Currently running in the Spring 2015 Anime season is a body-swapping series called Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches.
Silly sounding title, yeah, but the word on the street is that Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is well-written and avoids a lot of typical tropes you might see in a series like this. Even people who are pretty cynical when it comes to this sort of story seem to like, which got me curious… so much that I ended up checking out the first two volumes of manga (which just recently came out). Is it good?
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches Vol. 1 & 2 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and Drawn by: Miki Yoshikawa
Translation by: David Rhie
Ryu Yamada is a high school delinquent, who doesn’t really give a damn about school in any way, shape, or form. Urara Shiraishi on the other hand is a star student, someone who gets incredibly good grades and is always doing well at her studies, despite also being a loner. One day, Ryu stumbles down the stairs and the two of them crash into one another. Upon waking up, they discover that not only have they switched bodies, but they also have the ability to switch back and forth on the fly. From then on, the two soon find themselves using their new power for their advantage and meeting new people.
I am happy to say that the first two volumes of Yama-kun and the Seven Witches, at least so far, is just as good as people make it out to be; that’s a really big surprise, considering how a title like this could easily go wrong and end up a shallow fanservice style story. Yamada-kun is a very funny manga with a lot of heart and character that really all comes together in just the right way. There are flaws certainly, but the positives more than adequately outweigh the negatives.
Look, sometimes you just can’t just put down a good textbook.
The plot of the manga is far more character-driven than story-driven. The thing about it, so far at least, is that the story is pretty light and doesn’t have much direction. Sure, there are chapters where there are mini-arcs, such as Yamada trying to get funding for the Supernatural Club (long story there), and small plot threads that’ll play out in the background for a while but there’s not much here regarding an overall main story. The manga is pretty much just Yamada, Shiraishi, and others as the story adds more to the cast as they experiment with this body swapping ability and deal with their school lives. The manga does a good job of introducing the characters, providing necessary setup and changes to the status quo so things don’t become redundant, and explores the advantages and limitations of the body-swapping ability over the two volumes quite well. Even if the plot isn’t heavy, things are always happening and changing up so the manga doesn’t feel tired or slow.
With a comic that is character-driven and light on story, the cast of characters has to be pretty good. Luckily, Yamada-kun does have a great set of characters, who are all pretty memorable in their own ways. Starting with Ryu Yamada, he’s an enjoyable lead if slightly bland. He’s sort of your typical punk with a nice side to him you might typically see in these kinds of high school stories, but he provides a lot of laughs. No one in the school respects him in the slightest bit or even seems that intimidated by him; any attempt at trying to act “natural” while in another person’s body always makes people suspicious or notice that something is really off, and a lot of things seem to backfire for him. He’s also possibly the most normal and relatable person of the cast, always reacting and acting how a regular person might do if they were in these situations.
Of the main cast, Urara Shiraishi is the character who exhibits the most depth and growth over the two volumes. She is a character who is always intently studying away or reading books in school and doesn’t pay much attention/show much interest in the world around her. While she may seem a bit bland at first or even stuck up, there are reasons for her attitude towards others and even why she studies as much as she does. These revelations about the character do feel real in their own way and add a lot of the character, humanizing and making Shiraishi very sympathetic. She’s the most serious member of the cast, but is pretty funny with how she just goes with the flow (swapping bodies with Yamada for the first time doesn’t even phase her remotely) or reacts to certain events. Ultimately, I like her a lot and feel she is the best character in the series so far when it comes to characterization.
Besides these two, there are several other characters of varying importance, but let’s focus on the two other characters that get the most attention: Toranosuke Miyamura and Miyabi Itou. Miyamura is a member of the school’s Student Council and the first person to actually figure out Yamada and Shiraishi’s new ability. He comes across as the archetypal popular boy character, the one that the girls usually swoon over, but he always plays things very cool and calm. He’s pretty straightforward as well and rarely seems to be surprised or even react too much in the same way as Urara. His deadpan behavior leads to a lot of great jokes, like insisting on kissing Yamada in order to body swap with him. Itou is probably the most goofy and outgoing of the group, which actually has some reasoning behind it; as with Yamada, she’s not really liked a lot by the school and no one seems to actually think much of her. Unlike him though, she is bothered by that and it does affect her in some capacity, leading to why she ultimately has a freak out at the end of the first volume. She hasn’t had much time focused on her as the other three, but I predict that will be changing as more volumes come out and as she opens up more to her new friends.
Writing-wise, Miki Yoshikawa does a great job. The writing mechanics are solid, and the pacing and story structure are both strong. The story never feels slow nor does any part feel dragged out like I previously said. The characterization is very strong, with many good and also subtle moments that can say quite a bit about a character without dwelling on it too much (most noticeable with Shiraishi). The dialogue is enjoyable and the body swapping tropes are played with/changed up just enough to make them feel fresh. Again, most people notice when someone is acting differently or out of character, and the characters often use the ability to help each other out in the various ways (Yamada and Shiraishi switch bodies at one point because Shiraishi is sick and she wants to keep studying at school like usual). The only odd part of this series so far is that there seems to be a lack of witches. I don’t expect seven witches just to appear in the first two volumes, but I wouldn’t mind a hint of their actual existence in this book at some point.
However, the strongest part to the writing is the sense of humor. It has been a while since I read something new that was this funny. The timing is almost always on, so all the jokes, gags, and antics feel on point and never feel awkward. The personalities of each character are synergistic and entertaining, for example Yamada’s first meeting with the student council president and how much the guy seems to genuinely ignore or barely acknowledges his presence. The body swapping humor is excellent as well, like when Yamada and Miyamura are trying to show one another how to really act as a girl so not draw attention but all of their actions are so over the top and parodic of how a girl would really act. It’s a lot of fun overall and I could recommend it to manga fans on the comedy alone.
Oh come on. Telling people to piss is totally cool.
Yoshikawa’s artwork is also pretty good. The art style has a similar look and feel to Fairy Tail, which makes sense since Yoshikawa apparently started her career as an assistant to Hiro Mashima (the creator of that series and also Rave Master). The characters have similar facial features and body types in the style of Mashima’s, but if you do like that type of art, you shouldn’t have much of a problem with it here. The characters are pretty expressive and I do like everything right down to the little details like the characters posture being altered when the characters change bodies. The layouts are easy to follow, the visual humor and gags do often hit, and the tiny bits of action look smooth. Also similar to Fairy Tail, this series has fanservice, but it doesn’t get too ridiculous or over the top (besides one scene in the final chapter of the second volume). It’s more often than not played up for laughs or isn’t focused on too much, like in a scene where Yamada ends up in the girls’ locker room when they are changing and before he can do any potential peaking, everyone has almost instantly changed between panels. It’s amusing stuff and in general, while I hope the Yoshikawa will be able to find her own unique style or twist soon to separate herself better, the artwork does a solid and fine job here.
Is It Good?
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches Vol. 1-2 provides an enjoyable start for the series. While not plot-heavy, the characters are fun, the writing and artwork are well-done and the humor sparkles. Maybe because the creator is female, like some I’ve heard suggest, it allows this series to feel fresh or different than others that feature body-swapping. Even if that isn’t the case, this is a really entertaining series and is something that I definitely recommend if anything mentioned in the review sounds up your alley.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is available from Kodansha Comics. Crunchyroll has partnered up with Kodansha and is currently releasing the series digitally online in English, similar to the Weekly Shonen Jump magazine. The series has spawned a live action drama, an OVA, and also a currently ongoing anime series at the time of this review.