Thursday, January 21, 2010

We Were There, vol. 1

The story: It's the first day of high school for Nanami Takahashi and she's determined to make new friends. But, things don't go exactly as planned -- plenty of people already know each other, so she feels left out. Then there's Motoharu Yano, the most popular guy in class -- he has plenty of friends (and fans), not to mention he does well in school. But, there's something about him that both attracts and repels Nana. What secret could Yano be hiding that explains his behavior towards Nana?

Reaction: It seems like ages that I've been wanting to read this series and when I saw We Were There in Danielle Leigh's recent Comic Book Resources column, I knew I had to get on it! This a slowly paced story that takes a conventional high school romance story line and gives it some dramatic twists. But, they aren't overdone, nor are they unbelievable. In Yano, Yuki Obata has created an anti-hero of sorts; he's someone you reluctantly cheer for. Luckily, Yano is balanced by the cute and undaunted Nana, who has an amazing ability to bounce back from adversity (and Yano's put-downs). It felt like a very natural progression for an unlikely friendship.

Deep thoughts: In this volume, Nana and her classmates go on a field trip with a 26-mile hike, essentially the length of a marathon. Taking anywhere from just over two hours to several hours to complete, marathons were originally created to commemorate the run of a storied Greek messenger, Pheidippides. I'm not sure if participating in marathon-length hikes are regularly a part of Japanese physical education, or simply a convenient plot device, but I can't imagine a marathon being a required school activity in the U.S.

Artwork: The artwork here actually reminded me of another shojo mangaka, Shouko Akira of Monkey High! There's something about Yano's face that makes me think of that book's male protagonist, Macharu (but not his ears). However, perhaps because of this series's more somber tone, the artwork is understated in comparison to other shojo comics. There's no floating flowers, inexplicably shining faces or other "shojo sparkles." Instead, there are quietly poignant moments, embarrassed looks and blushing cheeks, much better reflecting reality.

The verdict: Highly recommended. There is an earnestness in We Were There that is both admirable and worth watching. Obata has created characters that are multi-faceted; there's no perfect, nor truly horrible, people. And there's not only the usual depth of feeling that comes part-and-parcel in shojo manga, but there's also breadth of emotion, something rarely seen and done this well. We Were There is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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