Thoughts on Haji-Otsu

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Note: I haven’t actually read this manga to completion yet. I’m waiting on the last chapter to be scanlated, but I have a feeling I know how it’s going to end anyway, so I’m jumping the gun here a bit. Forgive me. I won’t ever do it again.

Haji-Otsu is a manga with one key strength: cuteness. It has cute characters, cute-looking characters, a cute premise, and an adorably pure execution of said cute premise. While some may see the covers of the volume releases as slightly suggestive, it also conveys the type of atmosphere this story holds. An innocent airhead who is afraid of men is encouraged by her friends to confess to a guy she doesn’t actually have feelings for as a test of courage. When you confess to a complete stranger, you don’t expect them to take you seriously, right? Unfortunately for her, the guy she confesses to accepts her feelings and they enter a romantic relationship. Oh, my gosh! What a turn of events!

While Haji-Otsu thrives on cuteness, it also thrives on setting the scene. One would expect the bulk of the story to be the relationship between this newfound couple and how they interact with one another through this awkward situation. Though it does to a point, it decides to use it as a “for special occasions” sort of storytelling. The story is about these two people as a couple, but it tends to focus more on the side characters and how the male and female lead take their friends’ advice on various things. Putting it simply, it likes to spend more time talking about this unplanned romance rather than showing it.

  • Male and female lead walk home together.
  • Female lead talks to friends about male lead the next day.
  • Male lead talks to friends about female lead the next day.
  • Friends of both leads give them advice as to how to close the gap.
  • Both leads nervously try to execute said advice, and either don’t or do with unintended consequences.
  • Depending on the result, male or female lead will dwell on it for some time.
  • Start over from step two.

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One could say that this process of storytelling is repetitive and lazy. They would be correct. However, to give it some slack, the characters that are placed within the romantic relationship are so innocent, even the thought of making physical contact with one another will turn them into jelly. This is incredibly unrealistic, but it justifies the slow and experimental pace that this story treads upon. It is also justified by the female lead’s “fear” of men. I, for one, question her supposed “fear” of men, as she was nervous around the male lead for quite some time, but she never seemed genuinely frightened or threatened. I feel the “fear of men” is more of a plot device than a genuine adjective. She’s just incredibly shy. And pure. And nice. Regardless of the justifications, the story still begins to stale upon the halfway point, when the luster of cuteness begins to dim with the prospect of inevitable melodrama.

I’ve mentioned this before, and I feel I’ll mention it several more times in the future, but is it truly so satisfying to see a shy, quiet character turn into someone who is slightly more talkative and bold by the end? I feel the easiest type of character to develop is always the shy, kind-hearted ones. All one has to do is give them a character to care about and let time pass and suddenly they have the courage to make a hard confession or something. That’s what most of these stories amount to, and Haji-Otsu is not breaking the mold here. Only difference here is that every character is kind-hearted. While some are reserved more for comic relief or the voice of reason, all kinda blend together into this gooey, sugary sweet that is sure to cause some cavities. They all want what’s best for their friends or partner, and none of them ultimately stand out because of it. Male lead, check. Female lead, check. Male comic relief, check. Female comic relief, check. Male voice of reason, check. Female voice of reason, check. What makes this even more apparent is that the side characters hardly get any attention whatsoever. There is some indication of a blooming romance between a few side characters, but it’s never truly developed. The story meanders along with the slow and steady progress of the main couple, which serves as a good inducer of sleep by series’ end.

The ability to overlook these flaws is not completely obvious. After all, I enjoyed this manga plenty for the first fifteen chapters or so. Despite the slow progress of the main couple, the plastic purity of every character, and the looming drama, the story does itself well as a cutesy, first love tale. The circumstances that start the relationship is dumb, but since they’re rolling with it, may as well make it as sweet as possible to smooth over any nervous anticipation. Any sucker for sweets (like me) is sure to have an enjoyable time reading this manga at its sweetest. Pure characters are bland and lack any sort of impact for drama, but as a light-hearted, coming of age romance, they’re a dandy selection. Just expect them to take about five hundred chapters to finally show each other some skin.

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What helps tremendously with the cute atmosphere is the cute style of drawing. Characters are cute, their expressions are cute (if not slightly erotic), their sparkly mood effects are cute. Everything about this manga screams “kawaii.” However, if one were to look past this, the art can be a little stale after some time. Not a lot really happens in this series, and aside from a few confrontations or brooding feelings of regret, there isn’t a lot of darkness to display. It’s typically characters either being secretly happy or obviously nervous. Y’know, the expressions that are easiest to make cute. To be honest, the art is what initially pulled me into reading this manga, but by series’ end, I don’t much care for it anymore. It’s not groundbreaking or even above average. It’s the norm for romantic comedy manga, with a little sprinkle of adorable purity.

A title like Haji-Otsu isn’t necessarily something to be dubbed “lost potential,” but it certainly could have done more to escape the path that most manga like this go down. It’s good for lazy fun, but not something that will really move more expectant readers, especially those expecting a high-grade romantic affair. Perhaps the story could’ve been improved with more assertive leads or side characters that the author seems to care about. Whatever the result, I would’ve appreciated a little more progress than what was given in Haji-Otsu. I never felt they really grew as individual characters, either. Ah well—too many sweets will make you fat.

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

Edit: It ended just as I expected it to. Damn, I’m good.