Kare First Love Vol. 1
All the talk I've done this month about manga that I've enjoyed because of their originality requires me to take an in-depth look at a story that has been done before.
Kare First Love isn't by any stretch of the imagination something new as far as unique plots are concerned, but its standard setting is compensated by Miyasaka's likable characters and simple, but appealing artwork.
Karin is a (gasp!) shy high school girl who is overlooked by the majority of her peers. She's not bad looking, but with a rather conservative sense of fashion and a penchant to wear glasses that don't flatter her looks, most people who glance at her aren't exactly enthralled by her radiant beauty. The only time that she's noticed is when her fellow classmates use her to do their homework or when someone feels like making fun of her.
Naturally, it is in one of these two cases that this story begins - some guys on her commute to school decide to mock her. Karin is particularly miffed by a good-looking fellow who pretends to take interest in the photography book she's carrying with her on the train. She drops the book, and when he picks it up, he pulls up her skirt as he's lifting the tome off the ground.
Karin slaps the uncouth boys' school delinquent and runs off to her school, leaving the book in the lecherous hands of the cruel (yet attractive) guy who embarrassed her in front of the other travelers on the train.
Now, is that a shoujo setup or what? In the first volume of this series, we learn that the guy, Kiriya, just might actually not be as bad as Karin believed. He seeks out her school to return her book, and while she's not especially thrilled to see him again, her classmates make up for her lack of enthusiasm when they realize Karin somehow brought Kiriya and his pack of cute guys over to their all-girls school. In a whirlwind of hormones, Karin finds herself going on a group date with some girls from her class, along with Kiriya and company.
Slowly but surely, Karin discovers that there is more to Kiriya than meets her bespectacled eyes. He wasn't lying when he said he liked the book she had on the train - he's an aspiring photographer. He seems to be able to look beyond Karin's self-depreciating style and see the good person she is underneath.
What's even more exciting (though not the most surprising turn of events) is that Karin is actually a very attractive young woman. Remove her glasses and dress her up in more flattering clothing, and she's actually fit enough to be a model.
With her newfound love interest being a photography enthusiast, it doesn't take a phD to figure out where this romance will be going. Yet as much as this is an ugly duckling tale like so many others, it is able to hold its own for two noteworthy reasons.
First of all, Kaho Miyasaka's artwork is visually pleasing. I don't think it's on the level of Yuu Watase or Miki Aihara (of Hot Gimmick fame), but her character designs exhibit a life of their own.
More importantly, while the story's establishment is something I've seen before (and will undoubtedly see again in the realm of shoujo), there is room for variation within the execution of the tale. I can't judge this too harshly until I get into the second volume.
Naturally, the second volume is on order and should be arriving any day now...
For the time being, chalk Kare First Love up as a good-looking/ugly-duckling love story. Sure, the lack of a more original setup may dissuade readers who are looking for something fresh and new, but if you're seeking a comfortable romance with all of the required twists and turns, then this promises to deliver everything one can expect it to.
The characters are appropriately quirky, the artwork passes all the visual tests, and the adaptation is executed well - even if the original sound effects were scuffed away with English translations. Just like its protagonist Karin, Kare First Love is simple at first glance, but hints of something more fulfilling lie just below the surface.
Hopefully it's not merely our own reflection.