Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love GN 1 – Review

When Yagyu saves Satomi from a groper on the train, she falls in love at first sight. And…that’s kind of it? It’s a case of pure shoujo insta-love, and if Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love isn’t exactly innovative, it is a perfectly charming shoujo romance that also is entirely cookie cutter. Honestly, that isn’t inherently a bad thing. While it definitely falls under the heading of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that makes it the kind of story that you can just pick up when you feel like reading something that doesn’t strain your mental faculties overmuch, a bit like Kodansha‘s release of Yuu Saiki‘s Yamaguchi-kun Isn’t So Bad – in its opening volume you know exactly what you’re getting, and there’s a real comfort in that.

This is not to say that there’s nothing beyond “nice” to recommend the volume, however. Satomi has a surprising streak of strength underneath her timidity, and while it can sometimes rear its head in credulity-straining ways (such as when she jumps, Louisa in Persuasion-style, off a staircase), the scene where she takes two older boys to task for kicking Yagyu’s seat when they go to see a movie is truly impressive. It also gives us the distinct impression that while she’s quiet about her own wants, when someone she cares about is in trouble, she will hold nothing back to rectify the situation on their behalf. Since this is one of the stumbling blocks behind her and Yagyu striking up a relationship in the first place, it’s also an interesting piece of the story – Yagyu’s awful friend tells Satomi that there’s no point falling for Yagyu just because he helped her, because he’s the kind of person who would help anyone. Yagyu later confirms this, but that just puts the train incident into more of a catalyst category than the actual moment of insta-love. Yes, Satomi started to be interested in him at that moment, but as we learn more, it’s clear that’s a personality trait that the two of them share, and she’s drawn to him because she recognizes a kindred spirit. While it’s hard to say that I’d like to see more of that from both of them (and specifically Satomi, who can be a bit bland) because that would imply bad things happening to the other characters, seeing that side of her is definitely an important piece of the story, and one that speaks to the feasibility of their romance working out.

It is these little, subtle touches that remind us that Hatta is a veteran manga creator and that helps to set the series apart from other similar titles. Although this is Hatta’s first English-language manga release, the 2014 anime series Wolf Girl & Black Prince is based on her manga series of the same name, and much of her work is available in French translation. As a statement of her relative versatility, this series, or at least its first volume, is markedly different from the former, lacking many of the elements that made it somewhat distasteful for some viewers. The more important takeaway, however, is that Hatta has had time to figure out what works and what doesn’t, which makes Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love rise at least slightly above its familiar plotline. It doesn’t appear set to break any barriers or shatter any tropes, but it does look like it will capably tell a perfectly fine story, and when you’re working with a genre as well-worn as the basic shoujo high school romance, that can make all the difference.

And this is the manga equivalent of an old, comfortably worn-out T-shirt. Of the five characters we’re introduced to in the volume, we have Satomi, Yagyu (who looks like a bad boy but isn’t), Noda (his jerk friend), Nomi (her bubbly friend), and Saichi (her protective older brother). None of them are particularly fresh in terms of the tropes they embody, although it must be noted that Noda is singularly unpleasant to a degree that definitely reminds us that this really is the woman behind Wolf Girl & Black Prince; It’s not hard to imagine him forcing a girl to be his dog. But we do get the impression that he’s acting the way he is because he’s protective of Yagyu, which partially mitigates the fact that he’s also clearly just a colossal ass. Nomi and Saichi are likewise protective of Satomi, but in a less abrasive way, and one of the more entertaining parts of the volume is the way that Saichi is putting the pieces together about Yagyu and Satomi, to the point where when she announces that she won’t be home for dinner, he demands that she wear a pair of his boxers that day, presumably to prevent her from sleeping with Yagyu. Since she hasn’t told him she’s got a boyfriend and their parents certainly don’t know, seeing how weirded out the rest of the family is makes for a great moment.

At the end of the day, Ima Koi: Now I’m in Love is fine without being a standout. The art is somewhat plain but perfectly pleasant to look at, the boys look a bit more masculine than they tend to in shoujo romance, and the characters are all distinct and easy to tell apart. If Satomi’s skirt is one of those Magic Shojo Skirts that doesn’t flutter upward even when she’s jumping from great heights and drawn from below, well, that’s easy enough to overlook in the greater context of the book, much like the very familiar outlines each character falls into. This is basically comfort food, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you know what you’re getting into going in.

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