Bitter Virgin: An Uninhibited Tale

by eternal on March 7, 2009


It’s an interesting phenomenon when a fictional story makes you figuratively cringe with pain. No, not the kind of cringing that seems to so often occur while watching the likes of Akikan or hundredth filler episode of Naruto: I’m talking about a reaction to real pain, pain that goes beyond 22 minutes of poor animation.

Bitter Virgin, however, is not entirely about pain. It’s as much a dark story as it is a hopeful one, and it juxtaposes an improbable cruelty with an equally improbable shoujo romance in a manner that’s somewhat plausible – and most importantly, effective. It isn’t without its flaws, but looking back, this simple four volume manga series invoked more emotion – and more dark emotion – from me than a fictional story has for a long, long time.

The premise of Bitter Virgin is enough to make most any reader feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it hits harder depending on gender or “experience” in anime fandom, but I don’t imagine that very many of you could read a story like this without feeling something. And if you’re expecting a dark setup that quickly sugar-coats itself with vague metaphors and stereotypical shoujo-style blushing and flowery backgrounds, then you’re in for a surprise. I don’t believe there was any shortage of said flowery backgrounds, but undoubtedly, the series does not hold anything back.

Right from the get-go, Bitter Virgin strikes with everything a fan of the genre could want, and then some. I’d assume that it fits somewhere awkwardly between shoujo and seinen, but forgetting about the target demographics, anyone with a bit of common sense would know what to expect from a series like this: blushing, vague words, unspoken feelings, and more blushing. The characters act their parts well, delivering what could at least be an entertaining school romance, and there were a couple times in the first volume where I felt that oh-so-familiar heartwarming sensation that good shoujo always seems to bring.

And speaking of heartwarming, that’s exactly what makes Bitter Virgin so unique: it’s not just a twisted recount of a young girl’s tragedy. It simultaneously covers Aikawa’s past, portrayed from her perspective as well as Suwa’s, and her blossoming romance with the one man that she wasn’t afraid of. It’s difficult to describe, but it shouldn’t take any more than a few chapters to convey the feelings of the writer – the story is neither darkly-themed seinen nor fluffy shoujo, because it’s both.

However, this is where the series’ only real disappointment lies: the strength of the beginning.

bitter-virginAikawa’s innocent character design does a good job of playing with the reader’s mind and his/her knowledge of her past.

To me, Bitter Virgin’s appeal was all in the premise. It’s a story that makes you think, that made me think about things that I altogether avoid, and it constantly hits the reader with “reality checks” that remind you that life doesn’t always even itself out. Some parts of the story might seem implausible because of that, but I wouldn’t fault it, because it’s necessary to drive the point home. The setup of the series is nothing short of brilliant, and viewing Aikawa’s tragedy through both her eyes and the male lead’s eyes lends the reader an entirely different perspective. It’s thought-provoking, often terrifying, and therefore all the more satisfying if and when things work out.

But as I said, those are the strengths of the premise – and because all of my enjoyment came from the setup, there wasn’t much to be found by the end of the fourth volume.

Frankly, Bitter Virgin seems to me like the kind of story that tells itself from the moment you start reading – the exact opposite of shows like KimiKiss that don’t seem to mean much until they’re complete. The characters developed, the main relationship underwent several difficulties, Aikawa had to learn to cope with her fear of men, and there were a few plot twists scattered throughout…but somehow, none of it affected me. It was all good, and I have no specific complaints, but the impact of the plot seemed to lessen as time went by, concluding rather abruptly without much change. I suppose it’s only natural since the story effectively occurred in the past – the only thing the characters had to do was work out their minuscule problems in the present. The resolution was effectively there from the first chapter, but of course, it took the cast 31 more chapters to realize that.

But complaints aside, the weakness of the ending was overcome by the strength of the beginning. It has probably been since the sixth episode of ef – melodies that I felt such fear at the material I was viewing (coincidence? probably not), and yet, the series does nothing to intentionally scare you. It simply presents the facts as they are, without sugarcoating them, and it leaves you in much the same situation as the male protagonist: awkward, afraid, yet still determined.

And this is where the manga’s strenght truly lies: its ability to punch you in the face with a story that’s neither blatantly crude nor pandering, and to make you realize what life would be like had you been in that situation.


When all is said and done, there were a couple moments of the series that irked me, the main ones being those that felt too unrealistic. There was one particular moment in which Aikawa found herself in danger of being sexually assulted while walking home, which was an extraordinarily convenient excuse to make her remember her past and reveal it to the viewer – and yes, you guessed it, it also gave Suwa an excellent chance to show off his manliness and save her from the Enemy. It remined me, in passing, of Welcome to the NHK, in which the existence of a conspiracy made it easier to direct one’s hatred; without a target, without an Enemy for Suwa to drive his fists into, how could the writer develop the story?

But that, much like the weak ending, was only an irritating blemish on an otherwise perfect picture. Bitter Virgin invokes emotions that are undoubtedly real, and not once did I feel as if the writer wanted me to feel a certain way – the story needs no aids, no astral projection nor angsty mech pilots, to make its point.

And because of that, I believe that it has thoroughly earned the position it holds in the hearts of many, many fans.


