January 15, 2011 dreamkaleidoscope
Tags: , , , ,

TITLE: Imadoki!
RATING: Older Teen (16+)
SCORE: 8 (Very Good)
RECOMMENDED FOR FANS OF: Yuu Watase (mangaka of Ceres: Celestial Legend, Fushigi Yugi, Alice 19th, etc.), Ouran High School Host Club, romance, drama, comedy

It’s practually an unwritten law that every shoujo mangaka has to write at least one high school romance during their career, and Imadoki! is Yuu Watase’s take on the sub-genre.

Tanpopo Yamazaki is a cheerful, friendly girl with lots of friends from her hometown in Hokkaido. When it comes to choosing a high school, however, she decides to apply to schools in Tokyo, wanting the chance to make even more friends someplace new and exciting. She ends up being accepted on scholarship to Meio High, a high-class school for children of the rich and powerful.

The day before the start of the school year, Tanpopo sneaks on campus to check out the school. There, she meets a cute boy planting a dandelion, which happens to be the flower she is named after. Tanpopo believes she’s made a new friend, but it turns out the boy is Koki Kyugo, heir to the prominent Kyugo family, who founded the school. At school, Koki is like a totally different person from the flower-loving boy she met previously, and he declares that friendship is only based on what people can do for each other, a view that the rest of his snobby classmates share.

Rather than making lots of new friends like she hoped, Tanpopo becomes the target of scorn and bullying for her “commoner” roots and too friendly nature. She doesn’t let it bother her, though, determined to make friends no matter what. In an effort to get closer to Koki, she decides to start a Planting Club, and she soon charms over a varied group of characters, including Koki, with her cheerfulness and sincerity. However, when her feelings for Koki grow beyond friendship, Tanpopo faces a new adversary in the form of Koki’s clingy (arranged) fiancee, Erika.

The more I read this series, the more I like it. The first time I read it, I thought it was a run-of-the-mill high school romance and kind of missed the fantasy that Watase usually puts in her works. Even now, I have to admit there’s nothing special about the plot, which is prone to the typical teenage melodrama you would expect to find in a series like this, but the cast of fun characters and Watase’s always-beautiful artwork make it worth reading.

The main theme of the series is growing up and becoming your own person, and I loved how it was symbolized in the different flower seeds the Planting Club planted. All the characters “blossom” in their own way and time, becoming unique individuals with their own dreams and desires. 

Tanpopo is probably one of Watase’s strongest heroines. Sure, at times you wish she would tell off her bullies instead of just enduring it with a smile, but she really doesn’t let them bother her. She also has no problem whatsoever standing up for her friends when they’re the ones in trouble and accepts people for who they are. One thing I especially liked about Tanpopo is that she makes decisions for herself. Even when she falls in love with Koki, she doesn’t forget about her friends and family, who are just as important to her. It’s rather a refreshing change from characters like Miaka (from Fushigi Yugi) and Aya (from Ceres: Celestial Legend) who tended to put their romantic relationships above everything else.

Koki is another interesting character who undergoes quite a bit of character development in such a short series. Starting off as a lonely, bitter young man forced to take over the title of Kugyo heir when his older brother runs off, he begins to open up under Tanpopo’s influence and realizes that he can choose his own life, rather than letting his family decide everything for him.

But for me, my favorite characters were probably the other three members of the Planting Club — Arisa, a ganguro gal who is forced to grow up fast after a life-changing event, Tsukiko, probably Tampopo’s closest friend at the school and another (minor) rival for Koki’s heart…er, pocketbook, and Aoi, a psycho computer hacker who loves causing mayhem. They’re mostly comic relief, but even they get a nice bit of development along the way, especially status-crazed Tsukiko, who starts the series off pretending to be Tanpopo’s friend in order to get closer to Koki (solely because of his money), but along the way becomes Tanpopo’s true friend and one of her biggest supporters againt Erika. Erika herself is a rather pathetic character, manipulative and insecure, but that’s the point. Yet even she deserves some sympathy.

As I mentioned before, the plot is a fairly typical high school romance, but I still enjoyed it thanks to the characters. There was a strong reliance on coincidence, though, that kind of made me roll my eyes at times. I mean, what are the chances that Tanpopo would happen to run into Koki’s missing older brother in the middle of nowhere when Koki had been looking for him for at least a couple of years, or that two people close to Koki and Tanpopo would have health crises at the exact same time? They were necessary to move the story along, I suppose, but I think they could have been done better.

As for artwork, it’s Yuu Watase, so of course it’s gorgeous. I shouldn’t even have to mention that. Granted, Koki is practically a clone of Watase’s other leading men, and Tanpopo is similar in looks to Aya and Riiko (Absolute Boyfriend), but originality in character design never was her forte. (Although Arisa has a pretty unique look to her, thanks to her ganguro style of tan skin and heavy eye make-up.) One thing I appreciated was that even with the “flower” theme of the series, Watase resisted the temptation to make her art overly “flower-y”. That would have been overkill.

At five volumes, this is a great series to use as an introduction to Watase’s body of work. It’s also the tamest in terms of sexual content, if Watase’s reputation for racy images is a concern, with no sex scenes or full nudity. If you’re interested in checking out one of her series but don’t want to make a huge investment, Imadoki! is a good bet.

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