So Cute It Hurts!!
小林が可愛すぎてツライっ!! (Kobayashi ga Kawai Sugite Tsurai!!)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, gender bender, romance
15 Volumes (complete)
On the verge of failing his history class, Mitsuru cons his twin sister (and history geek) Meguro into taking his place. But neither twin expected to fall in love while cross-dressing as each other! But while Meguro and Mitsuru are trying to hide their true identities, their love interest have problems and secrets of their own…
This is Ikeyamada’s first series released in the U.S., but she is hardly a beginner. At the end of the series, the author had written and drawn almost 60 volumes of manga, a number she has passed by now. 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.) Many of you may recognize these titles and wonder, “Why wasn’t my favorite title licensed instead!?” Heck, the first volume of So Cute It Hurts!! spoils the ending of her previous series.
But So Cute It Hurts!! quickly rose in popularity in Japan, having limited editions by the third volume. Part of this is due to Ikeyamada’s popularity, but it is still very unusual. So Cute It Hurts!! did not get an anime adaptation, but OVAs and a DS game based on the series were released. Was all the hype well-deserved?
So Cute It Hurts!! is divided into three arcs: a prologue, the “getting to know you/falling in love with you even more” arc, and the toward the future ending. (There are some time skips in between these parts and even in these sections.) Both twins have their own love stories, and they end to inadvertently coordinate at times despite their romances developing at different rates. For instance, both have their true identities revealed and go on a date at the same time. The second arc takes up the bulk of the story, but each section ages up along with the main characters. And that’s not the only thing that ages up: So Cute It Hurts!! Volume 12 changes the rating from T to M for the rest of the series, and it even has to be shrinkwrapped. Gee, I wonder why?
Other Shojo Beat titles like Happy Marriage?! have been shrinkwrapped before, but those tend to be josei titles, not shoujo. (Although Sho-Comi series are hardly strangers to sexual content. See: Sensual Phrase, Wild Act, Red River.)
So here’s what makes So Cute It Hurts!! so… odd: the fluff can be sickeningly sweet for those interested in drama (especially drama based on real-world events), but those just wanting a fun, lighthearted story may not want all the turmoil and lectures on Ultimate True Love. The spice is weighted toward the end, so if you want a josei-like experience, you’ll be disappointed. If you want a pure, innocent love story for the tween crowd, then you’ll also be disappointed. Plus, while the love stories are what a lot of girls dream of and write about in their fanfiction, the sad backstories are less relatable. The comedy can also be dulled by the angst of not being able to touch the one you love, and the melodrama is interrupted by silly faces. The series is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.
Let’s start with the good. First, one of the major characters has a disability. Considering how much of a manga fan Ikeyamada is, I’m going to guess it was inspired by A Silent Voice. Regardless, more people with disabilities need to be featured in fiction stories. (Aoi wears an eyepatch all the time too, and we learn it’s not a fashion statement.) Mitsuru and Meguro study sign language in order to speak to Shino. Plus, neither Meguro (or fake Meguro Mitsuru) or Meguro’s friends care that their other schoolmates, like the most popular girl in school, Azusa, don’t like them or think they’re weird. Really, though, they’re all oddballs with very… unusual expressions.
Aoi, Meguro’s love interest, is also incredibly devoted to his girlfriend. And not just after a lengthy arc where Aoi learns to be kind after initially being a butthead like in other manga. Aoi may be super strong and not very talkative, but he isn’t an iron tyrant. He tries his best to be a good boyfriend even though he knows he’s not the ideal type. Although he’s pretty close, blushing all the time and doing corny things like kissing through glass. With his eyepatch and his strength, he looks like a bad boy type, but he’s actually adorkable. He reminds me a bit of Saito from Hakuoki.
The fact that there are two romances is also a plus. Lots of manga have beta couples, and while Mitsuru’s story may be secondary to his sister’s, it’s never downplayed or ignored. His romcom is more of a traditional tsundere-type romance. So whether you prefer an emotional, deep love story or a hate-into-love one, readers get to experience both.
The twins also are rather different than many protagonists. 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 darn proud at looking good in a girl’s uniform (although he doesn’t become a cross-dresser or anything). And while he does have previous romantic experience (and is an admitted flirt), we don’t see him bouncing from girl to girl. In addition, the twins don’t keep swapping identities or have to keep hiding. The gender bender provides the initial setup and some small arcs, but it isn’t something Ikeyamada keeps doing each chapter. We get some laughs of a girlish “Mitsuru” and a boyish “Meguro”, but the manga doesn’t base its whole self on being a gender bender.
So, the downsides…
First, a minor one: Meguro introduces herself waaaaay too much. Isn’t that what those 1/2 to 1/3 boxes are for? If you can’t figure out who’s who by the time the series hits double digits, you shouldn’t be reading So Cute It Hurts!! or Sho-Comi as a whole. OK, OK, I get it, your name is Meguro, sheesh.
Now, Azusa. Azusa is very much a tsundere, but she also starts out as the most detestable type of tsundere. She’s a different person by the ending, but I imagine some of her development may be clouded by her initial unlikeability.
Moving on to a more significant one: although there are two romances in this story, everyone else gets the shaft. Meguro’s friends are proud otaku, and I wish we could have followed them more than just being Meguro’s cheerleaders. Heck, even Shino, one of the five main characters initially, drops out of the story around the halfway mark. The series is long enough that it could have done a little more with its cast. But if you’re not either supporting or breaking up the main character, you’re out of here! Even the twins could have had a stronger relationship. Late in the series, a secret ability where they have synchronized premonitions is revealed. It feels like a deus ex machina when an author suddenly brings up something like this three volumes from the ending.
Speaking of the ending, here’s where the manga really emphasizes the comedy-drama gap. Yes, throughout the story, there are stretches of drama and stretches of comedy in between the romance. So Cute It Hurts!! eventually covers a horrific disaster in Japan, and it’s obvious that this event personally affected the author. I admire Ikeyamada’s dedication to honor the victims of this tragedy, and she details her conflict about whether to include it or not. Lots of manga insert one final major conflict at the very end, but not very many spend almost a full volume as an epilogue.
A cavity-inducing epilogue.
I thought parts of So Cute It Hurts!! were too idyllic before (loving each other even without holding hands, parents accepting teenagers going to marry), but one whole volume on Happily Ever After is too much. It’s like listening to your friend’s love stories. In short doses, it’s fine. When they go on and on, it’s annoying.
However, I actually really like the art. At this point in her career, Ikeyamada has mastered her own personal style. 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. All the covers tend to be full of life. 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 that include information like references to Ikeyamada’s other works. A lot of the history references are explained in-dialogue, so there is no real need to add more in the notes. There are a lot of historical references, and I think they’re all explained eventually. Just about everyone is named after a famous Japanese person or two.
So Cute It Hurts!! is best for those who don’t mind heavy bouts of sweetness. Even the serious portions aren’t enough to counter the fact it often is So Corny It Hurts!! The longer the series went on, the less I enjoyed it. If you’ve ever read My Love Story!!, you know how Suwa kind of helps balance out the doting main couple? I think So Cute It Hurts!! needed someone like that instead of bad parent backstories.