Two words that truly sum up the entirety of Bokura Ga Ita - We Were There. The story follows the interconnected lives of four people made tragic by circumstance and choice from their highschool days, and ten years hence.
This manga is categorized as a Shoujo, yet the maturity of the tale, and the realistic way everything is approached and handled is far more like a Josei, and therefore better for a more mature audience, either in age, mentality or both.
★ Story (9) - What starts off as a deceivingly simple and very cliche tale of a good, innocent girl falling love with the school delinquent quickly evolves into a very painful and tragic story spanning ten or so years. A simple tale of what seems to be a first love during high school is completely shattered as dark, troubled pasts come to light; revelations of secrets in families are revealed, abuse and abusive behavior are uncovered, cheating scandals abound and the death of one girlfriend takes its toll on several characters.
Yes; this manga is dark.
What stops this story from being cliche and overly dramatic is the mature, realistic way events are shown and handled. None of the events are taken lightly, or just passed by as a chapter's event, or played up for the entertainment factor and the sake of the reader. Everything is taken seriously, broken down and scrutinized from all sides and different perspectives, each side with its own conflicting feelings and thoughts that adds to the realistic nature of the tale.
There is also a certain ambiance...A certain feeling throughout this whole story. The atmosphere is somewhat vague and dreamlike, coupled with a nostalgic sense, and a feeling of yearning for people, places and even the past. This dreamy, sad quality suits the entire story very well and only adds to the plot.
★ Art (3) - Unfortunately, this is where the good reviews go out the window. The art for this series (an award winning series at that) is extremely poor and badly done. The blank, pupil-less "frog eyes" that every character has are incredibly unnerving, creepy, and rather off-putting. Their bodies and clothes look like rough, sketchy doodles and the backgrounds look very lazy or merely incomplete.
The sketchiness and bad line art coupled with poor landscapes, and overall poor design make this one of the poorest artsyles I have ever come across in a manga.
★ Character (9) - You have the innocent girl, the bad boy, his good-guy pal who wants the innocent girl, and the sister of the dead girlfriend who wants the bad boy. Cliche and stereotypical, right?
This manga really deconstructs all the stereotypical cliches and "boxes" that so many authors place their characters into. Every character is given depth, meaning, different sides and perspectives, making them very three dimensional and understandable. While you may think you know a character, you'll see that they make choices, or act completely differently from how you perceived them. Characters you thought you knew make surprising choices, or shocking things are revealed about them which changes your perspective from back to front and around again.
These characters are carefully layered and even convoluted. Intricately layered and folded with sharp edges that can cut if not carefully handled. The beauty about the characters in this series is that they are not limited by what the audience wants them to do, but they live by whom they are.
And that changes more often than you think, making them all very interesting.
★ Enjoyment (9) - For those out there that are sick to death of immature, cheesy little Shoujo tales this is for you. This manga is very realistic and almost brutal in its deconstruction of a first love, and of love and relationships in general.
★ Overall (9) - This is a beautiful, tragic, and very understated series that I highly recommend for those with a taste for realistic relationships, and the heart to handle them.
This, most certainly, is not a series for everyone. For instance, this series does feature unhealthy relationships and the people who stay in them voluntarily. This has upset many people (including me) but then, that is the character's own choice and it is interesting to see WHY they choose to stay, or still love the abuser.
This series is for older, mature audiences, or those that can understand that love can be painful and dark; that it takes and wounds; that it chokes the innocence and youth out of life - that it scars and leaves behind bruises on the heart that even Time cannot heal.
Love hurts indeed.