Writer and artist: Minoru Toyoda
What's it about?
Quite simply, it's a Japanese manga about a fledgling high school romance. The book opens with Hoshino asking Negishi on a date, at lunchtime, in front of all their classmates. Negishi is a little surprised at this as she has no idea who Hoshino is. Nevertheless he convinces her to go on a date with him.
The rest of the book covers the standard relationship stuff - the first kiss, meeting the parents, love rivals, fortune telling, and ahem, a battle of the lunches. Maybe not quite so standard then! After all, Hoshino is not your usual high school boy. He is very honest, very earnest and not quite accustomed to social conventions. Negishi often finds herself embarrassed by him and his actions but as they get to know each other she becomes quite fond of him. Then you have you the best friends - scheming Yoko and cool Tsukuhara - who are doing all they can to make the relationship flourish.
Add to this mix a few other memorable characters which I shall leave you to discover, and you've got a great cast to flesh out an interesting story.
What's good about it?
Well, it's funny. It's a great little comedic story about the pitfalls and high points of teenage dating.
The plot is influenced by a Japanese comedic storytelling characterised at Tsukkomi and Boke (read the book to find out what this is!). Without being familiar with this tradition you can recognise it as a narrative device. The jokes are set up in similar ways to regular catchphrases or punchlines on American Sitcoms. This makes it an easy, light hearted read.
The start of the volume includes a guide to Japanese honorifics, and the back of the book includes some translation notes. The book is presented in the traditional Japanese format, so you start at the back and read each page right to left (see the manga reading guide here). As I have stated in previous reviews, I am a fan of this format as I believe that it immerses you more deeply in the Japanese world of Love Roma, a place that most Westerners probably don't know a lot about.
The chapters are presented as music on album would be - track 1, 2, hidden track etc. I found this a nice touch which adds to the reading experience.
If you decide you like this book there are 5 volumes to collect - good for the obsessive in us all. If you're not a collector don't be put off by the volume number, this story is self contained and can be read as a singular book.
What's bad about it?
It's not entirely consistent in quality. I found the first 3 tracks to be the best and the second half to be less satisfying. This doesn't mean the final half is bad, but as the first half of the book is absolutely superb anything lesser will seem disappointing.
What's the art like?
Characters do have the large eyes typically associated with manga, but that's about the only obvious aspect of it. Hoshino is so wide eyed he appears stoned a lot of the time - this adds to his earnest charm. The lines are clean and neat, the panels aren't busy and the art is very clear. Toyoda uses only a few lines to create faces but still they are very expressive. It's an effective method and you can feel the frustration, sadness and longing coming off the page.
There's no panty shots, no gratuitous sexy schoolgirl outfits. It's an honest and rather chaste high school romance that is entirely suitable for young teenagers and old adults alike.