Pink cover, flowers... you may think that Kare Kano was a romantic manga aimed predominantly at a female audience. And you'd be right, but whatever you do don't dismiss it, as it is certainly one of the best - if not the best - romantic comedy I have read.
The story follows Yukino Miyazawa, a pretty, intelligent, kind and sporty schoolgirl who has it all. On the surface at least. The Miyazawa everyone sees is a mask, she is in fact an ego-maniac, a girl who craves attention so much that she puts a huge amount of effort into portraying a perfect exterior to obtain the praise and admiration of her peers. Everyone looks up to her, and no-one outside her family knows her true self, but she has a problem - a rival. Souichiro Arima is a handsome, intelligent, kind and sporty schoolboy who effortlessly appears to be everything Miyazawa works so hard to be. Devoting her life to outdoing him, she thinks she has the upper hand... right up to the point when she uncharacteristically lets her guard down and he finds her slobbing out at home. Armed with this knowledge Arima has the power to bring her image crashing down, but whilst this knowledge could be devastating it could also be a shared secret that brings the pair together. Or Arima could just use it to make Miyazawa do his homework...
Despite sounding like something Richard Curtis did in 6th Form, Kare Kano is a hugely enjoyable and incredibly funny romantic comedy with extra emphasis on the comedy. The problem with many romantic manga - particularly those in the very female orientated 'shojo' style - is that they hold very little appeal to a male audience. However, whilst Kare Kano vol 1 does contain many of the typical 'shojo' elements (such as slightly effeminate, stunningly handsome male characters), the level and style of the comedy gives it a much more universal appeal. The art switches at regular intervals between a typical soft romantic style to caricatures and chucks in a truckload of visual gags. Whilst the story is still essentially a romance it throws in plenty of situation comedy (Arima meeting Miyazawa's family is an undoubted highlight) and a bit of drama too, but what really makes it work is Miyazawa herself.
Yukino Miyazawa is such a great character, she may be slightly warped and scary but you love her anyway. Like a swan she is serene and brilliant on the surface, but below it she is working insanely hard to keep up her effortless appearance. She is a large part of what makes Kare Kano good, things are never dull when the story focuses on her but there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Why is she so determined to be the best? How has her lifestyle affected her? These things haven't been tackled yet, and although Arima's past has been tantalisingly touched on it hasn't really been explored either. There are some intriguing areas to be covered in the future, and my only real gripe with this book is that just as it hits a romantic cliffhanger the action switches to a completely new story. This second story takes up about a third of the book and although it's a sweet romantic short, it's pretty average and its inclusions seems a little pointless when the main story was getting so good.
To be honest I only really picked this up on a whim after
seeing some of the hilarious anime series based on it, and it was better than I
could have hoped. I found Kare Kano vol 1 to be one of the most
enjoyable books I have read in a fair while, it's packed with great comedy and
sets up an intriguing romance with plenty of areas to be explored. The
second story in the book is not as good as the main one, but it's
certainly not bad, and the main story is great. There's plenty of room for
character development over the coming volumes and I for one will certainly be
sticking with it to see what will happen. On this evidence Kare Kano
will hopefully continue to be superb!
The author Masami Tsuda puts several little autobiographical asides throughout the book about herself and her life, called 'Tsuda Diary'. These columns are great fun and there are longer ones at the end of the book too, along with some fan reactions and the usual adverts. The Tsuda Diary is a great extra and it gives an interesting insight into Tsuda's personality, excellent stuff!