We Were There: bittersweet hopefulness (spoilers!)

We Were There: bittersweet hopefulness (spoilers!)

With 14 volumes released in the U.S to date, We Were There is drawing to a close. We Were There follows Nanami Takahashi, a normal high school girl who falls in love with Motoharu Yano, the most popular boy in her class. Nanami soon learns that Yano is still mourning the death of his previous girlfriend Nana, which puts a strain on the couple’s developing feelings for one another. Nanami’s and Yano’s relationship is also threatened by Yano’s best friend Masafumi Takeuchi, who has feelings for Nanami, and Yuri, Nana’s little sister who has held unrequited feelings for Yano since junior high school. The first eight volumes cover Nanami and Yano’s high school romance, culminating when Yano decides to move with his mother to Tokyo. The highlight of the series occurs right after Nanami sees Yano off at the train station: in a sadly shocking yet realistic twist the reader is thrust four years into the future near the end of Nanami’s college career, only to find out that she and Yano never saw each other again. The latter half of the series follows an adult Nanami struggling to overcome her feelings for Yano and accept a relationship with Takeuchi. As the series draws near it’s end, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together as both Nanami and the reader find out what happened to Yano and why he broke his promise to reunite with her. And while the events that occur to the characters may seem melodramatic, the characters’ reactions are all wonderfully written and heartbreakingly realistic.  And yet it’s because of how authentic the series has been that I am fearful of how it will end.

As much as I love realistic endings, I can’t help but want Nanami and Yano to find their way back to each other, even if that seems impossible. Their long-awaited reunion in volume 13 was bittersweet at best: Yano coldly tells Nanami he dumped her, and Nanami quickly figures out that Yano and Yuri are living together. But the fact that he dreams of Nanami at night suggests that he still loves her as well, and it’s obvious that Yano’s feelings for Yuri are more of an obligation to help her sick mother than romantic. I think the reason I want things to work out for them even though they’ve suffered so much is because in the end I feel like neither of them are at fault for their relationship failing. While some may blame Yano for deciding to abandon Nanami and his friends after his mother’s suicide, all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him and give him a big hug. Just as Nanami hasn’t been able to let go of what once was between her and Yano, I haven’t been able to either. I can understand why some have problems with Nanami and Yano’s relationship, because even at their best they were far from perfect. While Nanami is for a long time is constantly threatened by Yano’s lingering feelings for Nana, Yano oftentimes isn’t completely honest with Nanami, which stems from his fear of being betrayed again just as he was by Nana. But I still believe that when it comes to Yano and Nanami the good outweighs the bad. Yano loved Nanami the best way he knew how, and one of my favorite scenes when he says that he wishes he could change his past to stop her from crying. The scenes of them making fun of how cheesy they are as a couple or wishing under the stars to grow up so they can be together always still warm my heart through the bittersweet moments.

And while there are some readers who wish Nanami would move on and learn to love Takeuchi, I can’t say I want that to happen. I was happy when Nanami rejected Takeuchi’s marriage proposal since she would only be hurting him had she accepted it, because along with the fact that she lacks passionate feelings for Takeuchi there are other problems I have with them as a couple. While some readers are frustrated with Nanami’s inability to let go of all of the hopes she’s placed in her relationship with Yano, I feel as though these readers wish Nanami will choose to be with Takeuchi just so she can move on, which in my opinion doesn’t have to be with Takeuchi. Takeuchi may be the kind and selfless friend Nanami has always turned to, but I’ve always felt that if he were truly selfless he wouldn’t put so much pressure on Nanami to choose him, or constantly remind her of the fact that he’s always been there for her. And in terms of Yano and Takeuchi’s friendship, it doesn’t seem as though either one of them is fully comfortable with the thought of Nanami and Takeuchi being together, despite the fact that Yano asked Takeuchi to take care of her after his mother died.

Yet while the loose strings between Nanami and Yano seem to slowly tying together, there is still one thread that has so-far been left hanging: Nana. For the past six volumes or so, Yano’s late girlfriend has played a minimal role in the series. This makes sense because it’s been several years since her death occured and the characters have all naturally moved on, but I feel that the end of We Were There would be incomplete unless she was brought back into the series one last time. With all of my hopes for the cast of We Were There, even if the series ends on the bittersweet note it seemingly has been heading towards, reading it is the most enjoyable heartbreak you’ll ever experience. As much as I wish for a happy ending in We Were There, what I love most about the series is how beautifully it shows that there is no easy solution to problems of the heart.

