Updated Thoughts on Tonari no Kashiwagi-san

Sometimes the urge to revisit a familiar source is so strong that you end up reading 84 chapters (spanning 25-30 pages) over a three-day period. Ah, just like the old days.

General story spoilers for this manga will follow.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Tonari no Kashiwagi-san and I, one can always click this link and be transported to a time when access to the later scanlated chapters of the story were years apart. It was not a pleasant part of my manga history.

To nutshell it for those who don’t wish to read another piece on top of this one, I started Tonari no Kashiwagi-san for the first time in January of 2013. I was 19, unemployed, and furiously obsessive over this new thing called “Japanese media.” This particular manga, which hooked me with its cute cover and synopsis that vaguely felt reminiscent to Toradora!, wound up being one of the first “currently scanlating” manga I had ever dedicated myself to. Such a distinction means it is wholly nostalgic to me, now 27 years of age.

He didn’t.

Unfortunately, the nature of scanlation, on top of technically being legally shady, is highly inconsistent for series that are not wholly mainstream. Sure, you’ll get new translated pages for Komi-san basically whenever a new chapter is released, but this? Back in the late 2000’s? Never had the same following. From this, I had to wait a long time for Kashiwagi-san to be completely translated to English. The story in Japan ended in 2016; I had to wait until 2019 for the ending chapters to be translated. Props to “u/desdnt” for translating them. You’re a hero, my dude.

So long between chapters meant that I was inevitably out of full investment by the time new ones were divvied out. By the end, these were all characters I knew from memories, rather than a present, conscious connection. Reading new chapters meant seizing the opportunity to know how the series would end/get it over with. If that doesn’t seem romantic enough, a distinct memory of my feelings at the time were complete apathy. “Wow, was everyone this boring?”

The opposite, actually.

April 2021. March of the Movies has recently ended. I’m scrolling through my blog randomly, bored, and I come across the linked article in the second paragraph. “Ah, Kashiwagi-san. That brings back memories.” I think about how long it took to finish and how relieved I was to finally mark it as “Complete.” Then I think about how I would feel about the series if that never took place. “I’m feeling motivated to do something pointless again.” So, I read through all of it. These are my thoughts post-binge:

My first reading of the manga had these key traits:

  • Really cute
  • Devoid of any real conflict
  • The main characters’ friends are the real MVPs

My second reading of the manga had these key traits:

  • Really cute
  • Devoid of any real conflict later on
  • The main characters’ friends are generally more interesting, but not “the real MVPs”
  • Way too long

Let’s address the new trait first. As it turns out, the years-long break from the final chapters of the story may have actually had some benefit. Not strong benefits, mind you, but enough for it to not feel as though the story is tracing circles on a merry-go-round. Going about this in binge-like fashion, it became apparent that the author wasn’t really sure how to stretch the story out without jeopardizing the main characters’ personalities or rehashing old plot points. This was not so apparent after being away for too long; such context was no longer ingrained and it felt somewhat fresh, if not bland.

“Koto-chan” = Kashiwagi.

Really, this 84-chapter story should’ve been more like 55-60. There’s just not enough content to justify the boost in chapter count with the material provided. I’m going to generalize this hardcore, but a lot of the manga’s plotlines go like this:

Character A: “Oh no. I’m self-conscious about something concerning Character C and I don’t know what to do. I guess I’ll just hold it in and let it gnaw on my conscience forever.”

Character B: “Hey, you shouldn’t do that. I’m sure if you’re honest with them, they’ll understand you fine. I’m rooting for you.”

Character A: “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll find the courage to do that! Thank you!”

~A few pages later~

Character A: “Hi, Character C. I don’t really know how to say this, but [thing that is bothering me, occasionally presented in a blunt or nervous way].”

Character C: “Ah, you needn’t worry about that. I was never concerned about it all that much. Thank you for worrying about me. I hope we will continue to get along!”

All fun and smiles ’round here.

