A Kiss, For Real
セキララにキス (Sekirara ni Kiss)
Shoujo – Romance
9 Volumes (complete)
In order to avoid being hated, Chitose acts like a cheerful and agreeable girl. So when a guy saves her from a voyeur, she expects her flattery to work as she thanks him. But as she tours his art school, he sees right through her! Are Chitose’s peaceful days in jeopardy, or is her true self about to shine through?
If only A Kiss, For Real was as creative as the school in the manga pushes its students to be…
I admit this was not one of those series I was really interested in checking out. I think in part it’s because the title is so lame. It kind of sounds like a little kid talking: “I gots a kiss for real, Mommy!” Or maybe it’s more like a valley girl accent: “Like, he gave me a kiss, for real, like totally!” Yes, I know the English title is a good adaptation of the Japanese title, but am I alone here?? Even compared to some of Kodansha Comics’ other shoujo hits involving the word kiss like Kiss Me at the Stroke of Midnight; Let’s Kiss in Secret Tomorrow; Kiss Him, Not Me… doesn’t A Kiss, For Real sound a little dull? Anyone??
Okay, moving on.
In elementary school, Chitose was made fun of for her appearance and smell. (The smell was due to her parents’ restaurant.) So she decided to imitate a girl she saw on TV — one who was always cute, cheerful, and loved by everyone — in order to avoid any negative attention. Now in high school, Chitose is well-liked by both genders. She also secretly makes things to sell at her parents’ restaurant.
One day, a man is shooting an upskirt video, and a boy her age points it out. After dealing with the skeeve, Chitose is enamored by her helper, named Kinosuke (usually referred to as Itsuki). She ends up following him to his art prep school. Chitose is a bit taken aback that Kinosuke seems annoyed, but he knows she’s just putting on airs. But he is genuinely impressed when she recognizes his phone case as one she made. As they verbally tug over Chitose’s “mask”, Kinosuke kisses her in order to help push her to be herself. Chitose, now having fallen in love with him, wants to get closer to him. Of course, that means attending his school (Yamate Art School, aka YamaArt) — and quit the whole fake personality thing.
Judging from the summary, one manga that this series may remind you of is Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances. They’re not that alike though. Art and grades aside, Chitose doesn’t have a strong “fake” side like Yukino does. Chitose basically never disagrees or turn down a request, and she is doing so to protect herself emotionally, not for glory. Kinosuke, like Soichiro, has a bit of a dark side, but Kinosuke isn’t hiding it; girls just get upset that his good looks don’t match his harsh, sometimes rude personality.
Now, I’m going to start off by saying this: most manga tend to follow a similar pattern, and shoujo manga with a middle/high school-age protagonist tend to be especially prone to same-itis. I’m sure anyone who has read more than like two manga in this genre could make a basic outline of the plot, maybe making two versions of whether the couple gets together at the very end or not.
What A Kiss, For Real is is that outline come to life. Like any early outline or flowchart, yes, some parts get moved around or are given more/less focus, but A Kiss, For Real tends to have this idea of what shoujo manga is and forgets the journey between all of those main points is just as important.
Case in point: Kinosuke. In the first volume, Kinosuke tells Chitose he doesn’t believe in love and will never fall in love with her. Sounds like quite a hurdle for Chitose, right? Well, before the end of volume three, he’s telling her he likes her. Yeah, of course I hardly expected this to be some lifelong vow, but with such a relatively short passage of time, the whole thing comes across like a toddler boldly declaring they’re going to run away, only to give up a minute later when told there’s no ice cream if they leave. Chitose may have gotten through Kinosuke’s walls, but the walls must have been made out of cards.
In another example, Chitose’s friends at school. It’s Kinosuke and other people at YamaArt that help push her to express herself. I thought there would be some kind of fuss at her high school now that she is dropping the facade. But there’s one scene where Chitose admits she’s at an art prep school and… that’s it. In fact, one of her friends apologizes to her for being upset when she assumes Chitose couldn’t be bothered to say she wasn’t coming for a school festival meeting. We see them a couple more times, usually just to wave goodbye or do some “oooh, who’s texting you~~” teasing. Considering the author makes a big deal about Chitose trying to be picture perfect all the time, I’d like to have seen more about her school friends getting to know the true Chitose. Maybe see her help her classmates with techniques she learned at YamaArt. Just something to put more emphasis on the new Chitose. Instead, it feels like Akuta checked off the box regarding make up with school friend/s and moved on.
