The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko
笑うかのこ様 (Warau Kanoko-sama)
Shoujo – Comedy, romance
2 Volumes (hiatus) of 3 Volumes (complete)
Most people want to be the hero or heroine. Kanoko prefers being the objective observer. Nothing is more exciting to her than watching the drama of other people’s lives. However, if all the world is a stage, then even this audience member may find herself the center of attention.
Ah, somebody rescue this series!
Kanoko would rather be alone than get involved in things like friendship. This allows her to essentially spy on everyone in class, and she records all her observations in a notebook. At her latest school (she transfers schools constantly), she finds herself in a class with three popular students: Momoka, Tsubaki, and Natsukasa. Kanoko knows there’s a love triangle a-brewin’. As she tries to dig up more information, she ends up getting closer to the three than she would like.
The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko started off as a one-shot. It’s actually a pretty good one, showcasing Kanoko’s fear of friendship against her pragmatic personality. However, authors often find it difficult to take a stand-alone story and stretch it into a series. In this case, the first chapter has Kanoko not only gaining friends but revealing to everyone she has dirt on the entire class. I guess Tsujita felt like Kanoko’s role as “objective observer” doesn’t work well when it’s known Kanoko is both not-so-objective as well as an observer. Because of this, Tsujita makes Kanoko transfer schools constantly in order to put her in new situations.
As an episodic series, most chapters of The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko follow the same pattern: Kanoko observes her new surroundings, meets an eccentric person, gets involved in a scheme, and then she observes the results. Despite proclaiming she’s just an impartial observer, Kanoko often gives others (rather blunt) advice. She admits she’s no ally of justice though; she helps out because either a) someone irritates her or b) she finds the idea interesting. (She’s still not quite as objective as she claims though.) But while my description may seem like each chapter tries to teach readers something, they’re really more like glimpses into the wide range of personalities. Some of these tales are basically shoujo one-shots from an outsider’s point-of-view: can an ugly duckling capture her prince’s heart? Who is trying to sabotage a film? Will jealousy destroy a relationship before it even starts? However, most of these types of manga are dramas. The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko is a comedy, and the humor comes from Kanoko’s joy at watching interesting situations and her horror at being dragged into them.
While Kanoko tends to think of herself as being knowledgeable about teenage behavior, she also still has much to learn. Kanoko sometimes forgets that people are people, not just research specimens. The first volume has a couple of stories about her adjusting to friendship. Tsubaki also shows up in every chapter, and Kanoko just doesn’t understand why he keeps visiting her. Another story has a character that actually manages to trick Kanoko. (Kanoko is impressed, not upset.)
Kanoko and Tsubaki are the only characters that reappear in every chapter. Momoka and Natsukasa reappear in one chapter, but they are mentioned a few times. As such, most of the characters in The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko are disposable; they appear once and only reappear in side drawings. The actual stories are pretty entertaining, but they aren’t designed to leave readers wanting more of them. There’s no long, over-reaching plot, and that often hurts a series. Another thing: even though shoujo heroes are often more popular than heroines, I didn’t like how Tsubaki shows up in every chapter. This series really isn’t a romance, and just having a guy appear doesn’t make it more of one. Tsubaki also has perfect timing, appearing just when Kanoko needs a hand. Once in a while? Fine. Every time? Annoying.
The true highlight of this series is Kanoko herself. She still has some vulnerabilities (she’s only in ninth grade, you know), but she is quite smart and strong. Kanoko is quite different from the eternally optimistic, always smiling heroines that dominate shoujo manga. If Kanoko is smiling, it’s usually a smirk or sneer. I also like that this manga, for once, doesn’t place an emphasis on the protagonist’s looks. One of the side characters gets a makeover, but Kanoko herself doesn’t care about looking good or finding love. I can easily see Kanoko growing up to be one of those crazy researchers or scientists you see in fiction, but she also is not so cold-hearted. She also has an attitude, calling Tsubaki an idiot when he misunderstood the situation in Chapter One. Tsubaki, meanwhile, obviously has an interest in Kanoko. It’s easy to forget how rude Tsubaki initially was since he travels quite a ways just to meet her. Momoka is pretty much a ditz, but she at least tries not to remain as weak as she is. Natsukasa is the stereotypical nice guy with a crush. Everyone else ranges from the stereotypical villain to tsundere to villains.
Since Kanoko is not a happy-go-lucky protagonist, the art is not done in a bright, cookie-cutter style. The characters are a bit 90s-like and similar to Morinaga Ai’s or a bit like Fukuyama Ryoko’s. The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko is Tsujita’s first serialized work, and you can see quite an improvement from her debut story (which is included in this series). Tsubaki and Natsukasa are pretty much generic bishounen, but it’s a bit unusual for a girl with twin braids to be the most beautiful girl in school. Kanoko is on the plain side, but I like how there’s no “take-off-your-glasses-and-be-a-bombshell” malarky. The abundance of characters means Tsujita has to work extra-hard to make everyone unique. One character is a dreamer, so she appropriately looks like an old-fashioned shoujo heroine. Meanwhile, a teacher has sideways spiky hair, and it looks extremely awkward. Tsujita uses a lot of exaggerated expressions, from Kanoko’s horror at some people’s obnoxious behavior to her utter glee when something interesting is going on. More interestingly, the covers are pretty much a complete fake-out. I’m sure some people picked up this series thinking this was a cute romance and others passed on it for the same reason. I know everyone’s been told not to judge a book by its cover, but a good, accurate cover sure helps!
Honorifics are used. Being one of Tokyopop’s last releases, the adaptation is pretty strong. I’m not going to go into it deeply, as if it were ever rescued, I’m sure it would get a new translation anyways. But it does avoid most of the pitfalls from Tokyopop’s early (and sometimes later) releases. There are some issues like calling Kanoko in eighth grade because she’s in the last year of middle school. As you probably know, she’s in ninth grade actually. Tokyopop even finds a good nickname for the annoying teacher.
We all have a little of Kanoko inside us, and it’s just plain fun to see what would normally be a side character take center stage in a manga. The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko has little-to-no romance, which may or may not be a good thing. The series being unfinished in English, however, is definitely not a good thing.
In Japan, this series was followed up with a longer sequel (Koi da no Ai da no) as well as an online spin-off (Koi nashi Ai nashi).