So Cute It Hurts!!
小林が可愛すぎてツライっ!! (Kobayashi ga Kawai Sugite Tsurai!!)
Shoujo – Romance, comedy, gender bender
3 Volumes (ongoing)
Mitsuru is failing history. Instead of studying (which would interfere with his dates), he decides to have his twin sister Meguro fill in for him! Meguro doesn’t want to, but she’s left with no choice when Mitsuru goes to school as her. But both twins may get more than they bargained for while impersonating each other…
It doesn’t hurt to enjoy this cute manga.
This is Ikeyamada’s first series released in the U.S. She has written several series, quite a few of good length (10+ volumes). So Cute It Hurts!! is her currently-running series, but it is wrapping up in Japan. Some of her other works include Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!!, Moe Kare!!, Uwasa no Midori-kun!!, and Get Love!! ~Field no Ouji-sama~. (Yes, the author loves double exclamation points.) I’m sure some of you will recognize at least a couple of these series. I’m sure at least a couple of you will cry out, “Why wasn’t my favorite title licensed instead!?”, especially since the first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! spoils Suki desu Suzuki-kun!! But from the author’s notes, one can easily deduce So Cute It Hurts!! quickly has become quite a hit in Japan. While part of this is easily due to the popularity of Ikeyamada, to have a limited edition of a manga by volume three is not common. So what happens in these three volumes to have made Japanese readers so addicted?
Firstly, volumes one and two are essentially an extended prologue. Unlike most gender-benders which often have the goal of hiding the character’s identity for years, the twins plan to swap for a week. The first two volumes and part of the third cover the week. Since the series is well into double-digits in Japan, the real story seems to be dealing with the aftermath of the switch. Both Meguro and Mitsuru fall in love, but they can’t spend the rest of high school as the other. (Well, maybe in other manga they would…) So their real test is figuring out what to do after the week is over. It’s a gender bender not solely wrapped up in being a gender bender.
Most authors, if they were writing a series like this, would make Meguro’s story the main one and make Mitsuru’s the secondary plot. Ikeyamada makes both Kobayashi siblings protagonists, switching often between their point-of-views. Yes, it’s slightly biased toward Meguro, but it’s really only because of this being a shoujo series and most readers identifying more with female leads. But overall, the two stories are both given pretty equal importance…also because they’re extremely connected. The first volumes have the twins following on extremely similar paths (twincidence?). Even the third volume shows that their stories are not likely to diverge much despite the twins being in different relationship statuses. I do like how most characters find out the big secret relatively quickly instead of dragging it out. The story seems to be about the twins having other problems besides “he/she thinks I’m a girl/guy”. It creates its own plot, not a copycat of the gender bender genre.
Speaking of romance, everyone falls in love quickly. The first three volumes take place over about a week and a half, and we have five to six characters in love. It seems like the love story would just be a device for the comedy, but the author includes many scenes dedicated to the character’s emotions about falling in love. Ever read a story where you wonder how it can be both drama and comedy? Well, So Cute It Hurts!! is somehow both a silly romcom and an emotional romance story. It seems strange, but the manga pulls it off quite well…as long as you overlook the fact 15-year-olds are falling deeply in love within a week, some with I’m sure with their future spouse. Well, it’s manga, and even in many other forms of media the romance takes place over a short period of time, but don’t expect a lot of the early twinges of love here.
I applaud So Cute It Hurts!! for having some less-than-typical characters. Meguro is a history otaku. While she does play otome games and stuff, it’s still a welcome change from most otaku in manga being of the anime and manga variety. She actually has a subject she’s really good at, unlike many heroines where you wonder how she managed to get into high school. As for her twin, Mitsuru is also amazingly confident and secure in his identity. He not only comes up with the idea to switch but also has no problem wearing his sister’s uniform. Not only that, he thinks he’s amazingly cute and acts flirty toward guys! I give the author credit for not making the comedy about “ha ha, a guy in a skirt”. Yes, there’s the usual gender bender hijinx (guy falling in love with a “guy”, cross-dresser trying to lie their way out of a sticky situation, etc.), but Mitsuru’s comedy is more about how proud he is of himself rather than being embarrassed that he’s in a skirt.
As for their objects of their affection, Aoi is visually unique because of his eyepatch. I can’t think of many male leads in a non-fantasy or historical manga that walk around with eyepatches. And while he acts differently around females, it’s fortunately not because “all women are evil” to lock him into being a tsundere. You may figure out his issue before Meguro does (or even from my review), but he’s quite kind as far as male love interests go. (Ironic considering who he is, but I digress.) The role of tsundere goes to a female character, and even the author admits she was hated initially by the fans. Her cruelty is replaced by her extreme tsundere reactions. At this point, she can either be developed or locked into her new “I say I don’t care but really I do care” personality, so I am on the fence about her. The final main character uses sign language, so it’s nice people with disabilities are being represented more in manga. She’s a great character, but I do feel the twins learn sign language (a lot of it) way too quickly. As for supporting characters, there are Meguro’s two best friends who are both otaku but confident otaku. They may be slightly dumb for not realizing their best friend is acting strange, but they stand up for Meguro without a second thought. There’s also one male character who is the required “suddenly falling for the girly-boy” in gender-benders but otherwise adds little to the story.
I actually really like the art. It’s very shoujo but has some uniqueness in it to help the series stand out. Right from the first volume, we see “Meguro” with his shinai sticking out his tongue for a little attitude. Ikeyamada notes readers may not have realized it was actually Mitsuru, so the author then explains how to tell the real Meguro from the disguised Meguro. Regardless, the first volume’s cover stands out against volumes where the protagonist is smiling sweetly and innocently. Ikeyamada mentions in volume one this is her 44th book, so she is very comfortable with her style. The art is clean with both small and large panels, detailed character shots and SD character shots. I wouldn’t say it’s the prettiest manga ever, but I fully enjoy looking at it.
No honorifics are used; “Mr.” and “Ms.” are often used to replace them. Historical figures’ names are written in Western name order despite Japanese name order being the standard way of addressing them. This may be just me, but I’m so used to reading “Sanada Yukimura” that I got confused when Meguro said the guy with the surname Sanada and Sanada Yukimura share the same last name. “Well,” I thought, “that’s a weird way to put it; some people will think ‘Yukimura’ is his family name”, but then I realized the text actually uses “Yukimura Sanada”. My brain just reads it automatically in Japanese name order. There are translator’s notes are, including informing readers of a reference to the Suki Desu Suzuki-kun!! manga. A lot of the history references are explained in-dialogue, so there is no real need to add more in the notes. There’s a lot of historical references, but I don’t think all of them are explained. Just about everyone is named after a famous Japanese person or two.
So Cute It Hurts!! is best enjoyed without too much deep analysis into things like why nobody notices the twins switching or why 15-year-olds fall in love so fast. Any shoujo fan looking for a sweet, fluffy series will definitely want to pick So Cute It Hurts!! up. It’s too early for me to conclude exactly how good it is, but I am enjoying the series so far and will be continuing it.
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