Kimi ni Todoke, by Kuruho Shiina, is a charming and refreshing shojo take on high school life, friendship and love. If you're burnt out on high school shojo, I suggest you give this lovely story a chance as it will remind you how joyful shojo can be.
A part of Kimi ni Todoke's excessive charm is found in its heroine's simple and enduring faith in the basic decency of people. Sawako Kuronuma has been saddled with the nickname "Sadako" thanks to her long, straight black hair and scary, horror-house smile (Sadako is a reference to the character from the Japanese horror film The Ring). All Sawako wants is to make real friends with her classmates, but because of her looks and scary smile they treat her like an outcast in spite of the fact they haven't a single clue who she really is. They actually run screaming from her presence somehow believing that she's in league with the demonic (oh teenagers. You so stupid).
While most people would be understandably bitter at being cast to such a lonely lot in life by one's own peers, Sawako comes from a long line of indefatigable shojo heroines. Therefore, she believes that so long as she continues to greet her classmates every day with openness and warmth, one fine day her real feelings will get across to them. Time after time, Sawako's efforts come to heartbreaking naught until she befriends all-round class MVP Kazehaya. Kazehaya is, in the unchecked words of Sawako, "100 percent nice!" In the mouth of anyone else these words would be an insult, but they represent Sawako's pure admiration for Kazekaya's sunny energy.
Although one could easily read Kimi ni Todoke as a romance between the attractive and kind Kazehaya and the pure Sawako, for me the story is more about how we can nurture the bonds of friendship and affection -- not because we simply want to be loved but also because we want to love (i.e. Sawako doesn't care about a flip about popularity, so much as she cares about connection). While those bonds don't come easy to Sawako, that somehow that only makes her plight seem more real and relatable. As the layers of isolation fall away from Sawako, thanks to both her hard work and Kazekaya's leading by example, we can see that friendship is never out of reach for anyone.
Kimi ni Todoke's story is light but not shallow, sweet but not cloying. Watching Sawako reach for and start to sustain connections with her classmates inspires us to cheer her on in her worthy quest to be accepted for her true self.
Review Copy provided by Viz.