Everyone’s afraid of Koguma– the biggest, most intimidating guy at school. So when Shinobu accidentally spills milk on his bag, you can bet she’s pretty scared about what’s going to happen next. Turns out the bag contains an antique kimono, of all things. It belongs to Koguma’s grandmother, who runs a kimono shop. To make up for ruining the outfit, Shinobu’s going to have to start modeling kimonos as part of grandma’s big plan to market her products to younger customers. Big, scary Koguma’s into kimonos? Turns out there’s a lot no one knew about this tall, quiet boy, and now Shinobu’s out ot change that. But in doin so, will she also end up with a new boyfriend?
I’ve never been interested in fashion much, not as a teenage, and certainly not now, so I was wary about Stolen Hearts. The novelty of being set in a kimono shop did spark my curiosity, but I really wasn’t expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised then by the very sweet romance and great characters that I found in it’s pages.
The title starts out like an average shojo manga with a gimmick. A boy and girl work at a kimono shop, modeling the wares. The boy is big, and intimidating looking. He is the strong, silent type. The girl is small and average. There’s nothing really special about her. Like everyone in her school, she is scared of him. Turns out though, the boy is a gentle giant, and not really all that scary. They develop feelings for each other. Sounds likes like every other shojo ever written, right? Don’t be so quick to judge! It turns out this title isn’t so average.
While the setting of a kimono shop seems like a new gimmick, it really isn’t. Koguma and Shinobu don’t actually work in the shop. They actually model them. Dressing in them and walking about in the streets outside the shop, they hand out flyers for the store. I like this idea, as it gives more opportunities for interactions with different people other than just customers. With customers you have to assume a certain kind of person will come into the shop. Walking around on the street gives a greater variety of people for the main characters to interact with. It also gives them time alone (sort of) to get to know each other better. And trouble is easier to find out in the open, either from rivals or schoolmates, who can bring a whole other class of trouble. It’s also a great excuse to show off all sorts of different outfits. They are fashionable, and some of the themed designs are cute. It’s also very cool to get to see styles of men’s kimonos as well. Women always get featured in kimonos. Men don’t get that as often, so it nice to see some equal treatment.
But it’s the characters that really make this title, and their interactions with each other. Shinobu is the female protagonist. She actually rather average as shojo protagonists go. She doesn’t have some burning passion, or a crush on some boy in her class. She’s just an average high school girl doing things with her friends and just being normal. It’s kind of a nice change of pace. Once she gets to know Koguma, and finds he’s not the scary monster every thinks he is, she gets this enthusiasm for everyone to know the nice side of him too. This was a nice touch, and a realistic reaction, one I enjoyed a lot.
Koguma is big and looks scary. He towers over everyone at school, being over 6ft. and rarely smiles, but he’s actually rather shy. Most of the rumors that float around him are exaggerations of actually very tame stories. But because everyone avoids him, he’s not every good in social situations. He doesn’t really know how to act, even with Shinobu’s help. In many ways, he reminds me of Sawako from Kimi ni Todoke. Everyone’s afraid of him, until one person learns the truth and shows them they are really very nice. I really started to enjoy the volume more when I came to this realization.
The last character is truly a character. Granny Koguma, Koguma’s grandmother, is the 76-year-old owner of the kimono shop. She is a very feisty woman who likes to get her way and usually does. She’s very modern in her thinking, and wants to get more younger kids into wearing kimonos, and does so with more fashionable styles. She’s happy to help out Koguma and Shinobu when they need it, as long as she can get some sort of a profit as well. She often beats on Koguma, who submits to her smaller grandmother with barely a word. It seems she may have some yakuza ties as well, as just the mention of her name gets Koguma and Shinobu special treatment at a festival. She steals every scene she’s in.
Stolen Hearts starts out slow, but picks up the pace very quickly. The art took a little while for me to get used to. I thought it looked kind of funky looking at first, but really got to like it by the end of the volume. This title is a great read, and it’s going into my must buy pile. Make sure it’s in yours.
Review copy provided by publisher. Images © CMX Manga