Does Ogami like Komugi for her udon or for something deeper?

9781632363732_manga-this-wolf-boy-is-mine-1-primaryTitle: That Wolf-Boy is Mine! (Watashi no Ookami-Kun)
Genre: Drama, Supernatural
Publisher: Kodansha (JP, US)
Creators: Yoko Nogiri
Translator: Alethea and Athena Nibley
Original Release Date: August 16, 2016
Review copy provided by Kodansha.

Komugi Kusunoki’s new classmates can’t fathom why she’s chosen to transfer schools from Tokyo to Hokkaido; the idea of trading a stylish lifestyle for a more bumpkin home is the exact opposite of what they would do! Komugi explains the confusion away by saying she was forced to move in with her dad after her mother’s job changed her placement for a year, but she was also bullied at her old school and takes this as an opportunity for a fresh start. Having run afoul of some of her old classmates who believed in the “shoujo” concept of “No one can date the popular guys, they belong to all of us!” when she refused to censure a fellow classmate, Komugi is trying to be more careful now and avoid popular guys. Befitting a shoujo manga, Komugi’s new seatmate Yu Ogami is an enthusiastic, friendly guy — who keeps saying that Kumogi smells good! Just when she thinks that she’s found the cause to that problem — the udon her dad makes — then another probable reason emerges: Ogami is a wolf. Now that Kumogi has found out she is both sworn to secrecy — and she finds herself accepted by this group of Ogami and his odd fellows.

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It’s likely the “heroine is the secret keeper for a group of animals” reason that elicits most of the Fruits Basket comparisons to That Wolf-Boy is Mine!, but it’s the character relationships where there are the most similarities. Kumogi actually has a good relationship with her family, although she’s hasn’t quite connected with her dad given how many years it’s been since she last spend time with him, and she feels as if the distance has made her mother unavailable as well. The group of ayakashi haven’t gone into much detail yet about their own families; this volume focuses mostly on Ogami and the fox Rin Fushimi, but Ogami has no connection to his family left and it seems some level of distrust towards humans because of his abandonment at a young age.

At this point however Ogami still feels rather flat; so far his history hasn’t been sufficient to flesh him out, and it’s Kumogi’s internal thoughts which make her into a likable lead at this point. Having already dealt with mean girls once before, Kumogi is able to move forward when she’s faced with the same issues again, providing her with some closure. Hopefully her life won’t become so entangled with the ayakashi boys that her own family subplot is abandoned, but it does look like everything in the story will take a backseat to the supernatural elements.

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Yoko Nogiri’s art here is interesting. The character designs are a bit on the rough side (everyone has too-long necks and bony hands), but her paneling work feels well thought out and interesting. Panels are constantly overlapping each other, and another trick she uses is to hang the panel outline like a too-small frame around the characters, letting the art expand beyond the boundaries. This work isn’t as noticeable as it might be in another manga since Nogiri isn’t drawing flashy action scenes or anything else that would absolutely require this kind of animated paneling. but it’s rather nice regardless. Thankfully too, the gutters on the pages are just barely wide enough that none of the text bubbles or art spill into them, a problem on some past Kodansha works.

It’s a new Fruits Basket and not just because of the transforming animals. There’s a warmth to how Nogiri lets her characters grow and emote which truly evokes why readers empathized with Fruits Basket over a decade ago. That Wolf Boy is Mine! may function on a smaller scale but it’s determined to approach its story and issues with heart.