DRAWN & QUARTERED
Love is in the air in two "Love Roma" and "Happy Hustle High."
Campus youthful romances
With schools back in session, it's time to take a look at what many students might encounter when they head back to campus: youthful romance.
In the two Japanese manga series "Love Roma" and "Happy Hustle High," our feisty heroines take on stoic boyfriends while tussling with their own insecurities, well-meaning friends and romantic rivals.
And at just five volumes each, they're delightfully short and sweet series that won't take too much time from your homework.
In the comedic "Love Roma," by Minoru Toyoda, high school freshman Hajime Hoshino finally works up the courage to ask fellow first-year Yumiko Negishi out on a date -- right in front of her entire class, causing great embarrassment for poor Yumiko. Hajime then sits down and starts merrily talking about how he first came to notice her -- while seemingly not noticing the 20 or so students whose attentions are clearly riveted on the couple.
Yumiko refuses to go on a date with him, but she does concede to, that day, walking home after school with him so they can get to know each other more. She eventually decides to give Hajime a chance and reciprocates his previous gesture: She goes to his class, marches right up to him and asks, in front of his classmates, if he'll go out with her.
This opening scene becomes the typical interaction in their relationship. Yumiko has to struggle with the constant fallout that comes as Hajime continually makes shamelessly open statements with no regard for who's listening or without grasping the consequences of doing so.
Or doesn't he? Sure, Hajime could use a few lessons in subtlety, but he makes it clear that he wants to be completely honest with her and try to understand her.
There's great humor in following a person who seems to have no idea -- or, at least, a skewed one -- of social behavior codes. But because Hajime is on such a different wavelength, it invites readers to look at themselves to see if there's something they could do a bit differently that might make things go better, in relationships or otherwise.
As with other releases from U.S. publisher Del Rey, each volume of "Love Roma" comes with detailed translation notes. It also includes the author's comments and so-called "hidden tracks," offshoot stories that were printed directly on the covers of the original Japanese books.
THE STORY IN "Happy Hustle High," by Rie Takada, from publisher Viz, nearly parallels "Love Roma": Take one reserved guy and one hotheaded girl, mix, sit back and enjoy the reaction.
The girl in question is 16-year-old Hanabi Ozora, a tomboy with a head of hair as unruly as she is. Make fun of her mop and she'll leave you groaning in the dust.
As the new semester at the all-girls Uchino High is about to begin, Hanabi's teacher makes an announcement: Due to financial reasons, Uchino will be going coed, joining with the nearby all-boys Meibi High. While many girls are actually apprehensive about the change, Hanabi can't wait to have some good-looking guys around campus.
On the first day of mixed classes, Hanabi is late for the opening ceremony. Her hair's a mess from running, so she takes a quick detour to a drinking fountain to wet it down -- and runs into hunky, though aloof, student council vice president Yasuaki Garaku. Her perky "good morning" is met by uncomfortable silence, although he does manage to direct her to the assembly before taking off himself, leaving the girl a tad offended at his wordless dissing.
The two bump into each other again later at the beach, where she finds out he's a surfer. But, as he tells her gruffly, "I don't like girls. And not everyone wants girls at Meibi." And he really does have a problem: Whenever he looks at girls, he sees them only as chicks -- as in baby chickens, complete with the flapping and the chirping. Yasuaki actually feels physically ill whenever confronted by a girl.
But rather than raining on Hanabi's parade, his proclamation infuriates her. We can see where this is leading: She falls for him, he finds her refreshingly different (for one thing, she's the only girl who doesn't appear in his eyes as a squawking chicken) and they get together.
Now each of them has to figure out just how to handle the other, a person so different from themselves that it's difficult to see where any common ground could lie.
Hanabi is the type of girl many teens often aspire to be: popular, strong-willed, determined, independent, spirited. At the same time, she's not fake -- her dynamic personality is all natural, not contrived, and she truly cares about others. Meanwhile, Yasuaki could be called your typical guy, not too open with his feelings.
But both of them share a tenderness at heart that makes them a perfect fit despite their widely divergent personalities. Hanabi fills the days with vibrant energy, and Yasuaki tempers that with his calm and more rational demeanor.
Unlike in "Love Roma," Hanabi isn't constantly having to deflect verbal bullets shot by an oblivious boyfriend. Here instead are two more realistic people with a past that has shaped them, and a present with a soul mate who is breaking down those old blocks.
"Happy Hustle High" is great fun, and you'll find yourself rooting for Hanabi and Yasuaki. Don't you wish sometimes that high school were really like this?