i am here! – Ema Tooyama: Series Review

i am here!, originally Koko ni Iru yo!,  is a high school shoujo romance that ran in Japanese publication Nakayoshi in 2007. It was published in North America first by Del Rey with volumes 1-3 combined into one omnibus. The second omnibus containing volumes 4 and 5 was printed by Kodansha USA. i am here! is a short and sweet high school romance to satisfy a younger shoujo audience.

The Gist: Eighth grader Hikage Sumino feels invisible to her classmates. After missing the first few months of middle school because of an accident on the first day, she didn’t get a chance to form friendship with her new classmates. Now she longs to be part of the group but no one remembers her name. With one exception. Popular bishie Hinata addresses her by name and rescues her from a mean prank. He admits to watching her for a while. In her excitement she posts this on her sunshine blog to share with her online friends. Her blog is a source of social connection for Sumino. She has two regular commentors, Black Rabbit and Mega Pig. As Sumino begins to make some steps forward at school, she receives advice and support from her online friends. But it isn’t long until she suspects that one of her online friends may be the boy she is crushing on at school. The identity of Black Rabbit will change  Sumino’s perspective on friendship and love.

L to R: Hinata-kun, Sumino, and Teru-kun

The Characters/Romance: This story is a similar set up to Shiina’s Kimi ni Todoke. Sumino is the misunderstood girl who is noticed by the popular boy, Hinata. Only this time we get a love triangle. Hinata’s best friend Teru also gets to know Sumino. As the story is told from Sumino’s perspective, I can see how shy, introverted girls can relate to the protagonist. The whole fantasy of the popular boy liking you is also a draw for a shoujo audience. While the main plot of a girl trying to relate to her classmates has been done over and over, the mystery of the friends’ online identities is what keeps the story progressing. i am here! is a short series, so the storyline isn’t dragged out past its intended telling. That makes it a quick, enjoyable read for fans of high school shoujo.

I did mention a love triangle. Hinata-kun and Teru-kun are both sweet guys that are the favorites of their class. They have outgoing personalities that attract the attention of others. Sumino gets to know both of them fairly well through their interactions. Readers will have a hard time choosing which boy they would rather Sumino be with by the end of the story.

Tooyama's paneling and toning

Tooyama’s paneling and toning

The Art: Ema Tooyama has a distinct art style that reminds me of Tanemura in that characters from different series tend to look the same. Sumino’s silhouette has these floppy ears that make her look like a sad puppy. Quite fitting for her character.  However, if you take away the ears and give her a pair of glasses she would look just like Yukina from Watashi ni xx Shinasai! Hinata resembles Shigure from the same series. The distinct personalities come through with Toyama’s skill at conveying emotion through facial expressions.  She also does well with varying her paneling from page to page. Scenes hardly ever look blocky, and the free-form paneling actually allows her to have bigger images that bleed into others for a smooth transition. The toning follows conventional shoujo patterns, with sparkle accents and shading for the romantic moments. Overall, Tooyama’s line drawings are pleasing to look at, and the colored pieces really highlight her sense of light and shadows.

The Audience: This shoujo romance would be considered cuddly as the characters may exchange a hug or a kiss. This story would most likely be enjoyed by a tween to teen female audience. It plays to the fantasies of young girls.

The Media: i am here! was published in North America by Del Rey  and Kodansha in 2 omnibus volumes.

Heart of Manga Rating: ♥♥♥

i am here! is a pleasant diversion when you have some time to spare. A sugary sweet romance in just the right dose.

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Super mom and teacher until the kids go to bed, then romance manga addict and writer until the caffeine wears out! Specializes in the shoujo and josei genre of manga and anime.
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