This manga is about two best friends: Sumika Murasame and Ushio Kazama. Ushio has a seemingly endless series of crushes on other girls—specifically, on cute girls. She's oblivious to the fact that her athletic, sarcastic and distinctly *un*cute friend Sumika is in love with her. When a couple of girls in their class realize their feelings and form a club just for girls who like girls, things to seem like they're beginning to improve...
Before delving into a review a primer on certain theories in film and comics is needed.
The two main components of cinema is montage and mise-en-scene. The former is about how the placement of shots are edited together while the latter is about how the shot is composed in the first place (atmosphere, props, gesture of characters etc...). Certain film theorists have stances as to whether a montage heavy approach (e.g. the fast moving shots of Fight Club and Trainspotting) or an atmospheric approach (e.g. the deep focus shots of Citizen Kane or The Trial) is better. French New Wave theorist Bazin sides with the
mise-en-scene as he perceives that montage is a form of illusion meant to fool the audience into believing what is not there.
Scott McCloud is a comic book theorist who came up with the book Understanding Comics; it's a really edifying book on the components that make up comic books and how to analyse the methods used in creating them. He first establishes how comics are less a representative medium like art but actually a pictoral language, having more symbolic value than representative value. Two things he talks about are negative space, the area between one panel and another panel, as well as the types of panel placements that exists. As an explanation for what the types of Panel Transitions are I will just link this: http://www.mangatutorials.com/tut/paneltrans.php .
Looking up information of the net, there isn't much on Takashi Ikeda. He's a doujinshi artist who expanded his own one shot into a 50+ chapter long Shoujo-ai drama piece. The amount of things you can find out about him as an individual is sparse without Japanese channels. All that you can derive about his nature is incidental, only seen through the language of his art. He is a formalist, an artist who immensely enjoys his own craft, who loves to play around with structure; his work has the sense of the young artist eagerly seeking new techniques and experimenting with different forms and methods of conveying his story. This aspect breathes new life in the pretty cliche girls love genre.
If we analyse Sasameki Koto from a film theory perspective it uses more montage methods than atmospheric methods (though I'm not saying the work is devoid of atmosphere but rather the atmosphere is more conveyed through panel placement than the drawings themselves). Inio Asano is a creator who relies more on mise-en-scene techniques; she makes use of really beautiful realistic art and a fantastical expressionist tinge to give her work power.
The first thing to take note is the 'clutter effect' and how its used as a method to convey dramatic momentum. In scenes of comedy Ikeda will clutter his pages with jokes, deformed characters and dialogue, sometimes filling in the negative space between the panels with miniature figures. On the flipside his dramatic scenes are spaced in the conventional comic form and also makes use of aspect-aspect placements to create atmosphere. In extremely dramatic moments he builds up the panels to deliver a single page climatic shot (this isn't really a new technique [Oyasumi Punpun has its own double page climatic shots] but what makes Ikeda's explosive shots powerful is his ability to build them up). This manipulation between cluttered comical pages with sparse dramatic pages perfectly illustrates the main theme about the distance between the two characters; the comedic pages distracting the audience from the horror vacui of Sumika's unspoken words and feelings.
Ikeda also manipulates panel transitions with adequate artistic dexterity (though not as brilliantly as the true formalistic masters like Chris Ware of course). A prominent example to take note (that stuck in my head even after I completed the manga) was when Scene-Scene transition was manipulated interspersing two different simultaneously occurring scenes; one of a calm setting; the other of a violent occurrence fading in; both combining to build up to a shot of catharsis and emotional turmoil.
Sasameki Koto is a simple work of technical ingenuity. Though not having the playful formalist romps of Shintaro Kago, the stylistic manipulations and tight plotting of Tezuka or the romantic metaphorical symbolic details of Craig Thompson; Ikeda's entertaining and dramatic labour of love manages to surpass the standard romance works out there.
Good things about Sasameki Koto:
Decent art, strong characters. The main two protagonists are both in depth and likeable characters. You really grow to care for them. Also the first 3 side characters are great too.
Bad things about Sasameki Koto (spoilers):
Just as you think there's about to be some actual progress to real romance the author throws some annoying contrived cliche drama at you over and over again until he runs out of options and ends the manga like it should have done 30 chapters ago. Annoying transfer student shows up and gets in the way? Of course! Main character has some past trauma that prevents
them from being honest? Sure! The wind made them not hear properly? Why not? MORE annoying transfer students? LOVE IT! Ill grandma? Are we done yet?
And that's how what should have been a much briefer but more enjoyable cute rom-com became a dead cat dragged through the mud before being hastily crammed into its finest clothes for the finale.
In exploring all genres of anime/manga, I had decided to explore the various yuri/shoujo-ai titles available to read and watch. Apart from watching the anime version of Sakura Trick, this would be my first encounter with the genre. If anything, I should have built up to this. I should have watched all the cheap, fan-service-laden trash that accounts for most yuri titles. But no, I had to right to the top of the mountain.
It's not perfect. The art varies, swaying between blank-faced background characters and... the Big Emotional Scenes, which are so well done, I can only guess how many times
Takashi Ikeda drew them, erased them and and re-drew them.
Onto the characters. The secondary characters, as with the art quality, vary in terms of depth and development. But the main characters... here we go.
The two leads of the series are so well constructed, I'd not be exaggerating in saying they're almost like family to me. The story involving them quite honestly has me re-evaluating pretty much every romance anime/manga i've ever come across, and none of them come close to this one. The ending of this series makes tears come to my eyes just by looking at its last few pages.
As I said at the start, I could have watched or read other genre titles before this, like Valkyrie Drive... actually, I didnt make a mistake after all.