You know, this manga really is good.
Kodomo no Jikan (こどものじかん, A Child’s Time): student/teacher romance, child-psychology, and general school-focused series by Watashiya Kaworu (私屋カヲル). It is an older manga, a(n) (in)famous manga, and a manga thoroughly discussed. What can I say about it that hasn’t been said before? Probably nothing, but in light of the [Kickstarter Campaign] to bring the series officially into the English language, I figured I should try helping, however much, to support/highlight this series. At the time of this writing, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything really to help much if at all (it’s nearly over and nearly reached its goal), but oh well. I’ll still write about it, but what will I say?
How about this? I’ll try writing from my perspective on the series, and what I thought about it, rather than just trying to judge how it might be for anyone. After all, I followed this series just about since the scanlations started to when they finished, and my opinions on the series after that experience were mixed. Now that I’ve reread the whole thing for review, I have a very different opinion. I think it’s a smart, well-rounded manga with little to really critique at all (at most, coming down to small matters of preference). I guess I should give a warning that there is sexualization of both children and adults in the manga, as well as a plethora of dirty jokes. I won’t say this series wasn’t clearly meant to be provocative at points, but I will say that I remembered it as much more pervy/fanservicey than it actually was. To be honest, I don’t think there are many people who would truly take offense to the content in Kodomo no Jikan if they just gave it an honest read. Most of it’s just fine.
Watashiya-sensei started her manga well. Pretty much immediately with chapter 1 it’s easy to get invested in the series, especially since the iconic Kokonoe Rin is not the focus of the introduction.
The series begins with main character and newbie teacher Aoki Daisuke taking charge of a new class fresh out of school, specifically taking charge of a class of alleged rapscallions that drove out their previous teacher. Writing it now, that seems like a typical premise but this isn’t exactly like some standard film where a new teacher completely reforms a group of ne’er-do-wells. Instead, there are three specific “problem children” in the class, but the series begins with one missing. Aoki quickly becomes concerned when he finds hateful writings in the previous teacher’s materials and picks up on the distinct and regular absence of one student from the class. He also identifies who it was that “bullied” the previous teacher, and when he confronts this student he opens up the proverbial Pandora’s Box.
Of course this is that Kokonoe Rin I mentioned who will come to be the most important character in the series, but the focus of this chapter is Usa Mimi, the absent student who was mentally abused by the previous teacher. The chapter ends with Aoki basically going beyond what is the standard expected level of duty for a teacher and coming to Mimi’s home to speak to her about what happened. Thankfully, he’s able to heal her a bit and convince her to come back to school.
This is pretty brilliant for a first chapter. With just this, it’s showing that the main character will not only be concerned with one student, that a concern will be the school system and limitations of teachers, and that we’ll be seeing a wide variety of issues: like with poor teaching, with bullying, with bad parenting, and with kids who are far too precocious. And of course, let’s talk about that precocious-ness, and about the character who makes this series (in)famous: Kokonoe Rin.
For no particular reason, which is fine and rather believable, Rin becomes attached to Aoki basically immediately. Thing is, at best this begins as a crush that is mostly teasing/antagonism. Rin makes it clear in chapter 1 that she can’t really trust Aoki, and even a bit later she continues with hostility. Her overt sexual advances are really nothing more than childish nonsense…for a while. Because it’s “for a while”, when her advances later become fully earnest it makes it more obvious that her initial sexual harassment is mostly just playing around. It’s unsettling that this is how she plays around, but that mainly clues you in that there’s most definitely something to be worried about with this kid. It’s almost reassuring that later, when she’s really in love with her teacher, she’s prone to become embarrassed or demonstrate shame (keyword: prone, it’s not absolute). It goes to show that she didn’t actually understand all the sexual nonsense she and her friends would carelessly jabber about earlier in the series (or, well, regularly — hey, kids think sex-stuff is funny), it was just that — nonsense.
Her slow growth and, eh, “gains in maturity” over the course of the series also make her romance and love feel more legitimate and less childish, which is probably pretty key in whether or not you’ll accept this very classically taboo relationship at all. That, and how Aoki is obviously not physically interested in his students. He gets embarrassed by Rin’s forthrightness/due to his utter lack of sexual experience, but it ends there. It’s kind of like how Miman Renai justified itself.
Now then, about that title. I don’t think I’m going to be raising any alarms by saying “A Child’s Time” does not only refer to Kokonoe Rin, but is in fact a general title used to apply to several characters. I mean, I don’t think I have to say it since the manga almost says as much on its own, several times, but I may as well bring that up for some context. And, ah, for the record, the “children” it refers to aren’t only the students, but adults as well.
A lot of people have issues in Kodomo no Jikan, essentially being kids (or kinds of kids) struggling with growing up. There is of course the trio of problem children from Aoki’s class (Kokonoe Rin, Usa Mimi, and the previously unmentioned Kagami Kuro), but there is also Shirai Sae, Kokonoe Reiji, and Aoiki Daisuke himself — all adults “growing up”. Aoki is learning constantly throughout the series, being a green and immature teacher that becomes full-fledged by the end. The character above, Shirai, is an example of a person who had a bad childhood, the resulting issues of which were never properly resolved, making her a “childish” adult. She appears to be the most mature character of the cast, often providing a contrasting perspective to Aoki’s naive and idealistic views on teaching, but inwardly she’s fragile and has a lot of trust issues.
