“I don’t care if he’s small enough to fit inside my arms. I don’t care if he’s a lot shorter than I am. I love this guy. I really love this guy.” – Risa Koizumi, Love*Com volume three.
With such a large catalogue, it’s no surprise that there are many genres represented within the Shojo Beat imprint. From supernatural fantasy to melodrama that would rival any soap opera, the Shojo Beat manga line offers something for everyone. But at the heart of the Shojo Beat line is the romantic-comedy. Many of the most popular Shojo Beat manga are simply about high-school students falling in love, including Kimi ni Todoke and High School Debut. One of the best shojo romantic-comedies Viz has released to date is the 17 volume series Lovely Complex, also known as Love*Com. Love*Com stands above most romantic-comedies because not only is it genuinely funny, but also because it features one of the most memorable couples in manga: Risa Koizumi and Atsushi Otani. The two are nicknamed the ‘All Hanshin-Kyojin,’ a famous comedic duo, by their classmates, because of the great difference in their heights and their bickering dynamic. At 5’7, Risa is the tallest girl in her class, while Otani is the shortest guy at 5’2. Although they tease each other constantly, Risa and Otani decide to help each other win over their respective crushes. It doesn’t take long, however, for Risa to realize what a great guy Otani is, and she must learn to overcome the complex that has been bothering both of them: their heights!
In most romance manga (shojo or otherwise), characters tend to fall in love for contrived reasons. And while falling in love with the janitor who saved you from being kidnapped may make for a great story (I still love you though, Dengeki Daisy!), Love*Com takes a simplier – yet less often travelled – approach to romance by showing that our main characters get together because they have so much in common. At first, Risa uses the fact that Otani is shorter than her to deny that she has fallen for him. But their friends all believe that Risa and Otani would make the perfect couple: they have the same hobbies, particularly their tastes in music (both share a love for a rapper named Umibozu, whose rhythms no one else in the series seems to be able to stomache), and similar mindsets, including a fondness for trying new menu items at their favorite restaurant. In volume four, Risa finally decides to accept her feelings for Otani and confesses to him. It takes him awhile to realize that she has a crush on him, because he is unable to imagine a ‘jumbo gal’ like her falling for a ‘shrimp’ like him. Once the depth of her feelings hits him, Otani rejects her, and the aftermath is handled differently than in almost any other shojo manga I’ve read. While in most shojo manga the love interest’s rejection leads to the female protagonist swearing revenge (such as in Skip Beat!), or occurs before the characters even really knew each other (such as in Itazura na Kiss), in Love*Com, Risa has to learn how to deal with her unrequited affection while getting her friendship with Otani back on track. At first, Risa tells him to forget about her love confession and act normally – but whenever she tries to revert to their ‘All Hanshin-Kyojin’ act, Otani teasingly asks her if that’s any way to treat the man she loves. This story-arc is probably my favorite the series – because for as funny as the series can be, the characters’ reactions to difficult situations like these are handled in ways that are extremely relatable, without ever losing it’s sense of humor.
But soon Risa decides that it’s okay if she still loves him, and their friends notice that Otani seems to be pleased by the depth of her feelings for him. Otani’s feelings for Risa come into further question when Risa sets her sights on a new teacher named Mighty. Otani confides in a mutual friend that even though he has fun with Risa, he has a hard time picturing the two of them together because of her height difference. However, when Risa joins a fan club devoted to Mighty, Otani gets jealous of the attention she’s giving her teacher, and on her birthday the two finally get together. Although Risa fell for Otani first, I’ve always believed Love*Com does a good job of showing that Otani loves Risa just as much as she does him. At first, he is reluctant to openly say he loves her, but little things like buying her a bunny pendant because he noticed she likes rabbits, to missing an Umibozu concert when Risa faints, show how much he cares for her. But it’s more than just their interactions that make them a great couple: both characters are interesting on their own as well. Risa is a great female protagonist – she’s funny yet sympathetic, with a love of video games and has a penchant for making strange faces. Otani, meanwhile, is sarcastic yet endearing, and is a great basketball player despite his height. I appreciate the fact that the series follows the couple trying to maintain their relationship after the two get together. And while some parts of the series after Risa and Otani start dating may be clichéd – such as the introduction of rival love interests Mimi and Kohori, who bring in unnecessary drama to the series – in the end, the lopsided duo are one of the funnest (and funniest) couples in manga, which makes Love*Com essential reading for any fan of the Shojo Beat catalogue.
The rest of the Shojo Beat Manga Moveable Feast entries can be found here.