Imagine my surprise when I realized I had not reviewed the first volume of Hatsukoi Shimai, when I reviewed the first wave of manga from Yuri Hime. Particularly surprising, as I’ve been following the series since it was nothing more than a couple of pieces of cover art and a few paragraphs of story. :-)
Once again, to get you up to date with the story, Hatsukoi Shimai began its life as the cover images for the first three issues of Yuri Shimai magazine. Inside the covers were short text stories about the cover couples – just little vignettes, nothing more. The three couples pictured were Chika and Haruna, Akiho and Touko-sensei, and Miyu and Kirika.
The first two couples were brought to life in the two Koi Shimai Drama CDs, both of which I have reviewed previously. (Here are the reviews for Koi Shimai 1 and Koi Shimai 2) and eventually, after Yuri Shimai folded and was resurrected as Yuri Hime, the series was resurrected as Hatsukoi Shimai, now with longer short stories (does that even make sense?), a manga and the Hatsukoi Shimai Drama CD which, this time, included our third cover couple as well. The manga is so far based on the events of the first two Drama CDs, with some slight alterations.
The manga, while based on the character designs by Hibiki Reine (illustrator for Maria-sama ga Miteru) and the original Drama CDs, is clearly a work by committee. There are a whole host of names for the art, writing and production.
I will assume, as I always do for collected volumes, that you have not read my summaries of the individual chapters. So, we begin.
Hatsukoi Shimai is primarily the story of Matsusato Chika who, when she visits the very hoi-poloi girls’ school, known as “Tsunojo”, meets up with cool upperclassman Kanzaki Haruna. During their day together touring the school, Chika falls in love with Haruna and determines that she will study very very hard and get accepted. Also during the course of the day, she trips and falls. Haruna uses her handkerchief to clean the wound and Chika, moved by Haruna’s gentle care, promises to return the handkerchief in the spring when she enters school.
Time passes and despite the odds, Chika does get accepted into Tsunojo. She meets a classmate, Kanzaki Akiho, with whom she becomes quite friendly. Akiho learns about the handkerchief and encourages Chika to return it. But…when Chika finally finds Haruna, she is coldly rebuffed. Confiding in Akiho, Chika is shocked to learn that Haruna is Akiho’s older sister!
Despite Haruna’s disinterest, Chika persists, and eventually finds Haruna in her “secret place” – a sunny glade by a pond. Chika returns the handkerchief and is gratified to see Haruna acting more the way she remembers. Naturally cheerful, Chika drops by every day to see Haruna.
One day Haruna confronts her, hostile and confused, demanding to know why Chika is following her. Chika plainly and simply confesses to being in love with Haruna.
Depressed because Haruna has once again rebuffed her, Chika’s grades drop. When she does poorly on mid-terms, Akiho sets her up with Haruna as a tutor. Able to be with Haruna at last, Chika works very hard and aces the makeup exam.
Their class president, Teshigawara Chiyo, is a very unpleasant sort and is always on Chika’s ass. When Chika’s makeup exam is scored, she and some of the other girls accuse Chika of cheating. After all, failures don’t turn into A students that easily. Akiho hears the accusation and runs off to find her sister – the only person who can confirm that Chika simply studied hard. (In the CD, Chika was forced to take a retest, as Teshigawara didn’t exist.) Haruna runs up and shields Chika from the others and, for the first time, calling Chika by her given name. After an honor student upperclassmen tells them they’re dirt, the girls all back off – except Teshigawara, who has other issues, primarily a raging case of jealousy.
The volume ends at a cafe, where Haruna gives Chika a barrette as a present for doing so well. Chika promises to treasure it always, and points out, a bit coyly, that Haruna called her “Chika-san” when she defended her. Haruna is mortified, because she is just a formal and stuffy kind of person. She and Chika share their souffles and, in a complete reversal of personality, Haruna licks a crumb from Chika’s cheek, which makes Chika explode in a really cute SD panel. ^_^
End of volume.
The book, like all the other Yuri Hime Comics, has been given a high-quality treatment. Color pages are reproduced and the cover and inside cover art is cute. The book cover includes several 4-panel comics, two of which actually made me laugh out loud. And the book comes with a small insert pamphlet with rough sketches by the manga artist, with commentary (in Japanese, of course.)
Where Strawberry Panic is filled with tons of fanservice, this series almost runs to the other extreme, with not only no service, but hardly anything happening at all. No horse-racing, falling off towers or library seductions here. Instead, the narrative is primarily character driven, with lots of doki-doki moments and small moments of almost tortured intimacy. If translated into English, Hatsukoi Shimai would not be nearly as popular as Strawberry Panic, by virtue of having no related anime and not being created expressly for appreciation by the Lowest Common Denominator.
Art – 6 (still a little on the young side for my taste)
Story – 6
Characters – 7
Yuri – 6
Service – 1
Overall – 6
Even for me, Hatsukoi Shimai a tad tame (but we must remember it began in the pages of Yuri Shimai which constantly erred on the side of chaste romance.) That having been said, slight insipidity is superior to a charge of tedious trashiness. IMHO. (Note the entirely unintentional, yet remarkably clever, repetition of consonant sounds that makes the former sound classy and the latter junky and crass. Aren’t I a clever girl.)