Hajimete No Gal: A Raucous Manga

What?

I don’t think it’s fair to call Hajimete No Gal a romance manga, in the same way it isn’t fair to call it a “rom-com.” There’s an important distinction to be made; romance implies Shoujo, that is, manga marketed towards girls. Usually that means either mahou shoujo like Sailor Moon and Precure, or wistful romances like Fruits Basket or Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii. Certainly, this is not a Shoujo. The reason it fails to be a “rom-com” (and a second reason it isn’t a shoujo) is that the pair are together for a majority of the series. Like, this kind of together:

Hajimete No Gyaru begins with the main characters pairing up, and I think that’s why it caught my eye. I can remember being a young, lovestruck tween, rifling through shoujo and seinen romance anime searching, hoping for a series where the main pairing got together before the final episode!

Please note that this post is an update/rework of a previous review. If you’ve read that one, fear not, this one’s mostly new!

Hajimete no Gyaru

I originally found this manga by its anime. The art was nice, and the main female protagonist, Yukana had something about her… something so rare in female anime character expression; Yukana had confidence. This girl is overflowing with confidence, and confidence is key. The male character, Junichi is no pushover either. The author makes it quite clear, very early that he’s no stock seinen protagonist. He confesses in chapter one, and continues to impress throughout with his steadfast commitment and his inner teenage struggles.

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A note on the anime: It is nowhere near as good as the manga. They mess with timing, and axe most of the protagonist’s development in order to force an implied “harem” that never happens. I would recommend skipping the anime, and heading over to the manga.

The Relationship

This is the core of the story, so we might as well start here. Junichi and Yame’s relationship is… fairly realistic. I want to say it’s the shounen flip of the idealized shoujo manga, and the lack of stupid or petty arguments might give that thought some weight. However, I feel like it’s a step up from that. The relationship they share is something you could imagine existing in real life.

When they get together, neither of them expected it, and they aren’t sure what to do. They start off by doing what is expected, standard societal norms, like karaoke, a movie, and this…

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Arcade game, if you’re confused.

Then, later they do more interesting things, like a group trip, and most recently, a comicbook convention… comima I think.

The relationship is pretty stable. Junichi is initially bombarded with a couple of rival lovers, as if he suffers from harem-anime-syndrome. After a couple volumes, thankfully, these pretty much go away. Although, for the record, both are perfectly justified, and have a plot function. They show us the true character of Junichi; that he’s ultimately committed to his present relationship with Yukana, and that he will even stave off a nude childhood friend in that name. I guess we’ll go there next.

The use of Ecchi, aka Fanservice

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The fanservice in this manga can, at times, be fairly overt. The scene with Nene… in fact, both her initial scene, and her swimming scene are pretty blatant. But, I think it is very rare that the ecchi gets out of hand, or even detracts from the story.

Let’s use the Nene scenes as examples. (She’s the one on the far left, above.) Nene is the childhood friend of the main character, Junichi. When she meets up with him after so many years, and finds out he’s dating, she becomes immediately jealous, and uses her physique to try and sway him from Yame. Multiple times. Each time fails. The swimsuit issue actually turns into a bonding experience for the two, and shows us what their true relationship is after the awkward reunion; that is, they are only friends.

There’s actually more though.

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Yame as either doctor, or nurse.

There’s actually a positive aspect to this, interestingly enough. Like Oretach Ni Tsubasa Wa Nai (an anime I think I’ll have to make a review of eventually), there ecchi is used to actually aid the plot, somehow!

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Because the manga has the ecchi tag, the mangaka is allowed more liberties with the intimate scenes between the main pairing… and also with the main character’s fantasies.

I’m actually interested in what the writer will do with this… freedom.

There’s more. Since I’m here, I’ll expand on the point of the utility of the ecchi, if we can call it that. Fanservice is used very tactfully in this manga, especially compared to things like Dog Days’ season 2, or even Nozoki Ana, a manga I actually really like that seems to have a quota for sex scenes. Hajimete no Gal, after the first few chapters, uses their service license tactfully. It never gets in the way of the plot. If anything, it accents it.

