Socrates in Love

May 5, 2010 dreamkaleidoscope
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TITLE: Socrates in Love
AUTHOR/MANGAKA: Kyoichi Katayama and Kazumi Kazui
PUBLISHER: Viz
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
CATEGORY: Shoujo
NUMBER OF VOLUMES: 1
SCORE: 7 (Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Socrates in Love novel, Be With You, romance, drama

According to the back cover, the original novel Socrates in Love, written by Kyoichi Katayama, is the best-selling Japanese novel of all-time. With that kind of pedigree, I imagine that mangaka Kazumi Kazui was under a lot of pressure to create a manga adaptation worthy of such a phenomenon. I’ve never read the novel myself — it was also translated into English by Viz, and an excerpt of the first two chapters are provided at the end of the manga — but reading the manga version, I can see hints as to why the novel was so popular.

In a plot similar to (though more innocent than) Love Story, a classic American movie from the 70s, Socrates in Love is about a couple of teenagers named Sakutaro Matsumoto and Aki Hirose. They meet for the first time in their second year of middle school, when they are assigned to the same class and are named the male and female class representatives. As representatives, the two of them spend a lot of time with each other, and they begin to see each other as more than just friends. Even their classmates consider them a de-facto couple, but it isn’t until high school that their relationship becomes official. However, their love is put to the ultimate test when Aki is diagnosed with leukemia.

There’s a lot to like about this story. Sakutaro (or Saku-chan, as Aki affectionately insists on calling him) and Aki make an appealing couple, and their teenage romance feels very true to life. A particular favorite plot point of mine is when Oki, one of Sakutaro’s friends, offers to set things up so that he can spend the night with Aki at a deserted hotel. (This happens shortly before Aki is diagnosed.) The decision to have sex for the first time is a big deal, and Sakutaro doesn’t go about it in the most sensitive of ways, taking some typical teenage boy advice from Oki instead of talking about it with Aki, like he should have. When Aki realizes what Sakutaro has in mind, she’s actually not that upset that Sakutaro tricked her, as you might expect. She just wishes that he had talked to her about it instead of Oki. I have to say the resolution to to this arc is really sweet, and it’s nice that they get to have a moment of happiness before their lives are turned upside-down by Aki’s illness.  

I also appreciated how the story didn’t totally shy away from the ugly side of the disease. Aki loses her hair, throws up, and gets spontaneous bleeds. The ending really got to me, though the reader knows from the very start of the story that Aki will die. (The story starts with Sakutaro and Aki’s parents on their way to Australia to spread Aki’s ashes.) I definitely cried more than a few tears.

But there were a few things that kind of marred the story for me. The major thing was how Aki’s parents decided not to tell her that she has leukemia, instead claiming it was aplastic anemia. I could understand that kind of lie if Aki was a kid — “cancer” is a scary word to a child — but she’s almost seventeen years old. She’s more than old enough to know what’s going on with her body. And to tell Sakutaro the truth and ask him to keep it a secret from Aki… It just seemed cruel and unbelievable to me, although I know her parents were just trying to protect her. 

I also didn’t care for a subplot involving Sakutaro and his grandfather. The two of them are more like friends than grandfather and grandson, to the point that they even get together often to drink alcohol. (Encouraging underage drinking is definitely not grandfatherly behavior in my book.) Evidently, his grandfather sees Sakutaro as such a good friend that he asks Sakutaro to desecrate the grave of the woman he really loved — not Sakutaro’s grandmother, by the way — in order to steal some of her ashes. Though Sakutaro is understandably horrified by his request, he ultimately goes through with it after a talk with Aki, even agreeing to keep the ashes until his grandfather dies, then to scatter them with his. I get the point of the subplot — it was supposed to show how love can survive even after death — but I just couldn’t get over how his grandfather could ask such a request of a grandson he shared with deceased wife. Granted, Sakutaro doesn’t seem the least bit upset that his grandmother was not the love of his grandfather’s life — he’s more upset about the “descrating a grave” part — but I still didn’t like his grandfather very much.

Then there’s Sakutaro’s sweet, but incredibly stupid, plan to take Aki to Australia for Christmas, since she wasn’t able to go on their earlier school trip due to her illness. I won’t go much into that part, since it’s quite spoiler-y, but he should have known better. They both should have known better.

Concerning the artwork, like with Be With You, this is another case of really terrible cover art hiding the fact that the actual content is drawn rather well. It’s not the absolute best, but it’s more than decent-looking. I was pleasantly surprised.

If you’re in the mood to read a romantic tear-jerker, then Socrates in Love definitely fits the bill. Just remember to keep a box of tissues handy. Trust me — you’ll need them.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sylphalchemist  |  May 9, 2010 at 10:32 am

    I’ve been meaning to read the novel, Socrates in Love. Heard it was a real tearjerker so I’ve been putting it off though haha (I’m bad with tearjerkers ><).
    Glad to see you liked it :3

    • 2. dreamkaleidoscope  |  May 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

      Yay, my first non-spam comment! I’m so happy; I was beginning to wonder if anybody read this thing. *laughs*

      I love tear-jerkers myself, so this was right up my alley. I imagine the novel is even sadder, but it’s still a sweet story.

      Zoe

  • 3. sylphalchemist  |  May 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Haha, I remember when I got my first comment too. I was so ecstatic ^^ People do know this blog exists!
    (besides the spammers)
    Actually, I happened upon this site when I was looking at the “tag surfer” option wordpress has :3 I was looking up “shojo”

    If you don’t mind, would you be interested in doing a link exchange?

    • 4. dreamkaleidoscope  |  May 11, 2010 at 11:23 pm

      By link exchange, you mean putting each other’s blogs on our blogroll? I haven’t started one yet, but I’ve been meaning to get around to it. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow when I update with a new review. If I do, I’ll be happy to include your blog on it. ^_^

      Zoe

  • 5. sylphalchemist  |  May 12, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Yeah ~ :3
    I’m looking forward to not only your link exchange but also to your review ^^
    Thanks ~


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