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric March 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm

An interesting disquisition. This definitely seems like something that would suit my tastes, and you did a good job at analyzing the plot sans revealing spoilers. For one, I actually read the entire post. I look forward to reading this manga, and even more so the possibility of a North American release.


biankita March 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm

i really liked this manga when i read it a couple of months back. it made me cry a lot. i’m not really into characters with too tragic backgrounds, but i like this one because it’s rooted in reality. but you’re right. the story is very sweet but the ending was kinda meh for me.


animekritik March 8, 2009 at 12:29 am

everything you said about this series sounds really interesting, but’m not digging the art in those pics.

animekritiks last blog post..Cats and Emperors


balance March 8, 2009 at 11:53 am

I read this manga a while ago, at first I was not interested because of the art like animekritik but the strange thing was that it was like in the top 5 manga being read so that got me a bit interested. As you get into the manga you would feel for Aikawa, and the mystery of her past. At first I didn’t think Aikawa was cute but then I started to like her and she has her cute moments. The ending was kind of interesting as how they have similar views about each other. It’s a good short read!

balances last blog post..Suzumiya Haruhi-chan – 07 & 08 | Nyoron Churuya-san – 04 plus Other Stuff


digitalboy March 8, 2009 at 6:48 pm

I read something like 8 or 10 or 15 chapters of this when it was still coming out and i enjoyed it a good bit but was subsequently disappointed by it. I agree that it is hard-hitting but… it just wasn’t enough. As you mentioned, the unrealistic moments weakened it. It seemed like the manga wanted desperately to be seen as ‘more than just shoujo manga’ but it couldn’t escape that category. I enjoyed it a fine deal, but I kept wishing it was truly as serious and gripping as it wanted to be. It’s kind of like a 15 year-old whose just come to grips with the darkness of the world writing a story about that darkness and how he hopes he can escape it, but before he’s matured enough to really understand darkness or how the world and emotions work. I think the series’ strength is in it’s emotional honesty and great desire to bring happiness to it’s characters who have been put through hell – from the beginning, the manga desperately desires the safety of people who have been tormented – but the perspective is just a bit immature. I’d say it definitely gets credit and entertainment value, but doesn’t exist as a down-to-earth, dark tale, which is a little more of what I wanted. I think this manga is probably most comperable to the likes of Elfen Lied or Iriya no Sora UFO no Natsu, which are a very romanticized vision of human darkness, rather than a more realistic one like Nana or Now and Then Here and There.

digitalboys last blog post..Stop! Hibari-kun! Old School Trap Anime


Phlogistique March 12, 2009 at 6:26 pm

> It seemed like the manga wanted desperately to be seen as ‘more than
> just shoujo manga’ but it couldn’t escape that category
Too bad it’s not a shoujo manga.

Phlogistiques last blog post..Phlogistique: @Smankh I can’t manage to work with music. (nor can I do it while listening to the #hadopi debate) Am I a strange human being?


Blowfish March 17, 2009 at 8:16 am

Back when I started to read the Manga i was drawn in by the setup aswell and like you said therein lies the problem.Everything already happened and all thats left to do is solve the mystery behind her behavior.Besides some shortcomings i still enjoyed this manga very much.
Its a shame that we have to rely on Scanlators like Solaris to read great Manga like this while the next mediocre shonen/ecchi Manga gets licensed without a second thought.I wish Publishers would risk more from time to time

Blowfishs last blog post..Speaker Girl Kanaru


Aydz June 22, 2009 at 2:42 am

Well, a manga. I certainly did not expect to find that. Well it’s something I can speak out actively on I guess.

I have to say Bitter Virgin was not a story that required an emotional investment from me unlike other titles. For one thing the main *tragedy* used by the mangaka (and I’ve read the mangaka’s other more recent works) is something that requires great skill to be used correctly. The secondary one, redeemed it somewhat but I believe experiencing something makes writing about it that much easier and the author had apparently just gone through that and decided to write the story.

Secondly, the art was not more than above average at portraying emotions, thus limiting what feelings and atmosphere can be conveyed. Background detail was none-existant, or re-used. Characters were not *real*. If the characters themselves aren’t realistic then how can such a slice-of-life story work?

It’s been a while since I’ve read it and because it wasn’t good, nor bad but merely mediocre as a romantic tragedy I don’t really remember the details. Basically what I wanted to say is: how did you fall for this?


ETERNAL July 27, 2009 at 5:27 pm

I think a lot of my enjoyment came from the punch to the gut that the story began with. When a storyline forces you into its world (which is usually a bad thing, mind you), it’s sometimes hard to ignore any possible faults in the characters since you’re too preoccupied with the tragedy right in front of you. That’s pretty much how Key anime and some similar VNs work if your suspension of disbelief can hold through: you realize that the characters are hollow, but it doesn’t bother you that much because it’s too hard to ignore what’s right front of you. Of course, the opposite can also happen, which would probably lead you to hate the story.

For me, in retrospect, I’m not quite sure what to make of the characters; their actions were interesting in some ways, but I don’t think I ever fully connected with them. Instead, I connected with their pain, and that’s probably why I enjoyed it: because my suspension of disbelief wasn’t broken by their actions, and the storyline was too much for me to call it shallow, regardless of the characters.


Alyssa July 1, 2009 at 1:53 am

I just finished reading Bitter Virgin and googled it because I wanted to hear other opinions. You seem to have pretty much covered every base when it comes to this manga, and I mostly agree with you. However, I thought that the ending was totally appropriate and fulfilling. This wasn’t an epic or an adventure, and it didn’t have a major plot; the whole point of the piece was character development. By the time the series was over, every single one of the characters had grown substantially, and THAT is what made it worthwhile. I really wish that the mangaka would have thrown out those little shojo cliches because they probably brought the quality down two whole notches, for me at least.


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