This versatility in subject matter and boldness to tackle them all make Kodomo no Jikan outright fascinating. PTSD, neglect, developing sexuality, coping with loss of loved ones, coping with loss of memories, children’s love, motherhood (as in, trying to accept it), nonstandard sexuality (specifically female homosexuality), feelings of being loved, loving too much, obsession, “parenting”, and forbidden feelings are just some examples I can think of off the top of my head that are addressed and thoroughly discussed in this series, often positing very levelheaded solutions to the concerns, not simply hand waving them with “your friends will always be there!” or something. There’s also probably a fairly high likelihood that you will be able to relate to something in this series, considering so much is covered. Kodomo no Jikan can be terribly silly, but when serious matters are at hand it handles those matters maturely and deftly.
To give my claims some support, I think I’ll talk a bit about Mimi, the girl who got pushed out of school by the teacher Aoki replaced.
Goodness gracious, Mimi has it rough.
Being a very smart girl who is derided for her intelligence by her mother, Mimi’s only initial “objectively good” trait as a person is seemingly removed. Her mother seems to only care about her brother rather than her, and though her father thinks differently he’s away from home for work so she receives no actual support. She is basically, subtly and over a long period of time, suggested to be utterly worthless, to be rude (since she is better in school than her brother, which her mother thinks would make him feel bad), to be foolish (for things she likes, such as certain books), and to be a slutty person. Now that last one, that’s particularly sore. Mimi begins the series as the most physically mature student in her grade by a mile, having a fully developed chest and eventually being the first among the class to have her period. She begins very self-conscious (despite her much more shameless friends), but over time she is able to gain support and confidence such that she becomes proud of herself somewhat. As she’s experiencing this self-improvement, while still in elementary school, she gets molested on the train. Naturally, her mother’s response:
Her mother is basically horrible, and although she continually makes her daughter feel like dirt/a mistake, Mimi tends to endure because she feels what she’s going through can’t be called abuse — if only because she’s fed and a roof is over her head. Her situation is tragic, and whenever it’s addressed things get thoroughly interesting. Now, take that weird but believable and incredibly screwy scenario and apply it to most of the cast and there, you have most of Kodomo no Jikan (the rest is school politics, which is also interesting).
So what about Rin? What do I think of Rin? Well, I think she’s awesome, but there’s so much to talk about this little essay would suddenly become a “Kokonoe Rin” essay instead of a “Kodomo no Jikan” one, and that would be disingenuous as the series is definitely more than just her, as I have said. I will say that I was surprised at how much the “romance” element of the series became a strength of it as time went on mostly because of her. To begin with, Rin seems more mature than other kids, and perhaps she even is, but if you compare the way she is in volume 1 to how she is 3/4s of the way through the manga, the difference is obvious. Earlier on, she’s a lot like a nuisance. Over time, she becomes helpful, her way of thinking becomes more intelligent, and her outlook on life and the future becomes more grounded. Juxtaposed with her classmates, she’s clearly ahead of the rest. It helps a lot that Rin is not “just” mature, too. It takes some doing getting there, with the assistance of others (primarily Aoki of course), and to begin with she is very much a child with her antics (both her sexual antics and some darker, more destructive antics she’s capable of — as evidenced by the notes Aoki found in chapter 1). She may talk about genitals and sexual acts an awful lot but really, through and through she possesses a very innocent heart and mind. Really, I am impressed I can say that at all since it would have been very easy to fail with her portrayal. With Rin, Watashiya-sensei succeeded splendidly.
The only character I haven’t discussed yet (that I feel I can, at least) is Kuro, but Kuro kind of regularly threw me for a loop despite regularly acting in very expected ways. She’s a rich girl with a crush on Rin, but there ends up being quite a bit to her up to the very end. A very adorable character, though also cantankerous. Her…let’s call it “rapport” with Aoki also never really gets old.
And…I don’t believe I have much else that I can say. Like with Joou-sama no Eshi, Watashiya-sensei did as she pleased with this manga, from the content itself to the way the content is presented. When I read the series as it came out, I found this to be horribly frustrating. I thought the series was confused and couldn’t get a handle on itself, or that Watashiya wasn’t focusing when she should have been. I would forget details between chapters and by the end came away disinterested in one third of the ending events, baffled by another, and pleased with only the remainder. However, reading it start to finish, I feel I shouldn’t have had any problems at all so long as I was paying even the slightest amount of attention. Furthermore, like I said earlier, I also found the series to be much less obviously fanservice-y than I remembered. Basically, I came away from the series this second time thinking “wow, that was really good”. I laughed, I cried, I felt moved and intrigued — all that jazz. I look back at so many years ago, when this series was horribly controversial and was pulled from publishing in the West, and I think “wow, that was really full of shit”. The outcry was blown far and away out of proportion. Don’t get me wrong, the lewdness exists, but I think what I ultimately have to say is that “if you’ve got a problem with it, that’s more a problem with yourself”. After all, kids do say and do the damnedest things (innocent and foolish as they are), and really it’s up to adults to recognize when they’re going the wrong way and to steer them right. I won’t say that ultimately that’s what this manga is “about”, but it’s one of the several messages very clearly there, and if you don’t read it those messages will go on unknown, which is a shame. This series has a lot of good things to say and is heartfelt in how it says them. It’s also just an entertaining series, a satisfying romance, and an overall well done examination of elementary school as a whole. Whoever you are, you really ought to read this.
Seems you’ll be able to do that somewhat soonish in an official capacity. Until then you may care to suit yourselves with the bound volumes from Japan via Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan,. Now then, thank you for reading. Head’s up: taking off next week.
Watashiya Kaworu’s Bookwalker author page: [link]
Joou-sama no Eshi