This becomes kind of the crutch of the narrative and plot significance within the last twenty or so chapters. Characters getting scared to showcase their feelings, building romantic tension between characters after countless chapters of holding it off for whatever reason; hardly ever does it progress past a point where characters aren’t just anxious about their place in others’ minds. At least early on the writing gave reason for characters to be at fault or deservedly hostile. By the final few volumes, everyone’s already basically perfect, just very, very shy.

I ended up speaking some about the lack of any “real conflict” in there, too, so let me move on to “really cute.” Tonari no Kashiwagi-san initially appealed to my inner sense of moe appreciation through its incredibly cute, borderline cookie-cutter art style. Everyone in this manga is cute—male and female. Hell, a lot of characters look the absolute same. What’s the difference between Kashiwagi and Fukuda’s mother besides their hair? Beats the hell out of me; they’re really cute nevertheless.

Even holding back anger she’s cute.

Jokes about all characters looking the same aside, there are other instances where art tries to embrace the reader in a big, sugar-coated hug. For example, the template for problem resolution above? One thing I didn’t note is that whenever people say something along the lines of “Oh, it was never a big deal,” the panel was shoot to an explicit face of realization from the character with the problem. Not generally one of “U-waaaaah,” though something of a striking sign of realization. Then they’ll finish it off with some sweet sentiment, and it’ll have characters be all blush-y and “UwU” and and embawwased. Doki-doki-intensive reactions occur a lot.

Finally, the “real MVPs.” The main characters in Kashiwagi-san are Kashiwagi (duh) and Sakuraba, who end up befriending one another over their shared passion for anime. Of course, being an otaku is seen as gross, so they can’t really be friendly with one another in the open; Kashiwagi is scared of being openly otaku after being treated badly for it as a child. I think. Hard to remember when after a while it kind of becomes a non-issue out of nowhere. These two are not terrible characters, but much of the intrigue and chemistry actually stems from their friends: Kusano and Fukuda.

What a HUNK.

Admittedly, I hyped these two up quite a bit during the empty years of my first readthrough. They were the real stars of the series, the power couple that really kept me going. Every time they were shown in the panels together, my heart went aflutter. They had such great chemistry, ands the lengths it took for them to actually become a couple were infinitely more rewarding than the main pair. I firmly believed this going into my second reading—I shouldn’t have!

Much to my dismay, they are not as wonderfully eclipsing as I once recalled. Still more interesting than the main pair, that’s no contest. However, after the initial stages of their “trial” relationship and eventual real relationship, the two become somewhat one-note. Kusano is very affectionate, which the tsundere-esque Fukuda is weak to. Most of their interactions past a certain point boil down to “Kusano says something forward. Fukuda gets embarrassed. (Bonus: if they’re alone, Fukuda will be affectionate back in near-equal measure.)” It’s cute, sure; Kashiwagi-san aims to be cute 24/7. After a while though, much like the main duo’s will-they, won’t-they shenanigans, it gets repetitive.

Please do.

Hmm. It’s hard for me to gauge just how negative or positive I’m being with this thus far. It might(?) come as a surprise for readers who have gotten this far to know that, upon finishing this the first time, I gave this a 5/10. As nostalgic and sweet as it was, the ending proved so anticlimactic to me that I ended it with a shrug. This time was not much different, as the ending is one that, as I’ve argued earlier, should’ve occurred far sooner. Additionally, it’s pretty safe—predictable is an enormous understatement. It’s about as obvious as a firetruck with its lights on in a graveyard at night.

The score was boosted to a 6/10.

Bland? Certainly. Repetitive? Definitely. Went on for too long? Much too long. Cute and charming? Yes. All of these are true simultaneously, and being able to binge the series allowed the good to better cross with the bad. Finishing the final chapter this time was somewhat bittersweet; thankful it was over, while also wishing there was something more.

Just face the issues!!

Something more exists, actually. A sequel was released a couple years later called Tonari no Kashiwagi-san: after days, which focuses on the main two characters in college. It is not currently available in English in any capacity (that a quick Google search showed) and, frankly, I don’t know if I’d even bother given it’s only two volumes long and doesn’t seem to change anything.

Now if the author wrote a sequel about Fukuda and Kusano? That’d be something I would be very interested in.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

If you’d like to see more reviews like this, feel free to look at my full list of manga reviews!

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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