Cover-to-Cover: We Were There

Cover-to-Cover: We Were There

Cover-to-Cover is a column where I’ll choose my favorite cover from a particular series. This time around I’ll be doing one of my favorite manga, We Were There. It took me awhile to get used to We Were There‘s artwork. At first, I thought it was unremarkable but didn’t care because I loved the series so much. Then upon coming across some of Yuki Obata’s lovely color pictures for the series, I began to fall in love with the manga’s art. So choosing a favorite cover for this series is a bit difficult because so many of the covers have such a joyous, dreamy feel to them. The first cover that stands out to me is volume four’s. I love that Nanami and Yano are huddled so close together in the snow; there’s a level of intimacy in this cover that is unmatched. Volume eight‘s cover contains what is probably my favorite moment in the series, Nanami standing on the train platform as he heads for Tokyo with his mother. Volume 11 features the couple right before a kiss, so it definitely wins in the romantic category. And as for the most daring cover, I’d have to say that belongs to volume 12, since it contains a simple picture of fireworks with no characters at all.  But if I have to choose just one cover, I think I’ll go with volume 13.

I’m sensing a theme here, because my last Cover-to-Cover pick Sand Chronicles also prominently featured beautiful autumn leaves. Nanami and Yano are adorably smiling – their smiles are almost cheesy, which I think works really well since Yano and Nanami at one point joke that they are a cheesy couple. I think this cover stands out to me because it’s brightly-colored and they just look so happy together, which is a huge contrast to the somber tone of the series at this point. Yano and Nanami see each other for the first time since he moved to Tokyo five years earlier, and he casually dismisses her (although it’s obvious he’s struggling with his feelings more than he lets on). Nanami feels as though she’s stuck at age seventeen for being unable to let go of Yano, causing her to turn down Takeuchi’s marriage proposal. Every character is suffering in some way or another, and the future seems bleak for Yano and Nanami’s relationship. Each volume of We Were There is harder  to read than the last, not only because the tone of the series is becoming sadder and sadder, but also because it’s frustrating to feel so bad for these characters who are very much unable (or unwilling) to fix their relationships. If anything, the cover of volume 13 serves as a reminder of the past; of times that will never come again –  for both the characters and the audience.

Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

Oh no they didn’t! – The most shocking moments in shojo.

   While most anime and manga recycle cliché after cliché, some of them are capable of genuinely surprising moments, and shojo is no execption. Sometimes it’s not even what happens in a scene, but how it happens that makes it stand out. Here are some of the scenes in shojo that truly shocked me (and please note that there are several spoilers, so proceed with caution!).

–          Shika finding out her father isn’t who she thought he was in Sand Chronicles. This one is great because it was Fuji who suspected that he wasn’t a legitimate Tsukishima heir, and tormented himself to the point of closing off other people – I certainly didn’t see it coming that it was really Shika who was illegitimate! And it was made even sadder because she, unlike Fuji, never even suspected any of the secrets in her family. I thought Fuji’s storyline might play out à la Yuu from Marmalade Boy, but it turned out better not only because of the twist involving Shika, but also because Fuji’s emotional distress was better handled.

We Were There's Nanami

–          Nanami’s line at the end of We Were There volume eight: “I never saw Yano again.” Yano decides to move with his mother to Tokyo for his last year of high school, and he and Nanami make a promise to meet there in a year. The series then flashforwards from their separation at the train station to the end of Nanami’s last year in college, where we find out she and Yano never kept their promise. The next volume couldn’t have come out fast enough, because I couldn’t believe the way Nanami and Yano drifted apart. This also counts as one of the saddest moments I’ve read in a manga, because reading this scene moved me to tears.

–          Ren asking Nana to marry her in volume eleven of Nana. In the panels leading up to this scene, the mood is very tense because Nana anticipates that the next time she sees Ren they’ll be breaking up. Instead, Ren says ‘Marry me.’ I think I stared at those two words for five minutes before I could comprehend what was going on enough to turn to the next page!

–          Hachi finding out she’s pregnant in volume eight of Nana. Yes, another moment from Nana – Ai Yazawa is just that good. Most series wouldn’t go this far, having the main female character wind up pregnant in the middle of the series, rather than as some ‘happily ever after.’ The fact that this happens when she’s with Nobu, her ‘dream guy,’ yet Takumi finds out first and is the one to tell Nobu about the pregnancy and that she’s not sure who the father is makes the drama all the more heartbreaking. In many ways, this is where this series begins. This one was still surprising even though I had already semi-spoiled it for myself.

–          Naoki kissing Kotoko on vacation in volume four of Itazura na Kiss. As soon as I saw Naoki kindly approach Kotoko, I could tell it was going to be a dream sequence. Then when Kotoko wakes up and mentions that she can still feel the sensation of the kiss from her dream on her lips, Yuuki is shown hiding, so I just assumed that he had kissed her and was developing feelings for her because he was blushing. I didn’t think too much about it, especially because the incident was dropped for a while. But then a while later in the series, when Naoki’s feelings for Kotoko are being doubted, Yuuki reveals that he knows Naoki loves Kotoko because he kissed her that summer  – it wasn’t a dream! I was as ecstatic as I was shocked when I read that, and all I could think was “Well played.” I really believe that the way Kaoru Tada executes scenes like these is what makes her a wonderful writer, and what makes Itazura na Kiss such an enjoyable series.