すき。だからすき (Suki. Dakara Suki)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance
3 Volumes (complete)
Tokyopop / Viz Media
Hinata’s happy days just keep getting happier. The man who moves in next door looks after her, does all of her favorite things, and even turns out to be her interim homeroom teacher. It’s no wonder Hinata is experiencing new feelings! But is Shiro’s arrival purely coincidence? Is there a reason why he seems especially interested in Hinata?
Note: This manga is also known as Suki: A Like Story, but all my research makes me believe the actual English title is just Suki.
Hinata is smart, athletic, is well-liked, and is always full of energy. It’s a combination many people (including myself) would dream of. But she’s also incredibly naive and trusting. She’s not childish in a “give me what I want or I’ll throw a tantrum” sort of way, but she doesn’t have a suspicious bone in her body and doesn’t really understand things like professional boundaries and romance. That’s why when her new, much older teacher moves in next door, she doesn’t think twice about inviting him over for dinner or even why he’s always around. It’s her childhood friend Touko who notices Shiro watching Hinata, and their friend Emi also tries to teach Hinata some common sense. (It doesn’t work.)
Regardless, Hinata revels in the new, happy (and some not-so-happy) feelings toward Shiro, a man clearly not used to such cheerfulness and optimism. In fact, the two are opposites in almost every way: height (tall vs short), speech (short and to the point vs making up songs), eating habits (doesn’t care vs cares deeply), etc. For Hinata, her feelings start because of little things like being patted on the head or him moving her to the other side of the sidewalk away from cars, and things grow from there.
Let me talk more about the romance. Shiro is Hinata’s current teacher, not to mention twice her age. Still, they are far from CLAMP’s most disturbing couple. But that’s really not something to brag about. Regardless, they are also one of the most chaste couples. As the subtitle A Like Story suggests, this is not a story about hot, passionate, deep love. Love is explored in different ways across the CLAMP universe, and in this case, it’s more about first love and/or awakening love. So without going into spoilers, I can assure readers the age gap and power differentials are not quite as alarming or severe as the setup might suggest.
So anyway, readers quickly pick up that there’s more to this story than just a girl who talks with toy bears and her teacher. Pieces of critical information come out at regular intervals — maybe not every chapter, but every other chapter I’d say. The clues aren’t hidden either: the end of the first volume has Touko and Emi discussing Hinata’s family life rather openly. (I don’t mean openly in front of Hinata and/or others; I mean they don’t talk in riddles or ambiguous phrasing in front of readers, something CLAMP manga are prone to do.) Eventually, people who know Shiro enter the picture, and then his motivations for approaching Hina become clear.
Despite the secrets, Suki is a relatively simple story. For some series, that may be an insult, but Suki wears it like a badge of honor. In terms of sticking to the main tone and theme, this is one of CLAMP’s best. Hinata, for instance, is considered a bit of an airhead, so we don’t need Emi to take up the role of silly, goofy best friend. Nor does the drama suddenly kick it up a notch at the end to go for a bombastic ending. The narrative centers around Hinata’s blooming feelings and the mystery surrounding Shiro; that’s all that’s really needed for the whole time. Plus, the manga doesn’t bog down readers with unimportant details by limiting the number of named characters to six and some mascots like a cat and stuffed bears.
The only part that distracts from this is an in-universe storybook about two bears. (Hinata, as you may have gathered, loves bears.) It’s a very childish tale with rather uninspired designs, and even though Hinata is much like a little kid herself, it’s so basic that I have to wonder why Hinata is so drawn to it. Chobits, for instance, made better use of the story-in-a-story literary device, as it was the newly-awakened Chii who was reading. Plus, the picture books in Chobits don’t feature blocks of text to go with each picture like this one does.
Suki is one of the titles Mick/Tsubaki Nekoi was the lead artist on. If you prefer to more bright cutesy-ness of Cardcaptor Sakura or the long-legged style or xxxHolic, the relative simpleness of Suki may be a disappointment. But it works for a straightforward story like this. However, I still can’t say it’s great. First of all, the three men are all wearing circular, wire-rimmed glasses, and two of the three have the same small face, big body build. The bigger thing is since this is a more realistic story, we don’t get to see CLAMP show off their artistic creativity. Hinata doesn’t dress up like Sakura or Chii, and there’s no spirits like in Tokyo Babylon or xxxHolic. I just expect so much more from CLAMP. Even the cat in the story will probably look familiar to many of you. However, if you just want a readable, nice-looking title, then Suki is more than okay.
If you do happen upon the physical versions, Tokyopop does a good job with the covers to match the vintage, country-ish style. It’s a bit rough and fabric-like, so it’s nice they didn’t just go with a regular matte or glossy finish.
From what I can tell, the Viz version is the same as Tokyopop’s, but I don’t know if they fixed typos like “Aso” instead of “Asou”.
Otherwise, honorifics are used. When Hinata writes her name, the art is altered so she’s writing in English. When Hinata explains why her name is written in hiragana, a footnote is added.
Despite the setup, Suki is a simple, straightforward tale for those who just want a simple heartwarming tale about crushes. However, while this does well with bringing out the fluff, it’s a light on actual romance and artistic splash.
Most of CLAMP’s works are available in English. Most of their older titles were originally published by Tokyopop but rescued by Viz Media (digital) or Dark Horse (physical). Most of their recent manga have been licensed by Kodansha, but there are the occasional oddities like Kobato. (Yen Press).