The amount of slice of life shojo manga out there seems to be severely lacking ever since Fruits Basket ended. There have been re-prints of old titles like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, which we all appreciate, but when it comes to pure slice of life, there’s only been smaller, lesser known titles. Ouran High School Host Club probably doesn’t count because it’s more insane rich people.
I Am Here is one of those lesser known titles that deserves a bit more recognition. And that’s what I’m here for.
It’s the story of a middle school girl named Hikage Sumino who has no friends at school because she is invisible. Not literally of course. She is so quiet and shy that no one ever notices her; her classmates, her teachers, even waiters look right through her.
But really, if Hikage is as ‘plain’ looking as everyone in the manga says she is, then Japan must be full of slim, adorable, bright eyed, long haired teenage girls!
Behold, an ‘average’ teenage girl!
Hikage’s only joy comes from looking after a sunflower that she has found growing in a hidden corner of the schoolyard. And her only outlet to the world is through her photo blog, where she talks to her two online friends Black Rabbit and Mega Pig, who console her and try to help her with her problems.
One day, Hikage is surprised to find that Hinata, the most popular boy in school, knows her name. And not only that, he’s been watching her for a long time (don’t worry, not in a creepy stalker way) and wants to be friends with her.
Hikage is thrilled to finally be accepted by someone, but the other girls in her class soon become jealous of all the attention he is giving her. So Hikage must decide whether she should finally come out into the sun or stay in the shade where it’s safe.
I think I’m drawn to this series because in a lot of ways, it is a lot like Fruits Basket. The Hikage/Hinata/Teru trio has an almost uncanny resemblance to Tohru, Yuki and Kyo. But be warned, the romantic pairings may be a little different…
It lacks the soul crushing angst of Fruits Basket while keeping the heartwarming moments and occasional comedy that we all read it for. Hikage’s invisibility, as much of a heartache it is for her, is actually treated with humour. And so is the road accident that leaves her in the hospital for months!
The artwork is wonderfully shojo with lots of sparkles and flowers and pleasing character designs. The covers are simple, colourful and fitting and I also like how the members of Hikage’s class each have their own unique character designs rather than just being stick figure mooks. Although this class of 30 only seems to have about 5 boys in it…
This is a series that will really speak to anyone who has ever felt unnoticed. Things like the feeling of dread when the teacher asks the class to get into groups are all too relatable for shy people. It makes Hikage’s story incredibly realistic.
The ‘online friend is someone you know in real life’ story is a little done to death by now and writers still can’t seem to comprehend just how unlikely this story actually is. But thankfully it doesn’t actually take up that much of the plot. The first book is more about Hikage becoming accepted among her classmates and dealing with bullies while the second is about the love triangle.
The big reveal that the story builds up to is maybe a little obvious to any savvy shojo fan. It also takes quite a while for the third wheel in the love triangle, Teru, to get much focus in the story, and that dilutes the romance plot quite a bit.
The boy’s actions are also a little suspect, at least in my eyes. Hinata, love interest number 1, makes Hikage promise to pass her tests so that they can go to the fireworks festival together. But then he ends up messing her around so much that she can’t study and fails her tests, leaving her feeling guilty for breaking her promise! I’m sorry but that is NOT the way you treat a young girl with severe self-confidence issues.
At five volumes combined into two omnibuses in the English release by Kodansha, this series is refreshingly short compared to the never ending drama of Furuba. But in a way, that also hinders it as the love triangle element of the story comes in a bit suddenly half way through the story and is then resolved rather quickly.
Still, this is a great little series for shojo fans that most definitely needs more love. Check it out if you want a good, heartwarming story about love and acceptance.
My verdict – 5/5.