Kimi no Iru Machi does shounen romance like a cup of fresh milk. It’s frill-free and yet enjoyable. Sure, you could always add chocolate, bananas or space-alien girls to create a more exotic blend, but sometimes it’s nice to just savour that pure unaltered taste of simplicity.
The genre of shounen love comedy is mostly dominated by two archetypes: harem and girl-with-special-powers. Often a mixture of both. This is the result of a variety of factors, such as economical imperatives (i.e. maximising merchandising potential) and a need to differentiate one’s work from the rest in a highly saturated market. Love comedies that do not rely on either belong to, for the most part, the exclusive domain of shoujo (and are often written from a female perspective), a sad situation for people like me who are forced to secretly read pink-covered volumes of Kare Kano behind locked doors.
KimiMachi, featuring neither harem nor supernatural phenomenons, represents an increasingly rare sub-genre that has long been under-catered for: the pseudo shoujo. It consists of plot devices and character development that wouldn’t feel out of place in a typical teenage romance novel, but retains the art style and presentation that identifies it as shounen work. It’s basically a recognition that not all sentimental sop fests have to be targeted at female readers — just most of them.
KimiMachi is author Kouji Seo‘s follow-up to Suzuka, the series that started off as a better-drawn copy of Love Hina but made some people go “WTF” in the end where certain unexpected events transpired. I expect similar plot twists from KimiMachi and so far it looks like it will not disappoint.
Set two years after the end of Suzuka in a small town in what is today Shoubara, Hiroshima (the author’s hometown), the story of KimiMachi features a completely new cast of characters with occasional off-stage cameos by Suzuka characters. Haruto Kirishima has a huge crush on his classmate Nanami Kanzaki. One day, a strange girl named Yuzuki Eba suddenly moves into his house and transfers to his school. A love triangle ensues.
The initial set-up of the story appears generic at first sight, but, just as Suzuka started off as an apparent clone of Love Hina, it is the subsequent development that sets KimiMachi apart.
The great thing about KimiMachi is its unpredictability. Of course, it’s not completely unpredictable to the point that Yuzuki turns out to be an alien from the Andromeda Galaxy (fresh milk, remember?), but it does a good job of steering the story to unexpected directions. Every time it feels like the story has established a new status quo and you think you know what happens next, the story throws a monkey wench at your face and breaks your nose (eh, maybe that’s not the right metaphor). It goes like this:
You: “I’ve read enough love comedies to know that she is not going to confess her real feelings right now because that’s how the story prolongs itself.”
Story: “Screw your preconceptions. Here’s her doing exactly that.”
You: “WTF, so the story is over?”
Whereas the typical love comedy likes to condemn the main characters to a perpetual state of relationship limbo (i.e. more than friends, less than lovers, with the occasional longing stare) until the author finally decides to end the story with a Happily Ever After™, KimiMachi is perfectly willing to allow its characters to confront every situation directly to keep the story moving. Unlike the typical loser male leads whose popularity with girls defies logic, Haruto as a character is likeable and easy to empathize with because he tries to deal with problems proactively instead of merely being swept along by the story.
It’s quite hard for me to go any deeper about what I think of the storywriting without giving out spoilers, and I hate spoilers more than genocide. So, you’ll just have to take my word that it’s pretty good.
I also like the fact that the author incorporates his personal experiences into the story. From the cool Hiroshima dialect (which unfortunately does not translate at all into English) to the background art created from photographs of his hometown, KimiMachi feels a lot more personal and homely than his previous work, Suzuka. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the characters or situations are based on his own high school memories. The short introductions he gives to various places around his hometown on the cover fold of each volume help to add that little extra touch of realism.
Art-wise, I find KimiMachi to be an improvement over Suzuka, albeit more evolutionary than revolutionary. Scene compositions are more varied and effective, characters don’t blend into overly complicated backgrounds and the line art in general feels more polished. The drawings are functional and serve to enhance the storytelling without the occasional distracting awkwardness that can be found in Suzuka and Seo’s older workers. All in all, I think his style is maturing nicely.
Kimi no Iru Machi is a really enjoyable series. It has a fast-moving plot that constantly keeps you at the edge and manages to keep thing fresh for the most part. Ten volumes later and it has yet to disappoint. Wonder if it will get an anime adaptation soon?