“Realism”

There’s no way that Hajimete no Gyaru falls under the genre of realism, but it is realistic compared to other romance manga, with the exception of things like Saotome Senshu. The primary relationship is fairly rocky, but overall strong. The characters have realistic motivations, and realistic problems.

I’ll point out that none of their lover’s quarrels are stupid. Anyone who consumes romance will know what I’m talking about. Usually it’s either something small that gets blown out of proportion for no reason, usually due to a stupid misunderstanding. The other is when a character overreacts about something trivial or arbitrary. Both of these feel artificial, and neither of these are present (in this exaggerated form, at the very least) in Hajimete no Gal. Everything makes sense, or fits with the character, and it’s very refreshing.

The other thing is characterization. Both Yukana and Junichi are very well developed. They have believable character traits, and understandable teenage motivations. Junichi is low-key horny, and confused a lot, and Yukana holds a confident front, but within she’s just as confused as Jun. It works out great, and the characters reveal new facets of their personalities as new situations hit them.

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Sakamoto, Junichi’s friend

The supporting cast is quite three-dimensional as well. Yame’s friend Ranko has her own protective motivations, and a consistent personality. Junichi’s friend Sakamoto is consistently abrasive, as you might expect a glasses-wearing nerd to be. He’s pushy, but helpful, and I was surprised that the “initial derp friend of the MC” remained relevant, and actually continued to contribute to the plot after the beginning of the story.

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Yui, Nene, Ranko

The rest of the cast is pretty good too. Nene remains present after her stunt, mentioned above. Yui (the one to the far right of the diagram way up, who isn’t Junichi) seems to be a consistent rival/threat to Junichi and Yukana’s relationship, so her presence as one of their friends keeps up the story’s tension.

Humour

I almost forgot; this manga is laugh out loud hilarious—literally. I almost can’t read it at night.

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Wasted.

Bad example, but I’d rather not sift through the manga to find something… I recommend you seek it out on your own 😉 .

I’ll keep this section short, because I feel like explaining jokes ruins them. I’ll put it this way: I don’t laugh out loud when I read anything. It’s very rare. There are five things I can remember offhand that have made me verbally laugh.

  • Diskworld novels
  • Slayers, and Slayers Next
  • John Dies at the End
  • Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai
  • This manga.

I’ll let you be the judge.

Closing Remarks on the Main Characters

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The plot of Hajimete no Gyaru is, admittedly, not what pulls this story along. I think that’s okay, since it lets the main cast shine, but so far nothing amazing or unique has happened—aside from between characters.

The lead’s relationship is what keeps things moving. Junichi does more than just pull his weight. He’s a true second half in this relationship, whether his girlfriend is there to babysit his emotions or not, which can be rare in anime. Yukana picks on him, flirts with him, and tests him. She asks Ranko for advice and considers Junichi fairly when he makes an advance. (Although most of the time she turns his advances down. She’s not sure what to do in a relationship either!) Neither of them has been in a relationship before, it’s new and exciting.

Conclusion

If you like more realistic characters, a developed side cast, a good relationship that actually bothers to happen (instead of stringing you along for 24 episodes), and you like to laugh, check out Hajimete no Gal.

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Verdict:

To my surprise, Hajimete no Gal still holds up since the first time I reviewed it. It gets an 8 out of 10. I love it, and if it gets translated officially, I might buy it… when I’m not a student with no money anyway.

Mostly, I write stories, so if you’d like to check one out, click here. If you don’t want to have to chose one, I suggest this. Also, if you’re interested in a more in-depth, but less well-written post on the same topic, as well as ecchi and gyaru sub-culture, check out the previous Hajimete no Gal post.

Daniel Triumph.

You can follow me:
For updates: Facebook, and Twitter
for art: DeviantArt and Instagram.

Saotome Senshu, the Boxing Manga

After I caught up with Hajimete no Gal, I struck out in search of another romance manga, and I’m happy I did. I found Saotome Senshu.

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The champion and her trainer.

Story

Like many romances, Saotomi Senshu has chosen to lower the complexity of the story in order to focus on the romance. Let me tell you a secret. In manga, this is a game-winning idea. Most of the best romances have decent stories, but what they trade in for story, they gain in character.

