Kare Kano is a shoujo manga by mangaka Tsuda Masami that was serialized in LaLa from 1995 to 2005 and compiled into 21 volumes. It has been licensed by Tokyopop in English and Tonkam in French and has been completely published in both language.
The Story: High school has started and very quickly, freshmen Yukino Miyazawa (heroine) and Soichiro Arima (hero) have stood out as the perfect model students. However, it is all a front. In fact, all Yukino wants is the praise and admiration when in reality, she's stubborn, greedy and manipulative as well as a slob. As for Soichiro, his motives are more noble: as a child, Soichiro was abandonned by his parents who were troublesome, never-do-well persons and was adopted by his uncle and aunt despite the protest of the family clan. Thus, Soichiro wants to prove his family clan wrong and does not want to attract trouble to his adoptive parents. However, both discover that there is more to life than perfection, such as love and friendship, and decide to show their true selves... but what if their true selves turn out to be dark?
My Opinion: This is a great series and everyone should give it a chance :P We follow Yukino and Soichiro as they make friends, but also get to see their relationship grow stronger and stronger. The manga is mainly focused on Yukino and Soichiro; however, the mangaka cleverly breaks up the story with episodes where we get to know more about Yukino and Soichiro's new friends and see them grow and find themselves.
I realized that in the synopsis, I make it sounds like Yukino is a bad person... but she is not. She's just a bit superficial and self-centered. However, she really makes a great heroine. She comes from a middle class family and is the oldest of three girls. Her family is very loving and loud... and her parents wonder how they produce such a smart and ambitious girl LOL :) Seriously, I would want her as a friend any day :D As for Soichiro, he's almost the perfect guy. Smart, comes from a rich family, very attentive, devoted and a bit on the reserve side... Sigh... As for the rest of the characters, they're quirky and fun and very friendly. It's really fun to read about them :P
As many shoujo series, the series is funny and quite light in the beginning, especially as characters are introduced, but it does become dark and serious about mid-way or 2/3 of the series. There was a lot of thoughts put in the characterization and storyline which results in complex and three-dimensional characters and profound story which puts it above many other shoujo series. I would say that many high school life shoujo series are fun and entertaining, but they lack interesting plotlines and the "conflicts" are often silly. This is definitively not the case with Kare Kano and I think that part of the reason is that the manga is character-orientated. In addition, the mangaka doesn't introduce any love triangle or third love party which makes it refreshing.
I have to admit though that when the series started to get darker, I didn't enjoy it as much, but it was interesting. That was possibly the only thing I didn't like. All the rest, I love and I was definitively hooked. I also love the fact that we got to know more about the other characters, that they didn't stay uni-dimensional, but were given meat and stories. I also enjoyed the fact that the series followed a normal school timeline such as entrance ceremonies, exams periods, field trips with school and vacation. In many series, I find that the timeline is forgotten or brought up only when it's convenient. For example, the mangaka wants to take a break from the main storyline, so he/she will bring up the sport festival to lighten the mood. It is not the case here. Clearly, Tsuda-sensei had plans and knew where she was going with the storyline. Another thing I love about this series is that it feels "real." Of course, some elements are not possible or has been over-exaggerated to be funny, but when it came to the characters, all what they went through was possible: falling in love with an older man, seeing your father re-marry and etc... and that is true especially for Yukino and Soichiro's relationship.
When a series has been running for years, one of the most important element is the end. It's great that the beginning is good, but after readers have invested time, money and themselves so much, it's good to have good endings too. I enjoyed the ending immensely... the best thing about the ending is that it felt right. The storyline ends when Yukino, Soichiro and cie graduate from high school, i.e. 3 years after the beginning of the storyline if I'm not wrong. Not only was it a great "time" to finish, but it was also realistic. It's hard to explain what I mean, but I'll try. Sometimes, so much happens in the series that you feel like it's impossible that all this only took place in this period of time, but it's not the case with Kare Kano. As I said, it feels right and the timeline of 3 years for the whole storyline makes sense. At the end of the story, you see how much all those characters have mature and it really makes you feel great :D
The Art: Seriously, you can't review a manga without talking about the art :P I think that the art of Kare Kano is very pleasant and it suits the feel of the manga. As always in a long series, you can see the evolution of the art as well. The art in the beginning was more old-style with pointy noise and sharp edge, but to my pleasure, it smooths out and becomes rounder. The style of Tsuda-sensei is also very clean with minimal background which makes it easier to read and focus on the characters. With Kare Kano, I believe that her style has become more distinctive as well, more her own and so it's much easier to recognize her works now. All in all, it's a very nice and enjoyable style to read :D And I love her chibis!! (chibis are deformed drawings of the characters like the pic there :P)
The Anime: The manga was adapted in a 26 episodes anime a couple of years back. I don't have the exact date... but it was the anime that hooked me first. Unfortunately, it doesn't cover the whole manga, but only a little than half the storyline (given the fact that the manga was actually not finished when it was adapted). The anime version is a very faithful adaptation of the manga, but the feel is completely different. It's crazy what you can do when you add voices and music :D I'd say the anime is busier and can sometimes be hard to follow, which is not the case with the manga. One of the particularity is that in the few last episodes, it uses some panels of the manga to tell the story. It was a very clever and nice, but at the same time, there was a lot that you had to "read." I haven't watched the dubbed version, but the japanese version with subtitles was excellent and I'm sure you can find some clips on youtube :D
My Grade: A-. I would have given it a A if I've enjoyed the darker phase a bit more :P So please, give it a try, either the manga or anime. You can read the manga here :P If you enjoy, please try to purchase the manga to support the artist :D