I Am Here!
ココにいるよ！(Koko ni Iru yo!)
Shoujo – Drama, romance, slice-of-life
2 Omnibuses (complete)
Hikage is practically invisible to her classmates. She has no friends, no one knows her name, and they forget she’s even in their class. Still, she at least has two regular commenters on her internet blog. But when the most popular boys in school start to talk to her, Hikage may finally be able to escape the shadows of her lonely school life.
If you only know Toyama from works like Missions of Love, it’s almost hard to believe that she used to write such sweet and relatively innocent stories.
Hikage is inadvertently ostracized by her classmates. She missed the first few days of school due to an accident, and everyone had already formed cliques by the time she started class. She’s just one of those people without much presence, in part because she’s so shy. But at least Hikage isn’t completely alone: she has a blog with two regular commenters, the angry-but-kind Mega Pig and the gentle Black Rabbit. One day, she’s suddenly approached by the rambunctious Teru and the sweet Hinata, and Hinata ends up telling Hikage he’s been watching her.
Thus begins Hikage’s journey into the sun.
As I alluded to in the opening, I Am Here! is aimed at a younger demographic. I mean, Mission of Love was serialized in Nakayoshi as well, but that series is much more mature than this one. I Am Here! is better for those younger readers, and for that demographic, it has it its strengths. Middle school is often an awkward time, and I’m sure many readers can relate to Hikage’s struggle as the one girl in class who is ultimately forgettable.
But unlike other manga, Hikage isn’t completely alone in the world: she has Black Rabbit and Mega Pig, and she has a sunflower she’s trying to grow. But she’s suddenly approached by the two most popular guys in class, and Hikage starts working toward having IRL friends.
As you may have guessed, there is a love triangle going on here. Somewhat surprisingly, the triangle doesn’t really rear its head until the second omnibus. Before then, the story is geared toward Hinata. But then there’s also the issue of Black Rabbit and Mega Pig’s identities. Could they be closer than Hikage thinks? The guys also wonder if Internet friends mean more to Hikage because of their longer relationship with her.
I don’t know if the series was ended early or it Toyama just didn’t plan out well, but one of the identities of Hikage’s blogging friends isn’t revealed until a side story. I do like how the whole secret identity isn’t as obvious as you might assume. After reading the bonus chapter though, it does feel like the manga would have been more fun with everything out in the open. The mystery surrounding the persons behind the Black Rabbit and Mega Pig accounts also takes up much of the manga, so even as Hikage starts making friends, the class pretty much comes together as a package. It would have been nice to have the class start to acknowledge her but give one or two girls more pagetime or identities. The one that does stand out a little more from the others is still basically Friend A. There just isn’t time for readers to get to know her or even see how she would spend time outside of school with Hikage.
The other major plot point surrounds a girl in their class, Aya. Long story short, she becomes the rival character for the heroine — a nasty one at that. She’s one of the meaner rival characters in a manga for this age demographic. I guess she was meant to balance out Hinata, the kind, sweet, super-popular boy who notices the waif of a heroine. But the final confrontation between the two girls ends up falling flat. I don’t want to get into why for spoiler reasons, but I’ll just say it feels forced. I think it also would have been better if Hikage had made female friends with some actual personalities instead of Friend A. Even though this series is technically five volumes, the way the world at large isn’t built up, it feels more like two standard instead of two omnibuses.
Still, though, there’s not much to dislike about the story. It’s fairly standard, as the main idea has been found in other stories like Kimi ni Todoke. Hikage may be a bit too sweet or passive for a heroine for some readers, but like I’ve said before, this series has a little more leeway considering the demographic. I hesitate to call this a pure love story because of Aya and the love triangle, but it comes close. From Hinata’s perspective, however, it certainly is, as he truly tries to help out his crush and is happy anytime it seems like they’re getting closer. If you’re tired of the nice guy always being the secondary male lead, then I Am Here! will be a delightful change of pace. Not that Teru is a jerk or anything, but he’s more rough around the edges.
Another positive for the manga is that the art isn’t dreary. Many manga starring a lonely or low self-esteem protagonist tends to feature a lot of inking and screentones, but Hikage is actually more positive than you might think at first glance. Her Blog is titled “1cm of Happiness”, so she takes pictures of things she thinks is pretty or is important to her, like the scene from a bridge or her budding sunflower. Hinata’s honest feelings also helps keep the mood up even as Aya gets angrier at Hikage. Plus, there’s a level of minor hilarity as badges of a pig and a rabbit give Hikage advice. I also think Hikage’s design looks really well on her. Often in manga, long hair is made to add creepiness or gloominess to a character, and a haircut is required to show their newly positive outlook and/or happiness. I’m glad I Am Here! avoided this.
There’s one thing I have to mention though: the author’s obsession with MahiMahi, who is supposed to be the mascot character of the series. (You can see it in the image above.) MahiMahi doesn’t find too many ways to sneak into the manga, but Toyama certainly talks about it enough in the side panels. The author really loves MahiMahi. I mean REALLY loves the sunflower creature. She admits that the people around her were bewildered by her obsession with it, and I don’t blame them. MahiMahi is not that cute either in design or personality. Sorry, Toyama, but it’s the truth.
Honorifics are used. In the first volume, sound effects are placed in < >. So it’s “<sigh>: instead of “Sigh…” or “Haaa…” Some terms are kept like “onegaishimasu” at the beginning of a match. There are a few instances where the erasing is rather poor and they should have just kept the Japanese text and put the English version to the side or whatever. Poor Hinata has a large chunk of his face missing due to a bad erasing job.
Not something I’m sure the average manga fan will flock toward, but if you need a relatively safe, inexpensive series for a young female reader, I Am Here! is an option.
Kodansha Comics has published digital and/or physical versions of several of Toyama’s works (Aoba-kun’s Confessions, Kamikamikaeshi, Manga Dogs, Missions of Love). Tokyopop published Pixie Pop.