Manga Monday: I Am Here!

I Am Here! CoverI Am Here! is a five-volume manga series written and illustrated by Ema Toyama. For the English release, Del Rey published in two omnibus editions.  The story focuses on Hikage Sumino, a “plain” girl in the eight grade who is invisible to her classmates, almost literally!  No one seems to even remember her name, they don’t notice when she is in the room, and they most definitely do not notice how much she longs to be part of the ground and the fun around her.  The problem goes beyond school, though, with her shown having to wait hours to be served at a restaurant because the wait staff doesn’t notice her and she started school late because a driver ran her over after she ran into the street to save a cat and he only saw the cat!

Suffice to say, this near invisibility has left her with extremely low self-esteem and a hideous self-image. But despite that, she isn’t entirely alone. She loves taking pictures, and has a photo blog that has exactly two regular followers: Black Rabbit and Mega Pig. They are the only friends she has, and they regularly encourage her not to give up. Then one day, she is accidentally locked in a room because her classmates forgot she was there. Hinata, one of her class’ most popular boys, finds her and confesses he’s been watching her for a long time. Her online friends tell her it means he likes her, but before Sumino can fully absorb such a shock, she finds herself suddenly getting noticed at school. But it isn’t in a good way as Hinata’s fans don’t like his giving her attention and begin bullying her. Will Sumino be strong enough to stand up to the girls and finally find her place in the world, or will she withdraw back to invisibility where at least no one hurts her?

I Am Here! is a short, but well done series featuring well-rounded characters and some interesting touches in the story with Sumino’s issues being one that is realistic and heartbreaking.  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the series.  Sumino is adorable and sweet with hints of a great well of inner strength and a kind heart despite having been lost and alone for so long.  I love how the online exchanges between herself, Black Rabbit, and Mega Pig are handling, allowing two characters who are “unseen” to still have distinct personalities.   Hinata and his friend Teru make for an interesting pair, with both having their own reasons to be drawn to Sumino.   Overall, the characters are a bit stockish, yet still I found they were handled well and managed to have their own unique spins.

Of course, there is also the question of just who Black Rabbit and Mega Pig are and whether Sumino is really as alone as she’s always believed?  Being shojo, of course the story has a touch of romance in addition to examining the meaning of friendship and the “realness” of online relationships.  The translation is, of course, well done, which I’d expect from Del Rey.  I was mildly disappointed in the lack of color pages and volume breaks, but they did add translation notes, which is always a nice touch.  Toyama’s art is well drawn and the characters easy to distinguish even in the large classroom scenes.  

All in all, with just two omnibus volumes, I Am Here! is a good, low-cost shojo series for someone who enjoys the tropes and stock characters but also wants some fresh spins on them.  It isn’t as in-depth or drawn out as Say I Love You. or Kimi Ni Todoke: From Me to You, but it is wonderfully endearing and wrung some tears from me as I read through it.

I Am here! is available in paperback and eBook editions