By Yutaka Tachibana. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Melody. Released in North America by Tokyopop.
Having wrapped up one of my major manga obsessions in I Hate You More Than Anyone, it's time to start talking far too much about another. And what better series than a cute girl who finds herself falling for only jerks? Wait, I normally hate that sort of series. What makes this so different? Basically, two things: the girl is essentially upbeat about her life, and it's a broad comedy. These are far more important than they may seem, especially the first.
I note, as I do whenever I discuss this series, that I am talking about Tokyopop's shoujo romantic comedy Gatcha Gacha, and not Del Rey's shonen boobfest comedy Gacha Gacha. This series was probably never going to sell like Ouran or Vampire Knight, but I still say Tokyopop could have avoided a lot of hideous confusion and people avoiding it if they'd changed the title to something more Western. Gatcha Gacha (with a 't') ran in Hakusensha's Melody magazine from 2002 to 2008. Unlike Ooku or All My Darling Daughters (also in Melody), which are released in tankobon form under the seinen/josei 'Jets' imprint', Gatcha Gacha is released under the Hana to Yume imprint, and thus is still considered shoujo. Albeit more mature shoujo that what was running in Hana to Yume.
Honestly, though, this could easily have run in HtY in the 1990s. As Hakusensha tries to make its flagship younger and more girly, however, its edgier series head to either BetsuHana (home of Otomen), or Melody.
Its heroine is Yuri Muroi, a cheerful and cute girl who has just broken up with her boyfriend. Her 11th boyfriend. She's always dumped, and her boyfriends always seem to be the scum of the earth - gambling addicts, drug addicts, etc. Despite this, she tries to keep a cheery attitude, and her fellow classmates seem to, well, tolerate her. That is until she falls for Takihiro Yabe, a tall, bleached blond delinquent who seems to exude an attitude of cool and lazy. Yabe is not boyfriend material either, but his handsome devil-may-care attitude make him very popular with girls. Who want that slut Yuri away from their man!
Yuri's life does not get any easier, as she also has to deal with the Student Council President, Sho Hirao. He's a kendo clubber, and handsome, and studious... and has a reputation for hating women, mostly as he simply cannot control saying what he thinks when he sees them. He's socially inept when it comes to talking to the opposite sex, so everyone is content to admire him from afar. Then he sees Yuri, and immediately finds he has a crush on her. He's not sure why, but can't resist talking to her, or coming to her rescue when she's being attacked.
So the loose girl with the reputation not only is going after the hot delinquent guy, but has the hot President mooning over her! OK, she has to die. (I note that the mangaka does a very good job of leaving it open as to whether Yuri has slept with them all. It's heavily implied she has... indeed, the author in notes says she worried readers would not like an 'impure' heroine... but it's entirely possible that the rumors are exaggerated. The rumors are very T+ rated, by the way. "That girl has turned every knob in the school... and I don't mean doors.")
So far so predictable, and I admit if it were just Yuri and her guys vs. the school, I'd likely have dropped this ages ago. Ah, but there is Motoko. Motoko Kagurazaka, aka the reason this manga was licensed, and the reason it lasted more than a volume in Japan. Motoko is introduced as a beautiful tall leggy blonde. She's popular, she's good at sports, and the rumor is that she loves beautiful poetry and only listens to classical music. Yuri even sees a classmate confessing to her! And then notices the Motoko is not, in fact, paying attention to the confession, but is looking at the legs and butts of the girls doing gym outside.
Yes, Motoko is not what her reputation would have. A reputation that is quickly lost, by the way. She is loud, she is rude, she likes sports chants, fish sausage, and her general method of dealing with jerks is a kick in the head... followed by several more kicks while they are down. She also hates seeing violence against woman, and finds herself defending Yuri from some thugs trying to blackmail her into starring in some porn films.
Yuri and Motoko have the classic odd friendship beloved by both Western and Eastern readers. Yuri is short, cheerful, busty and dense. Motoko is tall, grumpy, flat-chested, and very observant. Despite Motoko's insistence on calling Yuri Lackey #2 (Lackey #1 is a bespectacled geek who knew Motoko's past from before), they quickly become close. In fact, Yuri quickly learns Motoko's tragic past. We think. Yuri discovers that Motoko's little sister died, and that's why she's always looking at young girls. So tragic... except, as Yabe points out, Motoko doesn't have a younger sister. But hey, at least now the rumors that Motoko is a lesbian are taken care of!
(Like Yuri's supposed sexual activities, Motoko's sexual preference is generally left up in the air. She denies being a lesbian several times, but never shows the slightest attraction to a guy, not even Yabe, who insists he loves her.)
Tragic pasts are a feature of this manga, and we'll be hearing more about Motoko's past - both more stuff she makes up and the real one - later on. In this volume, though, we do find that Yuri has two younger brothers but no mother - she died when Yuri was young. So she's good at cooking and the like. And what's more, she may have dated a string of losers, but despite this she did gain something from each of them. One boyfriend was a hairstylist, so she's great at giving girls makeovers. And at the end of the volume, she's challenged to a kendo duel by one of Yabe's exes, and she wins that by a clever but rule-abiding trick, noting that she learned some stuff from her boyfriend who was a yakuza. As Motoko notes, "She's a Frankenstein's monster of ex-boyfriend talents."
There's a lot going on in this volume, but most of the setup is there. Yuri loves Yabe, Yabe (claims) he loves Motoko, Hirao loves Yuri, and Motoko loves watching them be idiots. If this series were as earnest as We Were There or Black Bird, it might be impossible to take. But its broad comedy and over the top violence take the edge off it, and you just sit back and root for Yuri's life to get better. Which, admittedly, will require Yuri to get better taste in men. Highly recommended.