Doubt!! Vol. 1
Ai Maekawa has always been a jimi, a plain, but studious girl. She was always ignored by the boy that she secretly pined for throughout junior high school, but she had hope that one day, someday... However, her fantasy is shattered when Yumi, a popular girl at school brags about losing her virginity to that "sweet" boy, now Yumi's pet boyfriend. Yumi, annoyed at Ai, who is angry at this total betrayal of her dreams, flips up her skirt to reveal Cutie Bunny briefs: children's panties. Everyone laughs at Ai's embarrassment, including her crush. Across a large black panel, Ai describes it as "the single worst moment of my entire life."
Right then and there, she decides to go to a high school where no one will know her, where she can start over with her life, making herself into a popular girl this time, no matter what the cost. After all, no one will know what a real jimi loser that she really is. Six months later, it's the first day of high school, and the new Ai Maekawa appears, a stunningly beautiful young woman, after a strict diet, lotions and creams. Almost immediately, the most popular guy at school, Sô Ichinose pairs up with her (but he claims to have no romantic interest in her), along with the interest of all of the other attractive boys at school. Needless to say, all of the girls are jealous of Ai's "natural" beauty, until Ai loses her temper and informs them how all of it is nothing but bottled beauty.
Along the way, Ai is stalked by a jimi boy who knows about her past, and she gains the ire of a jealous teacher who had a love affair with Sô. She also crosses paths with Yumi again, but this time, it's Ai who comes out the winner! An extra story about writing final exams, unconnected to the characters or to the plot of Doubt!!, is included at the end of the book. I actually enjoyed the short story almost more than the actual story of this manga.
I had a hard time getting into Doubt!!, mostly due to the plot being so familiar to me. As an educational assistant (my real life, paid job), I see this story being played out, over and over again among middle and high school students, every day. Thus the plot of this manga is rather dull when compared to reality. However, I will say that Izumi's writing (and/or that of the English adaptation writer) captures well the stresses of being on both sides of the popularity fence. It's hard to walk the line between being a goody two-shoes and a slut, or to burn with envy and hatred towards those who seem so undeserving of the adoration of boys. The cruel social world of teenagers around the world is laid open for the reader. I liked how the Japanese slang word jimi, was left in the text, making it seem that popular and ordinary girls are almost two entirely different species, and certainly the jimi being the lesser of the two.
If there is an overall theme to Doubt!!, then it is, well, Ai overcoming her own self-doubt and learning to trust others, and growing into a beautiful young woman on the inside as well as on the outside. Some progress is made on this front during this volume: Ai begins to accept that just maybe other people like her, despite her "humiliating" past as an invisible jimi.
I enjoyed the artwork of Izumi, especially how varied her character designs are. We go from Ai's flowing hair and pale face to Mina's ko-gal style to Yuichiro's perpetual sweater, and none of the characters are unrealistic, even including Ai. I do have one tiny complaint; the mouths seem too angular for my tastes. However, such a small thing is easily overlooked among the variety of tones and object details.
Doubt!! is definitely suited towards older teens and up, as they can sympathize and empathize with the characters more than those who are still going through middle and high school. Attempted rape, teen sex, groping and condoms appear, not to mention the panty shots. Still, if you're looking for teenagers in questionable situations, doing questionable things, I'd go for Sensual Phrase, another shôjo title from VIZ. Much higher smut/bishie prettiness/nudity per page ratio. In the end, I'll probably glance through the next volume or so of Doubt!!, and see how (or even, if) the story is progressing. There's nothing like watching some teenage reality TV on a Monday morning.