Kare First Love
“He” is My First Love
「彼」 first love
Shoujo – Romance, drama, slice-of-life
10 Volumes (complete)
Karin just wants to get along with her classmates, which is why she bites her tongue at her “friend” Yuka’s comments and demands. One day, she mistakes a good-looking guy for a pervert and is forced to go along on a mixer. The guy, Kiriya, finds Karin interesting, but Yuka has her eye on him.
Kare First Love is a pretty manga to look at but has a story that concentrates too much on approaching the physical side of the relationship. The series also has translation issues.
For a series about first love, I think we miss most of the usual “first love” problems. The couple gets together early, and while this isn’t too uncommon in shoujo romances, it kind of goes against the main theme. When I think of first love stories, I want to read about the girl (or guy) meeting, the unknown prickling feeling in their chest, the struggle to confess, the first date, and beyond. Throw in the first feeling of jealously and the first fight, and I think we’ve covered most of the major tropes. In this series, most of the pre-relationship problems center around Yuka’s jealousy. The first date is over rather quickly, and then the characters are already discussing taking an overnight trip. Karin’s nervousness about consummating the relationship takes up a big portion of the series. While this is a big step for any couple, I just feel like in a shoujo about first love we should spend more time on all the emotional ups-and-downs first.
The fast pace also means relationship is presented with an idealistic bent instead of a more realistic one. Kiriya finds Karin attractive even with her glasses. He works several jobs to support himself and his photography career, and yet he has money to buy Karin gifts. He comes and saves her even though he attends a different school. While this makes him a great boyfriend, it also means he has no problem dedicating himself into a serious relationship despite being a former playboy. It’s the sort of change many stories have glamorized, but this character development is practically skipped over in Kare First Love. Even the parents (eventually) allow Karin and Kiriya quite a bit of leniency in dating.
Despite my complaints, the story isn’t terrible. However, the series starts out similar to Peach Girl with the protagonist’s dealings with a frenemy. Then we go onto the sex arc, and then the last few volumes focus mostly on Kiriya’s family’s problems along with Karin’s future dreams. There is not an overabundance of fluff for readers who dislike over sweet stories, but the drama is never depressingly heavy. Most misunderstandings are resolved in a timely manner, a rarity in shoujo.
As mentioned earlier, Kiriya is a good boyfriend, the kind of male lead that is getting harder to find outside of the secondary love interest. If I was to list one criticism of his character, it is that he is not very dependent on Karin, even when he should ask for her support. Males — in real life and in fiction — are notorious for this, so I can’t hold this too much against him. It just feels like he gives Karin a bit too much credit, but that’s the power of love, I guess. Meanwhile, Karin struggles to fit in at school, so she hides her true thoughts. Her mind shows she has a bit of an attitude, but this side of her is absent after the first volume or two. Instead she acts as a typical shy, unconfident girl in love. Their best friends are present throughout the entire series, but only Karin’s friend Nanri is given a small moment in the spotlight. I feel like they should have gotten more attention since they are such a presence. Nanri, who is quite forward, makes comments early in the story about how she is going to chase after Kiriya’s friend Hiromu. This plot never goes anywhere, and I honestly don’t know if it’s because Nanri just wants to play around or if Hiromu is uninterested. It’s an unfortunate side effect when the author concentrates so much on the lead couple.
The art is definitely 90s shoujo, similar authors like to MOMOCHI Reiko and UEDA Miwa. Eyes are large, noses are defined, and frequent uses of SD faces and humorous screentones. It’s a style I like, probably because I grew up on 90s shoujo art. As this is an emotional manga, there are practically no actions scenes outside of a few physical hits. Miyasaka draws frequent close-ups and full-page (or almost full-page) panels. Some are supposed to represent the beautiful pictures that photographers in the story take, and it is easy to understand why people would be captivated by them. The cast is rather small, and no crazy character designs are included (or needed) because of the small cast. Everybody’s hair color is either black or white; there’s no in-between. On the downside, Karin is initially perceived as ugly simply because of her glasses, and the only other physical difference between volume 1 Karin and volume 10 Karin is her hairstyle. Granted, Kiriya does comment Karin is cute with her glasses, and Miyasaka is far from the only author to do this, but I don’t the indirect message that contacts is the first step to being beautiful. It’s also bizarre that contacts and a wardrobe change could make people completely not recognize Karin. Regardless, the art is quite attractive.
The font used is horrible. It’s tall, skinny, and just plain ugly. (It’s the same font used in Boys Over Flowers among others.) No honorifics are used. Like many older manga titles, a lot of the Japanese text is covered up by a big text box instead of editing the artwork. The dialogue is Americanized. Well, maybe not so much Americanized as…more edgy? Karin’s stressed-out thoughts (both internal and external) about Yuka are more severe in English. In Japanese, Karin is basically sighing when she goes to the bathroom, but in English, she calls Yuka stupid. A lot of times characters refer to each other by their first name. Kiriya is one exception…sort of. I remember when I first read this series, I assumed Kiriya was his first name. It’s an easy mistake to make, and it’s only really clear in the character introductions. For instance, when he corrects a lady who mistakes the male lead for his older brother, in Japanese, he introduces himself as Aoi, the younger brother. In English, he says, “I’m his little brother, Kiriya.” They’re (full) brothers; they’re both Kiriya! It should read like this: “I’m his little brother, Aoi.”
In addition, I just didn’t like how they chose to adapt many lines. The first line of the series, in Japanese, translates to something like, “I still don’t understand true ‘love’.” This version’s opening like is, “I’ve never known true love.” They may seem close, but the second just sounds really weird for a high school student to say. The series even adds dialogue bubbles. In the opening chapter, Tohru (in Japanese) wonders what Kiriya is looking at. Viz Media’s (well, Viz at the time) version makes it seem like Tohru doesn’t know what Kiriya is doing and Kiriya is spaced out. Hiromu’s name is also revealed here in Japanese but not in English. In another example, when Kiriya confesses he’s serious about Karin, she thinks to herself “Why…?” (as in “Why me…?”). The line in this adaptation is, “Promise…?” A person doesn’t usually think the word “promise” like that. All in all, a poor adaptation that wasn’t even good back when the series was released.
This is basically Mars minus the heavy drama and psychological aspects. Unfortunately, Kare First Love is a bit too ideal to be a normal slice-of-life romance, but that may be a plus to some. The art is gorgeous, the translation awful.
Despite being 10 years old, you can still find most volumes new on Amazon. Otherwise, it is available for purchase digitally or on the secondary market.
The author has written many other shoujo series, but no other works of hers have been released in the US. I would like to read Akai Ito in English, but Cheese! magazine manga are practically never licensed.
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