“Standing Out” – High School Debut (manga) – 6/10 Sunbeams

Our hearts are drunk with a beauty our eyes could never see. ~George W. Russell

Mangaka: Kazune Kawahara

Genre: Romance/Comedy/Slice-of-Life/School/Shoujo

Review Status: Complete (13 Volumes/13 Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed by Viz Media (Shoujo Beat) in the US.

Art: Typical shoujo art. There’s really nothing special or distinctive about this style.

Summary: Back in junior high, Haruna Nagashima was only interested in two things: softball and manga. Now that she’s starting high school, Haruna’s focus has changed – she wants to snag a boyfriend and have the romance of her dreams!

After blindly following the advice of fashion magazines and the like, Haruna fails to win the eye of any guy. Convinced that a coach is needed (just like when she trained for softball), she recruits cure upperclassman Yoh Komiyama to instruct her on how to make herself more appeaing. Yoh agrees, with one catch: Haruna had better not fall for him! (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: High School Debut is one of the more popular shoujo manga at the moment, and in some ways I can see why. It is relatively clean, it has some funny moments, and there is some interesting character growth. Oh, and the kids don’t mess around for too long trying to figure out their feelings- they’re together by the middle of the series, and the rest focuses on them trying to keep their relationship together.

The problem is, it fails to really stand out from the crowd. Every part of this I’ve seen before. The plot is the description of half the romantic comedies out there, in movies, in tv, even in books – She’s All That, Miss Congeniality, Princess Diaries… Some of them are better than others, but it’s a scenario seen a dozen times before. This immediately makes me start looking for something to differentiate it from the pack. If you can tell from my rating, it really doesn’t succeed at it.

Something that would have made this a whole lot better is if it had focused on the boyfriend instead of the girlfriend. She’s an obliviously painfully stereotypical shoujo heroine: clueless, a bit klutzy for all of her skills at baseball, and not really able to fit in with the crowd. Considering how much shoujo manga she’s read, it would have been really appreciated if she’d been more genre-savvy, avoiding some of the absolutely idiotic situations she gets herself into. She also manages to evolve into a bit of a Mary-Sue, having a mini-harem of gorgeous guys following her around even when she hasn’t done anything in particular to deserve that attention except for ‘just having something about her’ (highly likely it’s the stench of stupidity, but I can only make a supposition). They at least gave her some kick-butt skills at baseball, but it’s still just not enough to make up for a lack of a distinctive personality. Or any personality, actually. At least the boyfriend showed some growth, starting out as the stereotypical cold, uncaring dude, but really coming out of his shell in surprising ways. Probably a bit too easily, since things that he would be absolutely embarassed to do he does in a day or so after his gf asks him. Since he’s not an extroverted, easygoing guy – really quite the opposite – this makes it a little suspicious that it’s there just to get ‘awwws’ and sighs. It’s hard to see the romance actually happen, since one day he doesn’t care and the next he does. There’s really no growth there, and that makes it a really disappointing relationship.

Thinking on it, the main couple were really overshadowed by the side characters – never a good sign for any manga. I was far more interested by the drama going on in their lives that I ever could have been by the mains, since they all had really intriguing personalities. The boyfriend’s sister was a lot more interesting than thegirlfriend, needing attention but going about all the wrong ways to get it. Unfortunately, that was ended very abruptly and rather… well, conveniently, actually. However, she had a lot more gonig for her and her bratty but rather genuine personality made her intriguing. Then there was the boyfriend’s best friend, who was a ‘people watcher’ and really subversive in trying to win over the girlfriend. I was shocked, really, but he has some qualities that would make an excelent Byronic Hero, make him out of the ordinary that the boyfriend tends to be.

To top it off, they choose to tell it in some really obvious arcs – the ‘sister must deal’ arc which was completely foreshadowed in her behaviour and was solved very easily with no issues. The ‘ex girlfriend’ arc, which again could be seen coming from the very beginning. The ‘jealousy’ arc, that was gonna come around the *moment* that the guys started falling for her. And, of course, the ‘intimacy’ arc, which comes around in virtually every shoujo, where they wonder about actually having sex and whether they should wait or not. None of these were a surprise, and were pretty stereotypically dealt with; I’ve seen these pulled the same way in a dozen other shoujo, and it is really getting stale.

Between average story arcs and an average shoujo couple, there really wasn’t much to offer except some phenominal side characters that pulled it up to *just* above average.

Overall, it’s fine if you like shoujo, but it’s nothing special – quite the opposite, in fact.

Recommended: 15+. He saves her from being taken in by a guy that just wants to ‘have fun with her’, and they do mention sex a few times – one arc actually deals with them going out and the sexual tension that occurs, though nothing sexual happens.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Lovely Complex (manga or anime)

Dengeki Daisy (manga)

Kimi ni Todoke (anime or manga)

Otomen (manga)

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