In stories of people who swap bodies, they always return to their rightful places. But what if that never happens? Unfortunately, this is the exact predicament Yui Ootsuka and Yuuta Kimura find themselves in.
One day, after Yuuta comes crashing down on Yui from the treetops, both children find themselves in an unfamiliar body. But no matter how desperately they try, they are unable to revert things to how they originally were. In the end, they settle with going about each other's lives as if nothing had happened, determined to keep the incident a secret. Though merely classmates in the past, this inexplicable accident binds their fates tightly together.
Shishunki Bitter Change follows Yui and Yuuta through the years as they struggle through a life that is not their own. In this wearisome situation, the two of them discover what it truly means to walk in someone else's shoes.
As much as I like my Steins;Gates, Fate/Zeros and Evangelions, there are far too many things about the Slice of Life genre that attract me so much to it. Probably because the so-called "otaku" influence had gotten to my head and got me so into such mundane settings. However, quite recently, I learned the reason as to why Slice of Life is, really, my most favorite genre and that is, not because I can relate, not because there are short skirts abound and most definitely not because I'm a teenager but ultimately because of the complexity of mundane human beings. Now, I know it
sounds weird and creepy but it is what really makes the genre so captivating.
Now, I know most Slice of Life anime have failed to accomplish bringing about the highest potential of its most attractive feature, which is a shame, especially since most shows coming out nowadays pander to "otaku" standards and mostly create situations to make the viewer cry whilst trashing character exposition. (I'm looking at you, Charlotte). But when normal slice of life characters, the plainest you can find, are put into situations that can be life changing and a threat to their daily routine, and this is delivered to a great effect, we have Shishunki Bitter Change.
For a manga that's less than obscure, I'm probably giving it too much credit. But from what I've read thus far (22 chapters), I'm pretty sure I'm not.
Now, if you haven't read the synopsis and went straight to the reviews (What's wrong with you?), Shishunki Bitter Change revolves around two kids, a boy and a girl, who experience a body-swap and this said body-swap goes on for about six years. Yes, SIX YEARS (so far). Now that we have the huge introduction in order, on to the actual review.
Now, in majority of works, the idea of "genderbending" is often used as a gag. Now, don't get me wrong. Watching a dude trapped in a girl's body or vice versa, running about the hallways, getting in all sorts of mundane and perverted situations is, well, funny. This is evident in series like Yamada-kun, Pretty Face and Ouran High. But, what Shishunki does with this trope is entirely different. For a span of almost a decade, two individuals are trapped inside each others' body and takes a more serious approach on the trope. Yes, it does call for a lot of hilarious situations as the two try to cope with their new bodies (And not very original either. A Yamada moment here, and an Ouran moment there) but what's most evident is their actual struggle to maintain an image. The two main characters, while learning to cope, are in search also for a cure to their bodies. Though this plotline is heavily ignored throughout the progression of the story, the subplots helps the reader ignore this as well. And, there isn't much of a plot as Shishunki is, mainly, a character driven story.
Enter Yuuta and Yui, the two victims of this supernatural phenomena. Though the start is a bit rocky and cliche, the real juice comes from the actual interaction and actions these characters take. While in separate bodies, the two begin to react to each other's background and family and learn about each other as a result. As the two learn more about each other, they also learn more about other people and the opposite gender and are able to take action based on what they understand. This makes for one of the most interesting takes on human understanding, as, while they have an image to maintain, the two characters act in a way that they really do learn from others and act upon these new instincts. Though this theme is present among most genderbender stories, it's never used as the main meat of the series, whereas here, its one of its most interesting and key features.
Now, while both main characters are stars of the show, the story puts more emphasis on Yui, who suffers the most from this bitter change (no pun intended).
While Yuuta is able to cope with the change well, Yui suffers from both her own background and losing her identity to time and Yuuta tries to catch up to understanding this, though ever so slowly. When they're together, they're like a cat and mouse. They dislike each others' attitude and is often presented comedically. However, these two understand each other more when they're not together. An example is Yui, who sees how different "Yui" has become with Yuuta on the reigns. He's more active and friendlier to other people, which is self defeating when compared to Yui's past self. Just goes to show how different people really are.
