For a more formal (and outdated) review of this manga, click here.
As the number of manga I’ve read grows, I’ve noticed a correlation of what I tend to enjoy within comedies, specifically. While I parade around the idea of realism being the key to success and an integral point in making a story impactful, sometimes a complete lack of that can have the same effect. The first time I read Onidere was back in January of 2014—nearly three years ago. At the time, I was almost strictly an anime connoisseur, not believing manga could give me the same sense of wonder that anime (sometimes) did. Even now, the amount of manga I’ve read in my lifetime compared to the number of anime I’ve watched is far outweighed in one’s favor. Onidere was something a little different for me, as the premise intrigued me and I was willing to have a go at something the lines of “Weak boy dates delinquent girl.” While I scoffed at its ridiculousness, I heralded it the position of “Favorite” among the (limited) manga I had read up to that point. Even more bizarrely, favorite it was, I only rated it a six out of a possible ten. I suppose my critical tendencies win out over sheer enjoyment, even back then.
It is now the first day of 2017, and I’ve given Onidere the honor of being the first manga among my list I’ve went back and re-read. With all the nostalgic attachment, one wouldn’t expect me to change my tune very drastically, right?
Onidere is a bit of a hard sell. When thinking of all the positives attributed to the story it tries to convey, a sense of numbing begins to override the basic functions of the brain. The most convenient moniker one could use to properly describe the story would include words such as “random, nonsensical,” or my personal favorite, “stupid.” Despite the premise’s promise of a young girl who’s willing to kill her boyfriend should word get out that they’re dating, she’s but a shy, ridiculously pure-hearted girl who just so happens to be the strongest delinquent in the prefecture and capable of destroying anything without effort. This ultimately destroys any sense of reality present in the story, as one wouldn’t possibly believe her willingness to kill someone she so earnestly cares for in spite of her own pride. When the foundation of a central focus becomes so unstable, it makes a story subject to wander off and do what it wants without reason, or undermine its own strength to pursue another plotline to leech off of.
Almost as if it was fated to do so, Onidere changes face three times within the bulk of its 140 chapters. It begins as the premise describes, with the main couple, Tadashi and Saya, hiding their relationship from Saya’s cohorts and the school while also trying to maintain said relationship by doing “couple things.” This leads to some development between characters, wacky situations arising to pressure the main couple’s relationship, and a hopelessly repetitive three-act play that goes as follows: 1. Saya and Tadashi want to do something. 2. They try to do it unsuccesfully. 3. When they’re close to (or are) succeeding in said something, someone shows up to ruin the mood and supplant the illusion that Saya and Tadashi are sworn enemies. Once the author decides that’s boring, they move to a more slice-of-life atmosphere, where characters act weird for the sake of it and nothing really challenges the characters outside of their petty problems or desires. This is also the point where about three-hundred more characters are introduced, making the entire character roster bloat to blimp size, weighing down the already erratic focus. Finally, the ending sequences somewhat combine the first and second transitions, creating a constant revolving door of important and non-important events side-by-side to amuse both the gag enthusiasts and the drama enthusiasts (but also still focusing on comedy). This works for the sake of bringing a balance to the story and making it at least somewhat serious, but the pacing assumes the form of a straight path with road bumps every other minute. If one isn’t enamored with the characters at this point, it’s going to be a long stretch to the finish line.
Another aspect that makes Onidere hard to recommend is the artwork and overall design. I mention in my formal review that the series’ artwork improves as time goes by, and that still holds up three years later. However, what I neglected to really highlight is how ugly the characters look starting off. For the first volume or two, characters genuinely look as though they came right off the draft board. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency present, with character constantly changing shapes and body sizes without warning. Even if they do look normal, the characters simply look incomplete. A strange combination of professionally chibi and amateur shounen, the manga is a face only its mother could love. Again, the art improves over time, and character begin to look tolerable by the third volume or so, but the quality of the work within its first fifteen chapters or so by artwork alone makes it almost unbearable. As terrible as this seems, one positive that comes out of the zany, slice-of-life turn makes the art more justifiably absurd. Characters do things incapable of normal human beings and bring out a sort of bombastic nature that better suits the weird, almost child-like artwork. I found it infinitely charming back then, though now I find it almost required for me to continue to find anything about this work charming.
With as little the story really provides and the artwork nearly in shambles, its become the duty of the characters to uphold any possible enjoyment one can have with Onidere. The result: hit and miss. With as enormous as the cast of Onidere is, it’s very apparent that only a handful of them matter. Some that are shown more prevalently early on become background characters, as well. The only characters that have any degree of safety surrounding their focus of the “plot” are Saya and Tadashi, their friends Mitsuki, Yuna, and (debatably) Momo, and perhaps student council members Tomeo and Saki. Those are seven of about thirty characters that become important at some point in the series. That is not an exaggerated number. The manner at which Onidere adds and throws away characters is almost alarming, constantly recycling a single joke out of new characters, dropping them for what seems like forever, then bringing them back to become a nuisance to the more major characters. While this seems as though the characters are expendable, their ties to the major cast are typically resolute. Only the events that arise out of these characters’ antics are the main source of irritation.
If I may, I’d like to describe something in stories I absolutely loathe: characters bending the rules of reality to their whim to force an “OTP” closer (but not completely) together. Onidere does this a few times in a few different ways, but they all carry the same smug, jingle-the-keys-in-your-face tone that makes me ponder the integrity of the author. While I feel arousing romantic chemistry between two characters isn’t bad in of itself, the execution of this by means of having a character who clearly knows of an attraction and serving as the “Cupid” feels horribly stunted. Of course, one could argue that if they never did this, the romantic inevitability would never come to fruition because Japanese writers hate writing bold characters. That I understand, though it does little to quell my disdain.
Of all things, the chemistry between certain characters is what makes Onidere worthwhile to read. Mitsuki, as one-dimensional and childish as she is, is able to make a pun every so often that will have me chuckle. Tomeo is also endearing in his pursuit of “justice,” which becomes more flexible as he never elaborates on what, exactly, that is. While these characters alone are hardly developed, the one thing I enjoy about the slice-of-life turn is that the comedy was at its high point. It almost seemed like the mangaka was having fun with every chapter, drawing weird reaction faces and absurd situations. Above everything else, this level of craziness and strangely immersive chemistry that develops between certain characters and the events that unfold have a profound impact on a reader’s impressions. It’s what made me fall in love with the manga three years ago, and while I don’t care for Onidere nearly as much as I used to, I still reminisce fondly over the in-between periods of innocent romantic developments and stupid character gags. Y’know what the craziest thing of all is? Tadashi, the male lead, is actually decent.
As far as recommendations go, Onidere is something I would probably recommend to a younger, less cynical mindset. Or those who really, really enjoy gag comedy with a penchant for breaking its own rules. Everything else falters between the line of passable and downright embarrassing. Despite the hostility, I still view Onidere as an enjoyable read. Only in parts, though, as the beginning and end have a tendency to employ scenarios that are too cliché to even seriously follow. Despite the name, Onidere is mostly dere.
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.