Last week, Gardena, California-based Digital Manga Publishing announced that they had secured the license to publish Itazura Na Kiss (Mischievous Kiss), a popular shojo manga series by Kaoru Tada. In their press release, DMP revealed that they'll start releasing their double-sized editions of Itazura Na Kiss in November 2009, with the second volume out in March 2010, with 10 more volumes to follow. Intrigued by this new development, I wrote back to DMP to get some additional background info and comments about this new shojo series beyond the press release.
Itazura Na Kiss is a love story between two high school students, a ditzy but sweet girl named Kotoko and a smart but emotionally distant guy named Naoki. From first impressions, it seems like Kotoko and Naoki are total opposites who shouldn't even be friends, much less romantic partners.
But when family circumstances force them to live together under the same roof, this unlikely pair fall in love anyway. Naturally, they're surrounded by a cast of eccentric friends, relatives, rivals and mentors, who either help or hinder the young couple as they discover that they truly belong together. As the years pass, and the two go through their high school days, and later their share their college and adult years together, their love grows and evolves from a giddy teen romance to an enduring relationship that weathers many storms.
If this sounds like almost every shojo manga you've ever read, well, that may be true. But before you write it off, remember this: Itazura Na Kiss was first published by Shueisha in 1991, in the pages of Margaret (the original home of High School Debut and Hana Yori Dango / Boys Over Flowers). The series enjoyed a successful run through 1999 that produced 23 volumes of graphic novel editions. Therefore, this story predates many of the stories that have similar plotlines like Sand Chronicles (where young love matures over time), Marmalade Boy (which first appeared in 1992, and also features two teens who find themselves living together after their parents remarry), and Hot Gimmick (which also features a sweet girl and her smart, yet emotionally-stunted love interest). In fact, in DMP's press release, they mention that Tada-sensei's story "created the groundwork for many contemporary shojo manga stories."
DMP's graphic artist and marketing coordinator Michelle Mauk added her thoughts about Itazura Na Kiss in my recent email correspondence with her:
"I've been pushing for this title, and I really want it to see the light of day here in the US! I'm honestly not a huge shojo fan, but when I first read the first chapter, I was really sucked in. It's just really well-written."
So when we're talking 'popular,' let's talk some numbers here. According to DMP's press release, over 30 million volumes of Itazura Na Kiss have been sold worldwide. It has inspired live action TV drama adaptations in both Japan and Taiwan, and a live theatrical production. To make it even more timely, Itazura Na Kiss has also recently been adapted as a 25-episode anime series by TMS Entertainment, which was televised between April and September 2008 in Japan on TBS network in Japan.
One sad postscript to the success of Itazura Na Kiss is that it was left incomplete. Tada-sensei died in 1999 due to cerebral hemmorage caused by an accident at her home. She was 38.
While it is a shame that Tada-sensei was not able to complete drawing the manga version, her husband has given his permission and guidance to the producers of the 2008 anime series to finish the story as she had originally planned.
In my correspondence with her, DMP rep Mauk addressed the 'unfinished' aspect of the Itazura Na Kiss manga, and had this to add:
"...Even though (Tada) died before finishing the series, it is actually unfinished beyond where most traditional shojo mangas actually end, and it doesn't leave (the characters or the story) in a bad way. I've already seen people posting that (the story is unfinished) like crazy, and I think they're missing the point. Itazura Na Kiss is really a great story first and foremost, with really touching characters. It's humorous and fun to read. A good chunk of shojo (manga that) you read today were influenced by the story and characterizations Tada created in this book. I hope people will give it a chance, read the first volume when it comes out, and then make their judgments on it."
On a personal note, I was really surprised and pleased to hear about the upcoming English edition of Itazura Na Kiss, because one of my favorite shojo manga series from the mid-Eighties was Aishite Night (Love Night) by Tada-sensei. I still have all seven of the Japanese tankobon editions on my bookshelf to this day.
Why have I kept them for so long, even after numerous moves across the country? Mostly because I remember fondly how much I enjoyed reading that series. This romantic comedy is about a working class gal named Yaeko who works at her father's okonomiyaki restaurant and her boyfriend Go, an aspiring glam rock singer. Much of the events in Aishite Night were set in the Japanese live music / nightclub scene, and it mixed up glam rock, punk rock and heavy metal with enka and pop music with some eccentric but loveable characters. Aishite Night is chock full of 1980's-era fashions so it looks a little dated, but it's also full of quirky humor, J-rock sass and touching romance.
So I have high hopes for the U.S. release of Itazura Na Kiss, and I'm looking forward to checking out the first volume when it hits the stores in November 2009. Will the anime series eventually follow the manga to U.S. shores? I've not heard anything to that effect, but will definitely keep my eye out for more developments on that front.
Image credits: © Kaoru Tada