The side characters are what really keep this story moving forward. Sounds a lot like plot device galore, no? Their interaction with the main characters impacts both themselves and the main characters, who both learn from each other. This is really what makes this manga shine- the character interaction. Even now, in its current high schools setting, among archetypes galore, the way they interact is still so interesting to read as their talks really reflect on one another. None of the conversation or exposition (unless intentionally comedic or pointless) feel shallow which is refreshing for a manga about genderbending.
As far as art goes... It's not the best. The drawings are simple but clean to look at. The 5-panel per page model is off-putting at first but it's acquired once you get used to it.
For the verdict, this manga gets a 9 from me, so far. I recommend Shishunki Bitter Change to anyone looking for the best the Body-Switch genre has to offer. A personal bias, of course, but it's just that good.
(TL;DR - It's good. It might not become shit so read it, k?)
The Gender-Bending genre. A genre that has mostly inclined for comedy, for understandable reasons. Men and women are quite different between each other, both physically and psychologically. Placing a man's psyche in a woman's body provokes humor because of the contrasts between the unfamiliarity of the situation and the previous familiarity of being in one's body. Ranging from works like Boku Girl to Baka and Test, men who possess feminine appearances are treated as a comedic exercise. Few works truly delve into the question: "What if you were a girl instead of a guy?" and vice versa in a serious manner. The closest example is
Wandering Son, a manga that starred a Trans girl and guy. Keep in mind however, that gender-benders usually didn't ask to have their genders changed. Trans people in real life generally want to change their genders due to a variety of reasons.
Shishunki Bitter Change is a refreshing change of pace that deconstructs the gender bender genre, though not in the sense that Evangelion did. Evangelion's dissection of mecha tropes were used to generate horror and other macabre emotions, while musing on the philosophy of the human mind. Shishunki Bitter Change lacks the horror of Evangelion and replaces it with a careful exploration of different changes, all bitter. There are two elementary school children. They are Yuuta and Yui. While bickering among themselves, they find that their bodies have swapped. From this point on, they have to deal with the typical burdens of life whilst dealing with the uncomfortable experience being in someone else's body. Things like romance and familial relationships are made worse by this uncomfortable contrast from desire and reality. However, because of this experience, Yuuta and Yui have bonded inadvertently, becoming good friends as they try to cope with this experience. Their interactions with the various side characters, from the stoic but understanding Kazuma to the enthusiastic Hikaru allow the main characters to shine, moving the plot forward.
It has a fairly slow pace, but that is not a problem. After all, their lives have changed drastically. What's the point in seeing how they react to this if we the readers do not see their lives play out? This is something commendable on the author's part. The art is nothing spectacular. It's simple and clean, but otherwise unremarkable. The character designs are cute, but not cute enough to provoke feelings of moe. For example, you never see Yui in a maid outfit. There's no otaku pandering in this story that I can recall, which is a relief considering how "cute girls doing cute things" is the norm nowadays.
In conclusion, it was a surprising manga that averted and deconstructed much of the cliches of the gender-bender genre without being too blatant about it. Some deconstructions don't have to be completely horrifying, such as Evangelion. After all, life isn't completely full of deceit and horror. Life is also full of bittersweet moments, nostalgia, longing, desire, and the like. Not every change in the manga was for the worse. But overall, it was a bitter change.
"Shishunki Bitter Change", or "Gender Bender: Can't Return to Sender" isn't great. I'd hesitate to call it good, but I certainly can't call it bad, either. It's just serviceable. It's a light, breezy read with some chuckles and a few moments of genuine pathos but there's little else too it than that.
Maybe that's all you want, but personally I like a little cheese on my crackers.
Having the characters swap at an early age and then committing to it as they continue to age up through High School, with all the angst that comes with, is an interesting direction to take, and there's plenty of room
to mine for drama or comedy, but it feels like it only skims the surface more often than not. The drama's never too deep and the comedy's never uproarious, so it often treads this middle ground of being just funny or compelling enough to keep you reading, but not enough to leave any lasting impression or have more than a handful of effective moments.
How many times can two characters stand face to face, cry, hug, and completely wall up before we've gone through every variation?
