter of unrequited (though someday to be requited) love. And the mega-smart, super-talented, socially inept Naoki (aka Irie-kun) is the focus of her pining. In a common vehicle used in school-age shojo stories, Itazura starts with Kotoko bravely confessing her love to Naoki…only to be utterly rejected.  Shortly thereafter, in an unexpected twist, a freak earthquake destroys the home shared by Kotoko and her father, and both are invited to live with Naoki and his family (their fathers turn out to be old school chums). So, now we have Kotoko living with the boy who rejected her, we give Naoki the perfect opportunity to tease and torment Kotoko day and night, and Kotoko is graced with the chance to learn more about the boy she loves whether he wants her to or not. Add into this dyamic that Naoki’s mom has always wanted a daughter and would LOVE for sweet Kotoko to some day marry her son, and throw in a boy at school who adores Kotoko as much as she adores Naoki, and you’ve got the start of a very funny and sweet series with a lot of heart.

The series is exceptionally well-written and well-drawn. But one of the things that really sets it apart – in my opinion – is Kaoru Tada’s full vision for the story. Where many shojo series would start and end with school days, Kaoru takes Kotoko and her Naoki through high school, college, and the start of their careers; she takes them from sparring teenagers to a loving married couple anticipating the start of their own family. I know there are readers like me who get attached to characters and have trouble parting with them at the end of a series. Kaoru Tada gives readers the rare treat of actually shadowing a good portion of her characters’ lives together; it makes saying ‘goodbye’ to them at series end just a little bit easier.  But just a bit :)  At present, there are 4 volumes released with a 5th volume due out in March 2011 and 12 double-sized volumes expected for the full series in total.

Big cheers to YALSA for tipping its hat to this one and including it on the 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list.

If you like Itazura, you may also want to check one or more of these other great shojo manga series:  High School Debut (Kazune Kawahara), Kimi ni Todoke (Karuho Shiina), Love*Com, aka Lovely Complex (Aya Nakahara), and/or Goong: The Royal Palace (Park SoHee).

Happy reading!

–Nicole Dolat, currently reading Kendra by Coe Booth

p.s.  Yes, I do occasionally pick up other books besides manga ;-P

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