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Love*Com Vol. 1 (Viz Media/Shojo Beat)

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The tallest girl in school pairs up with the shortest boy in her class in this refreshingly gimmick-free new manga series, also known as Lovely Complex.

 

 

192 pgs. B&W; $8.99

(W / A: Aya Nakahara)

 

In the increasingly derivative world of shojo manga, it's common for writers and artists to rely on a thematic gimmick, rather than an appeal to emotions, to draw readers into their titles. Inubaka has dogs, Antique Bakery has pastries, and Nodame Cantabile has musical instruments, just to name a few. Honestly, sometimes there's so much window-dressing, it's easy to lose track of the storyline.

 

But with its relatively simple, believable, and gimmick-free storyline, Aya Nakahara's Love*Com (winner of the 2003 Shogakukan Manga Award) is a welcome change of pace. Even though the characters engaged in the manga's romance are young (15), the emotional weight of the book is mature enough to engage fans of Boys Over Flowers (Hana Yori Dango), Doubt!, and other, similarly gimmick-less shojo romances.

 

The cover to Love*Com Vol. 1. Click thumbnail for a larger image.Love*Com (short for Lovely Complex) is the tale of an odd couple. Risa Koizumi, at 5 foot 7 inches (unnaturally tall for a Japanese girl) but cursed with a last name that means "Little Spring," is stuck going to summer school with Atsushi Otani ("Big Valley"), who at five-foot-one, is the smallest boy in their class. Frequently lumped together by their heartless teacher and easily-amused classmates, each member of this unlikely pair quickly grows to hate the other. But when Risa and Otani develop feelings for fellow classmates Suzuki (a cute bishounen, or prettyboy) and Chiharu (a shy, retiring girl), they vow to help each other win over their respective crushes, and make this their "summer of love." The pair's mutual hatred slowly morphs into respect as they cheer each other on, drop meaningful hints, and set up creative group dates to make sure things stay on the right track. Unfortunately, during their valiant attempts to woo Suzuki and Chiharu, "Jumbo Gal" and "Shrimp" find out that they have a lot more in common than their unusual heights -- and that's when the real romantic comedy begins.

 

The art in Love*Com can be cutesy at times -- there are a lot of large-eyed girls and mysteriously hovering flowers -- but loyal shojo junkies should be used to that kind of thing. All in all, this isn't the type of book you read for the art -- you're reading for the story, with all its implausible plot twists, goofy humor, and "will they or won't they?" romance. And on these three counts, Love*Com delivers in spades. | J. Bowers

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