The pace is blistering fast, and that might keep SBC from taking the time to mine the premise for all its worth, but the bigger issue is likely the characters. The two leads are great. They're cliches, yeah, but they an earnest sort of chemistry and bounce off each other well. The problem is more with the rest of the cast, and by that I mean there isn't one. Most everyone else here is entirely flat, one-note, and forgettable. If you're on this site, you know these character types by heart. Don't expect surprises.
Also, the whole world knows your taste is shit and sniggers behind your back.
The biggest hindrance point is the art. I'd call it bog standard but I think bogs have more detail and variety. Backgrounds and foregrounds are sparse and bare, utterly devoid of character, the paneling is flat and rarely changes, and there's so much filler that it makes you wonder how long each chapter would be if you just cut every panel of white space and by the numbers establishing shots.
They photoshop the plaid patterns on the pants. Come on, it's 2016, people. Have you not noticed the year in which we are living, which is the current one?
It gets the job done, it rides the threshold of competence, but it's so lackluster and phoned in that it's almost superfluous. Why bother if you're not going to bother at all? We got books now.
For all the shit-picking and nit-flinging this is still enjoyable. Like I said, there are some nice moments; it's never quite touching, but it's close enough that you can give it credit and round up. SBC's amusing enough, but what could've been a real neat sort of story just ends up being alright. It okay.
If SBC happens to tumble onto your screen and that red x button at the top of your browser is too hard to scroll through, give it a read.
It takes a concept usually reserved for comedies, the idea of two adolescents swapping bodies, which is usually a lead in for a poorly done romance story. A popular example of this type of story, although I have yet to see it, is Kimi no Wa (Your Name), which from what I've read is a fairly usual affair of a boy and girl switching bodies.
So, if this concept is usually poorly done, why would I give Shishunki a 9/10? Well, that is because Shishunki focuses on the bad part of what could happen while in someone else's body. Whereas
the average body swapping manga would have one character mess up around the other MC's parents, resulting in said character going 'B-BAKA' and the whole scene would be played for comedy.
**From this point on, Yui in Yuuta's body will be called just Yui and vice versa for Yuuta**
In Shishunki, a similar scene is done. Yui's parents have been neglectful of her for a long while before the change, and a while into the swap, Yuuta gets pissed and flips out at Yui's parents. This results in a dramatic change that improves Yui's home life immensely, and when Yui finds out, she gets mad that Yuuta managed to cause this change while she could only suffer through her parent's neglect. It plays the whole body swap concept straight.
Now then, I'll go into the aspects that make up the score system. Story, Art, Character and Enjoyment.
For story, I think it's great. It's one of those fabled 'deconstructions' of the genre, and ignore the fact that deconstruction is only used by mouthbreathers who think BnHA is as good as Part 1 of Nardo, as Shishunki is an actual deconstruction. It plays the whole concept straight, which is why the full name is 'Shishunki Bitter Change', Bitter being the key word. Everything in the story is representative of this name, with the change having an overall negative effect on Yui and Yuuta's personal life. While their social lives are for the most part still good, their relationships with each other and their mental health takes its toll over the course of the story, hitting its peak when a certain cook is introduced and befriend's Yuuta.
I won't say anything else on the story, as I'd go into spoilers. And word of warning, the original webcomic that preceded the manga was especially bitter when it came to the ending, but there have been many changes between the manga and webcomic, which means that the ending will be less bitter this time around.
The Art isn't anything to write home about. It's cute, the characters emote well, it's passable. And the backgrounds are usually simplistic or aren't there. Not saying they're in issue, just a bit lazy. Characters are cute though. Specially the guitar guy.
Characters are great, especially the new additions from the transition to manga, those being the weird girl and the guitar guy. The weakest character I'd say would have to be Yui. Her struggles boil down to 'I want Kazuma but I'm a dude!!!1!!!11'. But they make up for that with Yuuta's struggles that are at one point get to 'When will Yui stop lusting after my best friend while in my body?', and every character has their fair share of drama and personal issues.
And I put Enjoyment at 10/10. It kept me interested enough to wait on inconsistent updates (the scanlator tries his best but it's very inconsistent when he uploads from what I've seen. Still, I'm glad he does it, as nobody scanlated the webcomic, and it isn't in as bad a state as FKMT manga a few years back).