The reason I think Saotome Senshu, Hitakakusu has a rating of 7.32 on MAL (as of May 2018) is for two reasons:

First, the two main characters get together early on, and their relationship has actual progression. You never feel like you’re being led on, or that filler is being thrown in for something meaningless—things found in other manga, such as the author being afraid of actually letting the main couple get together. This is notable for me anyway, as I used to watch a lot of romance anime when I was a tween, and the main pair would either get together at the end, or never get together at all.

Second, I’ve never seen a coach/athlete combo. Not just romance either, like, in anything ever. (Although, I guess I don’t have enough sports manga experience to really see it). Points for originality.

Story? 7/10*

Characters

And here we go. The main character is timid and shy. Oh no, you might be thinking, a cliche right off the bat! Well, fear not, he’s also dedicated, driven, and focused. Satoru is a huge boxing fan. He knows all about it, but he’s quite bad at actually boxing.

Saotome confesses to him, something I’ve never seen a female manga character do. And then they have natural relationship progression!! Augh! Finally!

Anyway, that aside, the coach makes Satoru into Saotomi’s trainer, so that they have an excuse to be together all the time. (Because Saotomi is famous, and you don’t want people talking, right? Honestly, I feel like the secrecy is just put in for tension, but I guess tension is good…) I remember there was a scene where their really pushy friend / manager Mito asks them what they’ve done together.

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Remember manga reads right to left

Sex? No. Kiss? No. Have you two even held hands?

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The couple just stares at her, proud and sparking like they’re in a shoujo.

Among all this, the pacing remains natural. They really get to know each other before they move to the next step. This manga isn’t like Akikan or Elfen Lied where they’re just immediately making out all the time.

Back to characters; Mito is fairly interesting. I think we all know someone who loves shipping characters, right? Well, Mito has shipped the main characters—but, she’s actually in the story with them. So what happens? Well, I think it’s enough to say that she acts on her ship. Mito becomes quite the orchestrator in later chapters.

Characters? 8/10*

Art

The mangaka has a fairly unique style. It looks like heI’m a huge fan. Satoru looks really shabby but entirely lovable, and Saotomi has a stoic, piercing gaze. Expression is top notch, with people like Mito giving us all sorts of interesting looks.

Also, it seems to be a trend among artists to not give their female characters (even warriors) any muscle mass whatsoever. I personally live by a very simple principal: if a character uses weapons, give her the muscles necessary to wield those weapons. (It’s similar to my clothing principal. A character should dress in a way you would expect them to dress themselves.)

Art? 8/10*

Enjoyment

Honestly, this might become my new favourite manga. Hajimete no Gal is great, but its release schedule is really long, like once or twice a month. I’m not sure what Saotome Senshu’s is, but it’s really fast. Weekly maybe?

Overall, if you like romance or boxing, or sports, or just a good drama, read Saotome Senshu, Hitakakusu. It’s wonderful!

Verdict? 8/10.

It might even get higher, depending on how Hajimete no Gal goes, and how this goes. Both series are just starting, and I need a lot more information before I can place a final score on either.


*Update as of May 2018

(Or chapter 68)

Old Scores
Story
Characters
Art
Total
7
8
8
8
Updated Scores
Story
Characters
Art
Total
8
7.6
7.1
8

As of chapter 68, I have a better grasp of Saotome Senshu. The story has more depth than I had previously expected, although conversely the characters aren’t as amazing as I initially thought. Sort of the reverse of Hajimete no Gal.

Eventually, I’ll write a fully updated review. Hope to see you for it Feel free to follow this blog.

Daniel Triumph.

You can follow me:
For updates: Facebook, and Twitter
for art: DeviantArt and Instagram.

Manga, Ecchi, and My Current Favourite

Edit: I’ve written a NEW review for Hajimete no Gal! If you’re interested, click hereOtherwise, continue reading.

Hey, it’s my birthday! Well, capitalism stops for no man, so here is your daily post.

By now it should be clear that I’m a fan of all forms of narrative. Specifically, I like series and I like concept music. The world of anime is not new to me, I was a huge follower of Japanese art during my adolescence, starting around the age of ten when I watched Bleach, and then age eleven when I finished all three Dragonball series.

