A self-professed ‘Queen of Vanity’ with an insatiable hunger for praise, Yukino Miyazawa spent years playing the model student, her façade so convincing that only her close family members knew the truth. When she enters high school, however, she finally meets her match in Soichiro Arima- an accomplished classmate who appears to be the real deal when it comes to being a paragon of virtue. Desperate to retain her position at the top of the class, Yukino declares Arima her bitter rival, but when Arima finds out the truth about her, it seems that matters can only get worse…at least until her anger and resentment start giving away to deeper feelings of friendship and even love…
When it comes to manga, longer series are usually the ones to approach with caution; no matter how well they start off, there’s a tendency for them to continue well past their sell-by date. Fortunately, this is far from the case with Kare Kano, a series that not only kept me in a state of addiction for twenty-one volumes, but also left me feeling that I wouldn’t have minded having more.
The key to Kare Kano’s success lies in the fact that it perfectly balances the need to remain fresh without ever piling so much onto the characters in terms of issues and back story that they become little more than angst-filled wrecks. This is achieved by splitting the series into three arcs- an opening segment focusing on Yukino and her first year at high school, a middle section exploring the supporting characters, and a finale focusing on Arima and his family issues. From tender romance to darker themes of bullying and abuse, each arc weaves together a powerful human drama that remains absorbing and compelling without ever going over the top.
Of course, a story of this nature would be nothing without its characters, and fortunately, Kare Kano has a strong cast to rely upon. At first glance Yukino and Arima’s personalities may seem a little extreme, whilst the supporting characters are perhaps a little one dimensional, but when taken as whole, they present an interesting group whose emotions and insecurities will no doubt strike a chord with the majority of readers. Few people will be as vain as Yukino, for example, but many can identify with the desire to present a good face to the world, and even if they are unlikely to be to the same degree, Arima’s situation will remind everyone of the inevitable difficulties that tend to crop up between parents and their children. The only real complaint is that when one arc switches to the next, characters who were formerly in the spotlight tend to fade into the background, leaving one eager to delve more deeply into their lives than the scope of the series allows.
Visually, Kare Kano is arguably a little sparse due to the relatively low amount of content on each page, but this also ensures that the series is uncluttered and easy on the eyes- so much so that it is possible to marathon several volumes at once without feeling any ill effects. Although the art style can be simplistic, it is always aesthetically pleasing, with designs gradually becoming more refined as both the mangaka and her characters mature over the course of the series. Tsuda also proves to be a master of pacing, lingering on a particular moment and working in dramatic pauses in a way few other mangaka can manage.
Although I’ve attempted to do so above, mere words are not enough to describe my love of Kare Kano, a series that drew me in from the start and insisted that I read all twenty-one volumes as soon as I could. If you have even a passing interest in drama and romance, this excellent series must not be overlooked.
Volumes: twenty-one [complete]
Creator: Masami Tsuda