You remember that girl who crawled out of the well in The Ring, right? Sawako Kuronuma bears an uncanny resemblance to that creepy character, and the coincidence hasn’t escaped her classmates’ notice. Sawako is a sweet, optimistic girl, but her spooky, slump-shouldered bearing is completely at odds with what’s inside. Remember that bit in Addams Family Values when Wednesday tried to smile? It’s like that, except that Sawako is really trying to be genial.
As high-school students are a cowardly and superstitious lot, rumors fly about Sawako. They think she communes with ghosts and can curse those around her. Even the teachers are wary of her. Hell, even puppies get skittish in her presence. It probably doesn’t help that the kanji that constitute her family name also translate into “black swamp.”
So Sawako takes it upon herself to try and clear up what she believes to be simple misunderstandings. She meets with limited success until Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, starts treating her with the same cheerful courtesy he extends to everyone. The tide begins to turn for Sawako, and she starts making other friends. And while she still looks and acts like she crawled out of a well, she’s sparkling with happiness on the inside.
It’s that disconnect – Sawako’s frightening mien wrapped around the open heart of a true shôjo princess – that makes the book so funny and endearing. Also delightful is the fact that Sawako never once entertains the notion of changing her appearance; she just wants to introduce her classmates to the girl on the inside. Shiina has a real gift for constructing scenarios that allow you
can to root for Sawako and still giggle at the ways her efforts can backfire. Shiina’s illustrations hit all the right notes, from funny-creepy to sparkly-sweet, sometimes in the same panel.
Kimi ni Todoke is off to a wonderful start. It’s a great look at an offbeat kid trying to find happiness on her terms. Sawako is undeniably naïve, but she’s naïve in the best possible way. She believes the best of people, that they’ll accept truth and overlook appearance. And Shiina lets her be right often enough to balance out the laughs that come from the moments when Sawako is wrong.
(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)