Since my younger days, two things have happened. I’ve found I have far less time for TV and far more time for books, as I am an artist, I can pass reading manga off as “research.” Actually, aside from the terrifically paced Death Note (which I dropped after Near and Mellow showed up), I don’t really like manga.

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My Credentials

That’s why Hajimete no Gyaru stands out so much. It took me into a medium I don’t particularly enjoy, and gave me enjoyment.

What is a Gyaru?

What is a “gal?” Well, a gal or gyaru (what I will be referring to it as for the rest of this article) is a form of fashion based rebellion in Japan. At least, it started as a form of rebellion back in the late twentieth century. Now it’s mostly a fashion trend.

I took this from Wikipedia

Rebellion

Goth and gyaru styles blend well.

The Gyaru or Ganguro style originally came about in the 1970s and hit its top in the 80s. It shows a stark contrast to what was and still is traditionally fashionable in Japan. Like all cultures in the world, pale skin is valued above all. I’m not sure why, maybe I’ll write about that odd mentality in the future, as I am not pale myself, but instead a mixed person. Anyway, gyaru artificially darkened their skin with something similar to rub-on or spray-on tan. This darkening is less common nowadays. Black hair is nearly universal in Japan, so obviously, the gyaru had to ditch that too. They wear a lot of make-up usually, and certain branches go for a younger look, enlarging the appearance of eyes with liner.

Gyaru are considered both immature and also slutty. It seems that people assume that like other bleach-blonde girls, the gyaru are “easy.” This viewpoint is repeated in most of the anime that I’ve seen gyaru in, that they makeout as easily as they breathe, that they’re a good place to go for easy sex. Whether this is true or not, well you’d have to ask a gyaru.

In my mind, I like to parallel the gyaru style with the gothic style. They’re both looked at as odd in their respective cultures, and they both tend to group together, as sort of purposeful outcasts. Gyaru has heavy western influence, and so sometimes the two actually meet. it’s pretty cool, if you have tastes like mine anyway.

The Ecchi Anime

Ecchi is a term that just means “sexy,” or “dirty” in Japan. In western culture, it basically means “fanservice” or “tits.” An ecchi anime usually doesn’t feature any nipples (heaven forbid!) but will often show off 90% of a breast, most of an ass, and so on. Some Ecchi get really crazy, as plot generally falls to the wayside in favour of fanservice.

Generally, in a series like this, you have a beautiful and endearing girl with a face of pure innocence, paired with a worthless boy who is good at nothing and never tries to improve. That’s actually fairly standard ecchi/harem based-on-a-visual-novel fair. In fact, it’s so common that about 30% of these carbon-copy, worthless, self-insert main characters have the exact same name, Keita.

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Here’s a small fraction from a master list of Keitas. I underlined all the romances I could find.

I’ve watched enough anime to know when something isn’t worth my time.

The first sign is 5+ girls interested in one guy. Why? Because he never ends up with any of them. It closes unresolved. It’s actually just an ad for their visual novel, where you can go out with your favourite. (For those who don’t know what a visual novel is, it’s essentially a choose-your-own adventure/picture book that you read on a computer. Usually it features a lot of girls who you can have sex with. This is one of the reasons Japan has a NEET problem. (NEET stands for “Not in Education, Employment, or Training”. It’s a term used a lot in Japan, because it’s a real problem there. NEET was term originally used in the UK. (which stands for the United Kingdom.)))

Edit: Apparently the number of NEETs in Japan has been declining since 2015, so that’s good.

The second sign is if it’s based on a visual novel, again this usually means that it will feature an inconclusive ending that can only be resolved if you play the VN.

The third sign is the tags. Ecchi/harem is generally a great pair of tags if all you’re looking for is fanservice. If you want a romance, stay away!

The Exception

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The one true ecchi.

Very rarely is the nudity ever used to enhance the plot in any way. In fact, there’s only one case in all of the anime I’ve watched where this happened. Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai: Under the Innocent Sky used the fanservice and chaos inherent in the ecchi genre to enhance the atmosphere of the anime.

See, Oretachi is about young adults. The kinds of people who walk around filled with repressed sexuallity, searching for decent work, and joining small-time gangs. You know, things typical of 20-25 year-olds. The fanservice is either added as blatant comedy, or very casually and naturally. Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai is actually one of my top anime, despite featuring an almost literal sex scene (Which was really weird to be honest.)

