Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We Were There, vol. 2

The story: Nana has a crush on popular guy Yano, but he's constantly picking on her in school. When she finally 'fesses to her feelings, all she gets is an ambiguous response in return. But, in this volume, Yano's behavior is explained with flashbacks to memories with his now-dead, ex-girlfriend. From the start of their friendship to her death in a car accident, Yano's emotions run the gamut. But, things change and he admits to his new feelings for Nana; she's understandably elated. But, can they overcome Yano's troubled romantic past, or is Nana forever doomed to live in the shadow of his ex?

Reaction: This is not your standard shojo fare. Where other high school romances run the comedic route, We Were There uncomfortably settles into bittersweet reality. There's a dark place where Yano's personality escapes to and, at times, it's painstaking to watch Nana try to help him while simultaneously being pushed away. But, there's something to be said for Nana's seemingly unending capacity and determination to love Yano; it's an optimism you have to have a certain sense of maturity to truly appreciate.

Deep thoughts: In 2006, We Were There won the 50th Shogakukan Award, which is given annually by Shogakukan Publishing. Interestingly, the award is not exclusive to the company's works. Shogakukan, which started the awards in 1957, is part of one of the largest publishing conglomerates in Japan, Hitotsobashi Group. Along with Shuiesha, also part of the Hitotsobashi Group, Shogakukan also owns Viz Media (and We Were There publisher) in the U.S.

Artwork: As I've said before, there are some visual reminders of Monkey High! in terms of character design. But, more often than not, there are blushing cheeks, mildly humorous classroom scenes and respectfully illustrated serious moments. The art is even-handed in terms of "shojoness" and never veers into the extremes of screentone addiction or ridiculously floating flowers -- it's simply not that kind of manga.

The verdict: Highly recommended. There's a certain tenderness of youth here, with an edge of cynicism. Sure, there's time to appreciate romance, but it's a double-edged sword, too -- love can bring pain. Thankfully, this series only skates on the edges of melodrama and instead reveals a compelling teenage relationship that adults can appreciate. We Were There is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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