Today I had the pleasure of adding another manga series to my completed collection. Tonari No Kashiwagi-san is a manga that only recently entered my notice due to it finally having being completely translated.
I must say, reading through the entire eighty four chapters in one sitting was quite the experience and I was able to see how fundamental Tonari No Kashiwagi-san has been in shaping the romance-scape today.
Tonari No Kashiwagi-san is a manga by mangaka Shimotsuki Kinusa, and was serialised from 2009 to 2016 and later compiled into twelve volumes. In total, it has eighty-four chapters, which were only very recently completely translated. That was actually how it caught my notice. I was scrolling through mangadex and I saw Tonari No Kahiwagi-san’s last chapter being released.
The story follows a highschool otaku, Yuuto Sakuraba, who’s desk mate is the cold beauty, Kotone Kashiwagi. Soon, Yuuto learns of Kashiwagi’s secret that she’s actually an otaku herself and people only think that she’s cold because she’s bad with people and tenses up when someone tries to talk to her. Classic.
The reason I say that Tonari No Kashiwagi-san has many of the qualities that lay the basis for the current broad view of romance in manga is because the story I mentioned above, while being the main plot, barely covers the first two-three volumes of the twelve volumes of this manga. Let me explain.
In classical shoujo, there is one main conflict introduced at the beginning of the story and the following conflicts that arise are because of that initial conflict or variations of it. This is a mould that is followed by even non-traditional romances like Inuyasha, where the romance is one of the main factors in the story.
Tonari No Kashiwagi-san breaks this tradition by completing it’s introductory conflict, the inciting incident if you well, very early. The main conflict in the beginning of the series is that Yuuto gets to know Kotone is an otaku, but doesn’t know her identity as his favourite online artist, Sayane, and inadvertently hurts Kotone because of it.
Sayane related conflicts continue, but are resolved before we’re halfway through the story and don’t pop up ever again. The focus of the series changes from Kotone being Sayane to Yuuto trying to make Kotone fall for him(spoiler not spoiler: Of course they end up together)
The second main quality that classical shoujo possesses is it’s one-trackedness. Classical shoujo generally only follows the story of the main characters. The side characters are only there as plot-furthering devices, a topic I believe I’ve discussed in my Horimiya article.
Tonari No Kashiwagi-san not only follows the story of Yuuto and Kotone, but also of their childhood friends Kazuki-kun and Fukuda Sayaka, who meet and fall in love due to Yuuto and Kotone becoming friends. In all honesty, from a story telling perspective, Kazuki and Sayaka’s story is much better than Yuuto and Kotone’s, and much more impactful.
This actually ends up working in the manga’s favour as Yuuto and Kotone’s story line is the fluffy and cutesy part while Kazuki and Sayaka’s relationship is more akin to the one’s in classical shoujo.
One thing I really like about this manga is it’s art style, which is more than slightly reminiscent of Hata Kenjiro’s art style. Cute and fluffy. Very naisu naisu!(Sorry for weebing out)
One thing however, that really irks me about this manga is the character of Fukuda Sayaka. At first, she acts like this intolerable bitch character, only to Yuuto, but then has a shift in her personality where she becomes vulnerable and opens up to Kazuki and starts treating Yuuto a bit better. Only a bit better.
I just don’t like bitchy characters like this that become human only halfway through the story.
Tonari No Kashiwagi-san, in all actuality, represents a ray of hope that even the popular girl of the block can turn out to be an otaku, that rather than looks, people could fall in love because of their shared interest(Yuuto is an average looker and Kotone is a 3D girl, someone who Yuuto thought he would never have an interest in), that happiness is waiting just around the corner for those that can grab onto it. It’s a beautiful lie that weaves into our day dreams and outlook and changes our mindset regarding this world(temporarily).
It’s something that makes you wonder about how your life could have been if you had done things differently, it reminds you of the permanence of impermanence. At the end, you’re left wondering, was this the right time to end the manga? It’s a question that I first came across, not as an otaku, but as an eight year old reading Tom Sawyer and reaching the epilogue, where Mark Twain asks, “What is the right time to end a story of youth?” then it was something like, if it’s an adventure, then maybe when their childhood, aka school ends, if it’s a romance, then when? Marriage? Engagement? Confession? It’s a question he couldn’t answer satisfactorily and I don’t think anyone can for that matter. Sorry for getting weirdly nostalgic.
As such, I don’t think there is much else for me to say about this manga. Go and give it a read. You might like it, you might not, but chances are higher that you’ll like it rather than not. Personally, Tonari No Kashiwagi-san is a manga that made me kind of sad, because it made me aware of the sheer inadequacy real life possesses compared to the realm of manga. It’s a must read.
And of course, look forward to the sequel of Kashiwagi-san, Tonari No Kashiwagi-san: After Days(This title reminds of Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, which is just depressing lol)
Farewell for now my dear readers. we shall meet again soon enough. I still haven’t written that Kaze no Stigma article huh? I’m actually surprised there is not official english translation for this manga, because it ended all the way back in 2016. Maybe it just didn’t get popular enough? I want to do an article on the japanese manga industry too. That would be interesting.