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This is how it is.

Hajimete no Gyaru

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This is fairly typical anime/manga fanservice.

Also known as Hajimete no Gal. In English, it’s called My (Frist) Girlfriend is a Gal. So as you can see, our two main characters are fairly typical Japanese high school students, although one of them has bleached hair and dresses like a gyaru. Something else you might not have noticed is how unusual their expressions are.

I originally found this manga by its anime. The art was nice, and the main female protagonist, Yukana had something about her… something so rare in female anime character expression. Yukana had confidence. This girl is overflowing with confidence, and confidence is sexy! The male character, Junichi (not Keita) is no pushover either. Let’s talk about him first!

Hashiba, Junichi

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The face of passion.

Junichi is just a guy, and that’s what makes him so great. He’s not that tired whiner trope like Hope from Final Fantasy XIII, or some crybaby who contributes nothing to the adventure like Yuki of Mirai Nikki. He’s also not an unstoppable omniscient god like Sora from No Game No Life.

He’s just normal. He’s nervous about meeting girls since he and his anti-social friends probably never talk to them, but he’s not petrified. He actually builds up the nerve with some help from the aforementioned friends and asks Yukana out on his own. They meet up outside school, and after a lot of inner dialogue, he musters his nerve and asks her out.

Yame, Yukana

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This face is just condescending.

When it comes to personality, Yukana is more than just a pretty face and some tits (although, she is well endowed with both.) Yukana is confident, feminine, and friendly. Like, despite being a gyaru she’s actually pretty friendly. She’s also fairly condescending to the main character, but he’s no slouch! He can take it!

She accepts his request at the end of the first volume and they start going out. She likes shooter arcade games and karaoke.

Yukana also knows how to dress up, which is to be expected of a gyaru. Outside of school, she usually dresses in a fairly normal manner. The gyaru thing might just be to keep people out of her hair.

The Good

Hajimete no Gyaru is really awesome when it comes to the main romance. Here’s a breakdown of how romances work, in both eastern and western works of fiction.

  1. The main two want to get together, or maybe one is pursuing another.
  2. Something gets in the way.
  3. They get over it.
  4. In the last chapter they make up and get together.
  5. The end.

Well, Hajimete no Gal put step 4 at the beginning. They’re dating for most of the series. It’s great! Why has no one else noticed this? It’s so unique, I mean, name another series like this. Not where they’re chilling from the beginning, but actually actively going out and dating. Love Hina maybe? I can’t think of one. What does that mean? That means something unique is happening here, and unique is good.

The Bad

If I can think of something to put here, I will. For now, here’s a nice picture.

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This panel in particular stood out to me. Why? Because the main character thinks “health committee,” and imagines Yukana as both a doctor and a nurse. No stereotypes. Yame is whatever she wants to be.

The Great

It’s a brilliant, iconic cover. It shows that packaging matters. How ...
Jurassic Park level pacing.

Pacing! The pacing in this manga is impeccable! Oh man, I should take notes because this series moves so fast, but still gives you enough time to take everything in! It’s wonderful!

I actually caught up to volume three in one night! For reference, I usually read one volume a day, meaning I covered three times my normal amount. Why? Because I was engrossed. I can only compare the pacing to a Michael Crichton novel.

Awesome.

The Amazing

The characters are very realistic, they truly feel human.

Side Cast

Look, even the side characters contribute something. Even the smallest character manages to eventually gain some relevance. Instead of introducing new people, the author got a clever idea, one that I use in my own works. Why not have old characters do the things I want to have new characters do? Keep the pool of people focused, streamlined.

Honjo, Ranko

Yukana’s best friend Ranko? She’s jealous of Junichi because he’s taking all of Yukana’s attention. She sits in on some of their dates, and more often than not actively disrupts them by showing up right when things start to get interesting.

But there’s more.

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When Ranko realizes that she’s not going to be successful in breaking the two up, she changes gears. She becomes the badass protector of Junichi and Yukana’s relationship. (While still trying to drive them apart.) How? Why? Well, let’s take a moment to be rational. It seems that Ms Honjo has a very specific set of priorities.

