Nanami Takahashi has just started high school and is eager to make friends. As she attempts to make conversation with some girls in her class, she finds that their favorite topic of discussion is a carefree-looking boy named Motoharu Yano. Yano is very popular, though more because of sheer presence than good looks. As Nanami puts it later, he’s the “kind of guy everyone follows out to the field to play ball, but once he leaves, everyone stops playing because it’s not fun anymore.”
Initially, Nanami’s irritated by Yano’s seemingly irresponsible ways, but he listens to her when she needs a sympathetic ear, and she soon realizes that she’s got a crush on him. The class is abuzz with rumors about Yano’s last girlfriend, who died the summer before in a car accident, and Nanami is understandably confused by Yano’s resolutely cheerful demeanor in the face of such tragedy. Little by little, friendship grows between them, and he eventually confides in her his bitterness that his girlfriend was killed while seeing another boy behind his back.
We Were There is pretty mellow in its storytelling. There are no melodramatic moments, no crazy facial expressions, no gags, and no super-deformity. Instead, it’s a quiet tale of a slightly strange and funny girl attempting to understand the contradictions presented by the boy who might be hiding feelings of grief behind a sunny smile. In addition to the mystery of what really happened in the past, the story in the present is compelling, too, even though it’s another entry in the “kind-hearted heroine is the only one who can help our hero through his angst” category.
The characters are likable, and even some of the supporting characters are pretty interesting, like grouchy, bespectacled Yamamoto. I particularly like the way Nanami’s awkward attempts to fit in with her new friends are depicted. At first, things are palpably stiff between them—exemplified in a conversation in which the other girls are blathering on about Yano while Nanami attempts to interject comments about classes—but as time wears on, they become more relaxed in each other’s company. Nothing is overtly said to chart the progress of the relationship; the visuals simply tell the story.
For the most part, the art is light and pleasant, though Obata seems to have attended the Aya Nakahara School for Overly Large Ears and Hands. Also, I’m not fond of the really shiny eyes she draws. Although emotion is competently conveyed using body language and the rest of the face, the lack of pupils is still pretty disconcerting. Yano, particularly, often looks like his eyes are blank and soulless.
Overall, We Were There is a very satisfying read. When it was over, I wanted more.
We Were There is published in Japan as Bokura ga Ita and won the Shogakukan Manga Award for shoujo in 2005. Twelve volumes have been released in Japanese so far, while the English translation debuted on November 4th. Subsequent volumes are scheduled for bimonthly release.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.