Manga Title: Tonari no Kashiwagi-san
Mangaka: Kinusa Shimotsuki
Genres: Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
High school student Sakuraba Yuto is a lover of anime and manga with a particular taste for moe art.
Although Yuto’s a real otaku he’s quite open about it, believing that if you like something you should just say it. In his spare time when not gaming, watching anime or reading manga, he browses an art sharing website. He takes a liking to one particular artist’s moe style, who goes only by the name Sayane.
At the start of the story we find that he’s landed his dream job – to become an attendant at a store that sells anime and manga merchandise. On his first day there he bumps into a student who sits next to him in class – Kashiwagi Kotone- a girl he thought hated everything otaku.
On recognizing Yuto, Kotone runs away, embarrassed and extremely concerned that he will reveal to their classmates that she’s a closet otaku herself. The next day she confronts him about it, explaining that she does love anime and manga, and begs Yuto not to tell anyone. We later discover her reasons behind this are that she saw some classmates insult another student for liking anime and manga, and she fears being ostracized.
Yuto agrees to keep her secret and after the suggestion of Kotone’s best friend Fukuda Sayaka, they decide to secretly meet and talk about their interests.
A budding friendship blooms between the two very similar main characters, spending their breaks discussing their mutual love of all things otaku.
One day Yuto brings up the artist Sayane, telling Kotone about her enthusiastically. Initially Kotone is nervous about revealing the fact that she is Sayane, merely keeping quiet and agreeing while Yuto praises her art.
As the story progresses Yuto’s feelings for Kotone blossom, as do those of two of their close friends. Still, even though Yuto sits right next to Kashiwagi-san, it seems that her heart couldn’t be further from his reach…or maybe not?
Being a completely character-driven story, Kinusa Shimotsuki has made maximum usage of the characters’ facial expressions, body language, and often-inserted ‘chibi’ versions of them to bring out the comedy in their ongoing life stories.
While focusing mainly on the slowly developing love story between Yuto and Kotone, Tonari no Kashiwagi-san also branches off to into the romantic lives of their best friends Sayaka and Kazuki Kusano.
Yuto is breaking into the 3D world after having spent a considerable amount of time focused on 2D. For the first time in his life he finds himself attracted to a real girl and it’s an experience he doesn’t know what to make of. The combination of his lack of experience, over-thinking and somewhat shy nature make for some comic moments as he tries to win Kotone’s heart.
Kotone is equally inexperienced and unaware about everything regarding love; she misses even the most absurdly direct hints that Yuto gives. Gradually she begins noticing Yuto’s advances, yet is still indecisive about how to deal with them.
In keeping with the atmosphere of the manga, not much is revealed about the pasts of each character, maintaining its focus on their current relationships. This may be considered a weak point of the series, however it’s never bothered me, after all that’s not what the story’s about.
Chibi Yuto, Kotone and Sayaka
Overall Tonari no Kashiwagi-san is a light hearted, cute, humorous and slow paced tale about two teenagers whose remarkable alikeness make them an unlikely match. Whilst observing the love of their friends grow around them they start to take baby steps out into the world of their own feelings. It’s no heartrending romance, but it’ll leave you feeling warm and fluffy after each chapter.
In a way Tonari no Kashiwagi-san has been pretty educational for me with its notes on otaku issues and references to general aspects of the anime and manga culture. For new readers I’m sure there are some interesting tidbits of otaku information you’ll find and for the more experienced there are plenty of familiar tropes that are explored.
What’s your opinion of this manga? Can you recommend another manga in a similar genre that you enjoyed?