  1. Keep Yukana all to herself.
  2. If 1 is not possible, Junichi x Yame is the next best thing.
  3. If anyone gets in the way of 1 or 2, stop them with physical violence or intimidation.

Ranko is essentially my type, so you go girl! Intimidate that poor deceptive schoolgirl!

Kashi, Yui

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This is the face of someone who’s been beaten at her own game.

This is your typical goody two shoes. The pure girl who the main character is destined to fall for.

 

Well, this isn’t that kind of story, so instead she gets pushed aside and resorts to deceptive tactics to try and force her way into Junichi’s heart! Does she succeed? Well, read the manga to find out! (Hint, no.)

Actually, she tests Junichi’s outer limits of commitment, and she still gets turned down. Then she tries to force herself on Junichi, and of course, Ranko comes in and saves the day, leaping in from… I don’t know, the sky maybe?

Sakamoto, Shinpei

... Ryuugamine from Durarara!! ) joins the cast to voice Shinpei Sakamoto

This is our ringleader, the catalyst. He’s the leader of a group of outcasts, the group Junichi finds himself in at the beginning of the story. Some might write him off, but he has clear motivations and a consistent character.

Actually, if it weren’t for Shinpei this story might not have happened. See, he was the one that forced Junichi into asking Yukana out. It was his idea, and he had to basically force it to happen.

Then later he returns to make MORE plot stuff happen! Like, don’t discount this guy, he’s serious!

Fujinoki, Nene

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I’m not a huge fan of this girl, but luckily her arc was short, and way less cringe-inducing than I expected.

Nene is the childhood friend who’s returned to claim her boi. And that boy is Junichi. She makes a lot of advances on him, utilizing handcuffs and nudity and taking advantage of the fact that she knows where Junichi lives.

In the end she claims that she will be competing with Yukana for Jun’s love. Yukana decides that this is both hilarious and adorable, and stops taking her seriously. Good!

The Endearing

Junichi’s Contributions

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Not once, but twice Junichi stops a girl’s advances.

He informs them that he’s already in a relationship, and he’s perfectly happy with it.

Why is this important? Well, consider the typical harem. The main character hasn’t (and might never) decided on a woman, and so he never blatantly turns down a girl. Junichi is and does. His greatest character trait is his resolve, his commitment.

Junichi does more than just pull his weight. He’s a true second half in this relationship, whether his girlfriend is there to babysit his emotions or not.

Yukana’s Contributions

Image result for hajimete no galAt first, for both halves, the relationship was sort of a joke, and sort of a test ride.

Yukana wasn’t conceited about it though, she regarded Jun with open eyes, and took it seriously when things got serious.

She dresses up for him, and keeps him at a fair distance. She picks on him, flirts with him, and tests him. She asks Ranko for advice and considers Junichi fairly when he makes an advance. (Although most of the time she turns his advances down. She’s not sure what to do in a relationship either!)

The Pair

These two are a great match, which is exactly why this series works. Yukana teases Junichi to confuse him, and Junichi spouts his honest thoughts to confuse her. Neither of them has been in a relationship before, it’s new and exciting. This is a prime example of young love!

The Human

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This is the gold of the series. All the characters, all the situations are so natural. They seem so real, it’s the kind of stuff that happens all over the world, with regular people. It truly is a slice of life, and I love it.

The fact that this series is so grounded, that it invites you to expect a cliche and then instead gives you a natural response, it’s just wonderful. As someone who’s seen over one-hundred anime and is familiar with all the tropes, I was both impressed and refreshed.

Conclusion

download (1).jpgIf you like realism, and good characterization, this manga is for you. I’m so jealous~!

Verdict:

Hajimete no Gal gets an 8.4 out of 10. I absolutely love it, and if it gets translated officially, I will be supporting this artist by purchasing the manga.

It’s demographic is younger people, so the dialogue and scenarios tend to suffer as a result. Despite this, I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I have to say that it takes way too long to come out.

I’ve finally written a more concise follow-up to this post!

Interested in a different manga? Try this review on Saotome Senshu.

Daniel Triumph.

This is where I read the manga, until it gets an official release anyway: http://mangafox.me/manga/hajimete_no_gal/