Serialized in “Weekly Shonen Jump” from 2002 to 2005, this title is not typical of what I would normally pick up. Regardless, after the first chapter with mystery strawberry panties, I was hooked. Brought to the states by Viz in 2007, up to volume 14 has been published.
The Gist: The main character Junpei Manaka is the luckiest guy, period. Starting in middle school Manaka wishes to become a movie director. His encounter on the school roof with an unknown girl in strawberry panties is inspiring enough to encourage his film making pursuit. The mystery girl is one of several nubile teen girls that surround Manaka in this series, making him the head of this “harem” type story. After entering high school and starting a film club, the story focuses on Manaka’s many relationships with the four main girls, each which has her own endearing and distinct personality. Manaka’s indecisiveness drives the story. He tries to be nice to all the girls, and by doing so, will never choose just one. He keeps managing to get himself into situation after daring situation with the different girls, building the suspense for the outcome. Like a broken compass that doesn’t know which way is north, Manaka spins in all directions trying to follow his heart. Eventually he must make a choice
The Characters/Romance: Mizuki Kawashita writes a coming of age story that may be relatable, but not very realistic, which is what makes it a fun read. So many teenage girls throwing themselves at an average nice guy just doesn’t happen. So for guys, this is a fantasy played out to its fullest. This was probably the author’s intent in the first place.
The main harem of Manaka consists of Satsuki, Tsukasa, Yui, and Aya. The mangaka chose their names in relation to the cardinal directions. It fits well, because Manaka is always trying to decide which girl he likes, and pick a direction. Satsuki is the most outgoing and physical, she is the first to make a confession to Manaka, and is very open about how she feels. Tsukasa is the popular girl at school, who gets along well with her class and supports Manaka in his endeavors. Yui is the Lolita of the group, being Manaka’s childhood friend and neighbor. She isn’t a major love interest, but acts more as a sibling towards Manaka. Then there’s Aya, the geeky disguised hot chick, who likes to write. She has an interest in Manaka from the beginning of the story and works conjointly with him on film projects. Though they all have their strengths and weaknesses, most likely you’ll have a favorite character you’ll be rooting for Manaka to pick.
The character development is Kawashita’s strong point. Junpei Manaka and his harem are very well fleshed out, and watching them change and grow to become young adults is fulfilling for the reader. The character relationships can make you laugh or cry. You may envy Manaka or even sympathize with him at times. You may even feel like strangling him for being so indecisive. It is the author’s ability to evoke such emotions that makes the story engaging enough to devour volumes in order to discover which girl Junpei Manaka really loves.
The Artwork: The fan service abounds, but it never turned me away from the series, as it was mostly flashing panties or bras. Much of it is used humorously and puts Manaka in embarrassing or hilarious situations. The artwork in this series is nicely penned and pleasing to look at. Especially if you are a young guy. Kawashita has a good sense of anatomy and perspective. She better for all that fan service! Colored pieces show skill with lighting and textures. Character design-wise, most of the girls are pretty cute, but Manaka is rather plain.
The Audience: Lustful – this has its sizzle moments. Several kisses are exchanged. There is implied intimacy between Manaka and one of the girls, and with the fan service this denotes the mature content label.
The Media: The Strawberry 100% manga consists of 19 tankobans. Currently there are 14 volumes released in the states. Interestingly, the last volume was released in October 2010, so it’s been awhile since the last book. It was adapted into a 26-episode anime TV series by Madhouse, directed by Osamu Kebita. You can watch it subbed on Hulu.
Heart of Manga Rating: ♥♥♥1/2
I’m not going to highly recommend this series because there were times I was rolling my eyes with the fan service. I’d think guys would love it, though. If you can look past that, the characters are rather well developed and the story is an interesting one.