May 2, 2022
By Jeannette Ng.
Amane Mizuno is utterly, giddily, deliriously in love with Mitsuhide Katou. She sits next to him in class and despite a debilitating case of Resting Bitch Face and chronic shyness, she is managing to eke out the occasional morning greeting.
Despite her titular “sanpaku eyes” (literally, three whites) and an absolutely roller-coaster ride of emotions exhibited primarily through vividly coloured blushes, things are going as well as can be expected.
The Girl with the Sanpaku Eyes by Shunsuke Sorato is a gossamer-light marshmallow of a manga about a high school girl in love. Her uniquely intense, confrontational gaze proves to be an insubstantial obstacle as Katou is himself also very much besotted and is only sometimes intimidated. It’s a genre I have a well-documented soft spot for and this very much hits all the expected notes.
For context, “sanpaku eyes” refers to eyes with the white visible above or below the iris. The term was dragged into English by George Ohsawa, a dietary philosopher who popularised yin-yang balancing your macrobiotics. He saw sanpaku eyes as a symptom of a suspicious, passive and fearful character, (and more importantly, something that could be cured by eating the right foods). In broader Japanese media, sanpaku eyes grant a character an intense, intimidating gaze and are often attributed to those with unrelenting focus, such as One Punch Man’s Saitama or Log Horizon’s Shiroe.
Which is all to say that despite being a shy, insecure cutie on the inside, Amane Mizuno exudes intensity and unintentional hostility. This disjunct between her outer appearance and inner awkwardness results in an equally unintended adorableness that is eventually widely admired (especially after her turn as Momotaro in the class play).
As a love interest, Mitsuhide Katou is very tall, athletic and a bit awkward. He has an open, goofy grin and an abrupt manner when it comes to expressing affection. He is charming enough as the object of Amane’s affection, but he can feel a little underwritten. We get glimpses of his point of view between chapters and much of that focuses on that awkwardness and adorableness of the two’s mutual pining.
The chapters add steadily to the supporting cast. Amane’s siblings are introduced quickly, both with intense sanpaku gazes and promising stereotypes of their own to subvert. They’re fun but there is decidedly a sense that they are here to seed future complications to the superficially straightforward and very much requited central romance. Amane’s ever-supportive friends, Miyo Takiya and Yui Kawamura, gain bonus chapters of their own romances at the end of the second volume, but for the most part do little more than further shove our heroine towards her crush.
The second volume sees the arrival of the school culture festival arc, the centrepiece of which is a chaotic and wildly unorthodox retelling of Momotaro (the not-quite-uttered joke being that the constantly blushing Amane is peach-pink the entire time). The chapter goes full Mystery Science Theatre as Momotaro recruits animal retainers with cute photo stickers of herself and befriends demons instead of vanquishing them.
The full colour printing of The Girl with the Sanpaku Eyes is part of what makes it. The deliciously girlish pink and lilac that its palette favours envelopes one in its own cotton candy world. The art is not extravagant in its detail, but it is exuberant and expressive, all scrunched-up-eyes, wailing mouths, clutching phones and blistering blushes. Compared to the much more convoluted plotlines of entangled love shapes, secret identities and familial interventions of similar high school romance fare, the plot can feel insubstantial, but equally that is the heart of the manga: taking you through every fleeting blush, embarrassed yearning, awkward smile and bubbling insecurity of this one larger-than-life teenage girl.
There is an undeniable essence of escapism in the sheer simplicity of it all. The characters are underwritten just enough that one can imagine one’s own high school crush in the place of Katou and oneself as the unapproachable Amane. The whole affair is all chaste and cute. In a different review, I described O Maidens in Your Savage Season as being an uncomfortable remix of my own experiences. In stark contrast, The Girl with Sanpaku Eyes is utterly divorced from reality as I know it, but that is why it brings a smile to my face. It is effervescent and whimsical, wringing every scrap of drama out of a morning greeting from a crush or exchanging instant messenger details. This is mutual pining at its fluffiest and least consequential. It is high school romance as one might want to have experienced, giddily, deliriously and very, very cutely.
Jeannette Ng is the author of Under the Pendulum Sun. The Girl with the Sanpaku Eyes is published by Denpa Books and available in the UK from Anime Limited.