That’s how I felt for so much of the manga — just boxes being checked off. Chance meeting, check. Forced kiss, check. Rival-turned-friend, check. You get the drill. Chitose enrolls in YamaArt, where she learns drawing (and some other) techniques — and more about Kinosuke, her crush. Kinosuke often helps her out because he’s more experienced and fond of Chitose’s passion. Kinosuke, meanwhile, finds he’s pressed by his older brother’s return — both career-wise and relationship-wise. Yuinosuke is both a free spirit and a lost soul, but he enters with a clear interest in Chitose. So whenever the manga needs some love triangle or family drama, Yuinosuke is there to fill that role. He doesn’t hate his brother, but Yuinosuke is strongly drawn to Kinosuke’s eventual girlfriend. Yuinosuke is not an antagonist or serious alternate love interest, but he is a point of contention as the main two navigate their future individually and as a couple.
There are some other main and supporting cast members, including classmates and instructors. One of Chitose’s (originally Kinosuke’s) friends has their own relationship issues, but like much of A Kiss, For Real, it reads like an abridged version of a secondary manga couple. The other is a gal-type, but she unfortunately didn’t bring much to the table in terms of the story. I knew YamaArt friends would take priority over Chitose’s high school friends, but even their importance drops like a rock. If you don’t find yourself drawn in by Kinosuke and Chitose, there’s little else to hang your hat on. One other character is introduced late, but I was impressed their part in the story was one of the few tropes that wasn’t played straight. The manga was all the better for it, and I wish A Kiss, For Real had more of these situations.
But here’s one of the manga’s strengths: it makes a bigger deal about college admissions. Lots of protagonists (and often their love interests) struggle with deciding what college to go to, but A Kiss, For Real treats it like the life-altering decision it is. It’s not just a fit about whether the main couple is going to have to be apart or not. The manga covers a significant period of time (and sometimes fast forward months all at once), so it’s not a complete picture of the exam process, but it does a heck of a better job than most series. I also like the jealousy aspect of someone starting later than you in something (hobby, work, or whatever) and seemingly doing better than you. All this kind of makes me wish Akuta would have dropped the whole thing about Chitose suddenly wanting art school and just set the whole story at YamaArt and made it so that she and Kinosuke just started crossing paths or interacting with each other as the series kicked off.
Another thing that stood out to me was how much Chitose cried. I guess maybe it is partly because she was hiding her feelings for so long, but the tears come rather easily to her. Happy, sad, it doesn’t matter. I’m not necessarily saying this was bad (although I found it slightly annoying), but it’s just something to be aware of. Meanwhile, Kinosuke is not as standoffish or haughty as I expected. After all, he’s actually impressed by Chitose’s skill in the first chapter, and even his forced kiss is returned in kind a short while later. His brother, Yuinosuke, also is the sort who could have been a shoujo main love interest, but I’m glad Chitose never wavered in not looking at him like a potential boyfriend. Kinosuke surprisingly becomes rather head-over-heels for Chitose considering his initial mixed feelings, but it’s hard not to sympathize with Yuinosuke’s unrequited feelings and attempts to mend his relationship with his younger brother.
With Chitose prone to tears, you should expect a lot of images of Chitose needing consoling. A couple of covers even feature this. When she’s in masked mode, Chitose often does the closed-eye smile, but otherwise, the text will better tell you when she has her guard back up. Akuta isn’t a big fan of imagery and visual metaphors, but there are some informative explanations on drawing techniques. This is far from a how-to guide or a how-it’s-made edutainment manga, but A Kiss, For Real does provide some general perspective on effective artwork. There are no color pages, which is unfortunate for a manga about artistic creativity. As I mentioned, the manga jumps ahead at times, so there are often collages showing Chitose and others getting ready for the next big event. The art is generally a strong point, especially when we see Kinosuke as happy or emotional with Chitose. One of the fellow YamaArts students is on the short side, but until it was mentioned, I never really noticed her being so. Otherwise, most shoujo fans will enjoy the art, especially the sparkly, full-of-light eyes.
Honorifics are used. Western name order is used. Onii/Onee-san is used. Translation notes are included at the end of each volume. Also, who has never heard of a refart room? The kanji is 参作室, which has something to do with like a workshop. I guess it’s an abbreviation for “reference art room”, but you know what? Some things shouldn’t be shortened. Or at least consider what the shortened version looks like. At least add a dash in that case to make it ref-art instead of, you know, what they actually went with. A small but unfortunate thing.
A Kiss, For Real is one of the rare romances where the late game is better than the early stuff. However, the story often lacks much of the soul — the sparkle — of a great manga.