I was scared of I Am Here!, vol. 1. Looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, it looked like I was sentenced to the most banal shojo standards had to offer me. Even the description didn’t bolster confidence. I Am Here! is the story of middle schooler Hikage Sumino, so painfully shy her only outlet is a blog she keeps. She experiences life from afar, watching the popular boys like Hinata and Teru live an open life just like she wants to. As a boisterous person, I find quiet characters more annoying than relatable, so I wasn’t looking forward to this shojo trek.
It may have been helped by my low expectations, but I was very charmed by I Am Here!, vol. 1. The entire story is encompassed in two volumes, short and sweet. This first volume is about 400 pages, and gets through a lot of story. From the beginning Sumino knows that her shyness is a problem. It is one thing to be a quiet personality, but she has allowed herself to get lost in her own anonymity. She resolves, in a very quiet manner, that she will do more to put her best foot forward and connect with people in the real world.
Backing her play are her two closest friends, Mega Pig and Black Rabbit. Never having met them in person, the only ‘people’ Sumino talks to are individuals identified by their online handles. Despite being physically absent, Mega Pig and Black Rabbit are great supporters for Sumino, and bolster her confidence with every development.
It’s interesting how very little happens in this comic, but it still manages to hold your attention. A great hurdle for Sumino is asking a student to move from Sumino’s assigned seat. This is an event so small, that it shouldn’t register an emotional impact. It does, though. The author took the time and set the stage well for Sumino, you can feel her panic when bracing to talk to another student.
Since I Am Here! is a shojo manga, there is a boy that turns Sumino’s head. While he is a big part of the story, he is not a big part of Sumino’s struggle. Sumino resolves to be open on her own, and while Hinata encourages her, she never relies on him to fight her battles or to lead conversations with other students. She wants to improve because of him, a distinction I value because that is not always the case in shojo manga. Since this was the story of a shy person, I expected the lead to run sobbing into her boyfriends arms, or hide behind him, but Sumino is tougher than that.
If there was such a thing as shojo house style, that is what Ema Toyama uses here. The art is cute and serviceable in every way we’ve come to expect from a shojo. Sumino has the appropriate big and cute eyes, and there is enough floral screen tone to fill a flower shop. Another cue I was impressed by was the visual use of a sunflower. Its life and growth were directly linked to Sumino’s. Though that isn’t a great literary revelation, it was an added consideration of the authors that I appreciated.
Ironically, the story of Sumino’s inability to communicate is highly relatable. Though most of us probably haven’t been ignored quite as severely, the feeling of loneliness or the challenge of making new friends is something we’ve all felt. Sumino tries to figure out ways of changing her circumstances that if not educational, are entertaining for the reader.