Having an appearance that is not what society considers conventional is not easy. It's even harder on teenagers in high school.
The shoujo genre is usually filled with stories about beautiful high schoolers with slender bodies, cute big eyes and who are considered cute even when in-universe, they are supposed to be plain. Sora wo Kakeru Yodaka does have one of these protagonists in Ayumi, but brings a stark contrast in its deuteragonist (and antagonist) Umine; and takes a step further when they switch bodies due to Umine's influence.
What I like about this manga is the honest sensibility with which the
author decided to write a character like Umine, who could've been easily mishandled. For starters, Umine is thankfully not a "plain shoujo character with glasses and dark braids", nor a "Long bangs creepy girl who's actually quite cute when looked closely". She is appropriately drawn in a way that you don't often see in this genre, and that would be unlikely to be considered attractive. While you might have to read more than a few chapters (which I don't think it's a lot to ask, considering it's only 15 chapters) to realize this, it's eventually clear that the narrative isn't trying to paint Umine as the "evil ugly bullied girl stealing perfect girl's life." The manga does not justify her actions, but it goes out of its way to show that the way she was mistreated solely based on her looks shaped her personality and greatly impacted her actions. Her theft of someone else's body is of course portrayed as awful, but her motivations are properly nuanced; also, her suicide attempt (which is not a spoiler and is what the body-switching magic essentially was, had it gone wrong) is not portrayed lightly, nor is her depression.
Ayumi can be a tough pill to swallow. She is cute, has not one but two guys into her, seems to be rather popular at school and has a happy family life. However she is also extremely nice, perhaps too trusting and just the right amount of silly; in any other manga, this would at best make her a generic "too kind for her own good" protagonist. However, Ayumi's sincerely distraught reaction to Umine's suicide attempt despite barely having spoken to her, her utter confusion once in Umine's body and her unfailing optimism makes her endearing, and we feel no joy at her misfortune — even though we do understand the reasons Umine had to want to trade bodies with her when we learn of her depressing school and home life. The author also smartly has Ayumi make a big effort to understand Umine's reasons and seldom thinks truly ill of her. Even when Umine is combative and mean, Ayumi still tries to reach out to her, and manages to not appear spineless or overly naive while doing so.
This manga has several glimpses of extremely insightful writing for such a short story, such as a rebuttal of Umine's "victimization" and of the notion that had she been a bit more cheerful the bullying wouldn't have happened to start with; also Ayumi's realization that, unlike in her old life where she existed separatedly from others due to her prettier and "adequate" body, now she is comparing her appearance to other girls' daily, as well as questioning how "ashamed" her friend Kaga is to be seen with someone like her. These uncannily realistic bits truly elevate the story from a little body-switching wacky account to a narrative that, despite its flaws, is truly trying to get somewhere deeper than the average.
As for those flaws: some of the directions the plot takes are rather implausible and sometimes seem to be there solely to shock you for a limited duration, Shiro's personality switcheroo being the main example. At the end of the day you're not sure at which points he was being genuine or not; a problem for a character who is supposed to be, ultimately, sympathetic. Narratively, it's a waste of time and could've been better written.
The manga also undermines the fact that Ayumi's family didn't seem to notice the body change at all; a wasted opportunity as one of the themes is exactly that external appearances cannot change what's inside, not to mention that Umine's mother (whose relationship is nothing like the loving one between Ayumi and her own family) does notice something wrong. Apparently your classmate who's into you will notice that your body was swapped, but not people you've known and lived with your entire life. As for the love triangle, its resolution didn't hold a significant weight to me at the end, perhaps due to Shiro's wobbly characterization, or because at that point the romance angle just didn't seem so relevant anymore given what was at stake in the climax; it was essentially just a loose end that had to be tied.
Some of its feel-good moments might also come off as forced and overly idealistic to some, such as Ayumi!Umine managing to make a boy stop making fun of her merely by pointing some of her cute points herself. But this manga's objective isn't really to teach what would be the correct way to avoid bullying and exclusion. I see it more as a story of how being alienated and looked down upon despite doing nothing to deserve it can have a huge, lasting negative impact on someone's personality to the point of it becoming unrecognizable, and can drive them to drastic measures.
Finally, it explores how sympathy and making an effort to understand and approach others makes a significant difference to someone who suffered this type of alienation, as the last chapter shows us, in shiny and unmistakably pure shoujo fashion. In these objectives, Sora wo Kakeru Yodaka succeeds quite well and is worth the reading.
Personally of what I have read, the history is good enough for the motive that the unpopular girl transforms in the popular girl exchanging bodies. Now, these dramas of dissent with one itself I feel that he lacks a bit more of reinforcement. The prominent figures please me but I feel that they must emphasize if one of them will be the antagonist or not, these games of wanting and not wanting it does not please me. He lacks things but to read it for the history, it calls enough the attention. My favorite personage is Kaga.
Although I have not finished the series, I have tremendous respect towards the author/artist. In the beginning, I was looking for mangas in the 'shoujo' tag. After reading so many, it's quite easy to recognize how similar one is to another. I will still continue to enjoy them, but I am very satisfied with this manga. Not only is it unique, it also sends a wonderful message across the readers.
Unfortunately, a lot of younger girls (who are the majority of readers for shoujos) may be suffering from similar situations. And if not, the community showing hierarchy towards those with a 'nicer' appearance over those
who may not be considered beautiful may be influencing them to think if they don't please others with their appearance, then they are put last. However, this story can change the view of the readers, and I truly believe it will also make their transition from adolescent to adult a smoother one without having to worry as much about their looks being the reason for gaining friends and trust.
In the end, I give the overall rate a 9. I am very pleased, and I hope you will read or consider reading this manga!
- the fat chick is SO UGLY to the point that she's bullied by her classmates
- her only family is her mother, who doesn't treat her well either
- she has NO FRIENDS
- in the very first chapter she TRIES TO KILL HERSELF
and yet *somehow* she's THE VILLAIN of the story???????? and the beautiful, thin main character, who has a boyfriend and lots of friends, is the UNDERDOG????????????
did I get it all right or am I hallucinating??? I know I only read 3 chapters but that's pretty much the idea I got from it. I already disliked it
from the get go, but I still gave it a chance and the more I read it, the more pissed off I got.
The literal ONLY good thing about this is the art, but that's not enough to keep me from not dropping it.