Love Me, Love Me Not Vols 4 and 5

Love Me, Love Me Not Volumes 4 and 5 by Io Sakisaka

With the conclusion of Ao Haru Ride, I’m glad that the Shojo Beat imprint has another Sakisaka series running with Love Me, Love Me Not. This series doesn’t quite have the layers of meaning I was finding in Ao Haru Ride, as the love quadrangle in this series lends itself more to more of a chill teen soap opera feeling with plenty of slice-of-life elements that makes this a soothing series to read, even as the protagonists deal with plenty of romantic complications.

In the fourth volume, there’s the fallout of Rio kissing Akari to deal with. While Akari has been dedicated to putting up emotional walls since they became step-siblings, Rio hasn’t been able to detach from his previous feelings so easily. Along the way Akari has to deal with a boy at school who has a crush on her who turns hostile after she turns him down. Inui is around to help her deal with things, but Akari wonders just how much he understands about her situation. Akari gets self-conscious and starts avoiding Yuna, who is dealing with her own feelings for Rio. Really, the tangled relationships ensure that there’s plenty of drama to come. However, one of the reasons why Love Me, Love Me Not remains interesting is that the characters actually talk about what’s bothering them and evolve and change. Yuna calls out Rio for his actions and points out that he’s not being considerate of Akari, and she then messages Akari so they can have a chat as well. Being active in her friendships and talking to the boy that she has a crush on show how much Yuna has evolved from the shy and self-contained girl she was in the first volume of the series. Rio even comments to her that Yuna is “growing into the person you want to be” while he hasn’t progressed much beyond the person he was in junior high.

The fifth volume features that staple of shoujo romance, a festival! Rio is haunted by the fact that he had a dream about Yuna, which makes him finally start to be interested in her romantically. Akari continues to be intrigued by Inui, and she and Yuna engineer a double date to the festival. Out of all the main characters, Inui has been a bit of a cipher, occasionally dropping by to make enigmatically mature pronouncements and then moving on. I was happy that this volume featured a little more of his self-reflective moments, making it clear that he’s only steering clear of Akari because he doesn’t want to hurt Rio. I really like the way some of Sakisaka’s illustrations shifted to reflect the characters’ feelings in this volume. Yuna has a few panels of looking absolutely adorable, because Sakisaka is showing her from Rio’s point of view as he appreciates her more and more. It is particularly fun to see Rio in a somewhat tortured state throughout this volume as he struggles with his new feelings, since he was originally introduced with such a self-assured, flirtatious personality that was all on the surface. While the characters are all suffering through the foibles of teenage romance, there’s no question in my mind that there will eventually be a happy ending, which makes this a great comforting manga to read when I feel the need to de-stress a little bit.

Shortcake Cake Vols 9 and 10

Shortcake Cake Volumes 9 and 10 by suu Morishita

There’s around 5 volumes of revelations and drama packed into these two volumes of Shortcake Cake, but one of the advantages of finally finding out the truth about Riku and Rei’s relationship at last is that seeing the backstory and the emotional aftermath as Riku and his friends attempt to deal with their new reality inspires feelings of empathy in the reader. Morishita is adept at portraying a great deal of emotional nuance as the characters in Shortcake Cake start to puzzle out who they are and how their relationships are evolving.

The 9th volume opens with Shiraoka telling Ten and Chiaki the circumstances surrounding Riku’s past. It turns out that Rei’s mom, who was a teacher, adopted Riku after a student of hers left him as a baby in her classroom. Rei was a much-wanted child after a long struggle with infertility. While Rei’s parents tried to raise both boys with equal amounts of affection, Rei grew up attempting to establish his big brother bona fides even though Riku was only one month younger. Rei signed up for extra lessons in an unsuccessful attempt to get approval from his grandfather, who just seems flat-out emotionally abusive because he hates the fact that his daughter even got married in the first place. Rei’s resentment grew and grew, and when his parents died in a tragic car accident, he took the opportunity to kick Riku out. Shiraoka promptly took him in and raised him as an older brother. Aspects of Riku’s personality such as his sometimes ingratiating manner and desire to please but not actually get close to anyone are explained through the events in his past. When Riku’s long-lost older sister shows up at the boarding house he’s confronted with the choice of connecting to his biological family. The core of the story is how Ten and Chiaki are determined to continue to support Riku along with Shiraoka. While Rei has totally been a jerk, it is also clear that he’s lashing out in pain and unable to move on and find any kind of peace within himself.

One of the nice things about this volume is seeing Chiaki’s relentless overtures of friendship towards Riku and how he’s changed after hearing Riku’s story. Chiaki has avoided his overbearing older brother, but after seeing how Riku’s family broke down he’s decided to face his own family again. When Chiaki proclaims about Riku “I love him! He’s my one and only best friend!”, Riku says to himself that Chiaki is an idiot and Shiraoka responds “You’re pretty lucky to have met such a good idiot.” While Riku’s adoptive family might have been torn apart, he’s managing to put a found family together by finally allowing his friends to get to know him, and seeing this evolution take place over 10 volumes of Shortcake Cake is rewarding for the reader. While Riku goes on a visit to Chiaki’s family, Ten attempts to intervene with Rei. As this volume races towards a dramatic confrontation, I’m hoping that both Rei and Riku are able to find some sort of peace. Shortcake Cake‘s stories of found family combined with sibling estrangement make for a gripping story, and it is great to see how the core trio of Ten, Riku, and Chiaki have evolved together through their friendships.

Daytime Shooting Star Vol. 9

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 9 by Mika Yamamori

At last! I could tell by the cover that this was going to be a Mamura-focused volume and I wasn’t disappointed. I tend to always root for the second lead guy in Korean dramas, and if Daytime Shooting Star was a K-Drama, Mamura would likely be the second lead, but in many ways he’s so much better than Suzume’s alternate romantic option of dating her teacher Shishio. While Suzume’s been rejected (good!) by Shishio, she’s attempting to move on with her life, however she becomes distracted due to the fact that in their second year of high school, Mamura is being targeted by throngs of first-year girls. With Mamura’s innate allergy to female contact, this creates a very awkward situation.

Daytime Shooting Star 9

Yuyuka decides to take matters into her own hands in order to defend Mamura’s honor and proposes a plan where Suzume will pose as Mamura’s girlfriend. He rejects the idea, but Suzume becomes more and more irritated about the girls that are following him around, prompting Yuyuka to propose the idea of Suzume posing as Mamura’s girlfriend in order to get rid of the throngs of girls following him around. Mamura turns down the idea. When Suzume sees Shishio for the first time in weeks though, Mamura happens upon the scene and declares that they’re dating! when he sees Suzume being distressed when she runs into Shishio for the first time since he rejected her, he declares that they’re dating!

I was pretty delighted by this turn of events, with this faux relationship that might turn real. Mamura is clearly devoted to Suzume, and he does call her out when she’s dwelling too much on the past. I’m hoping that things move forward and she can actually experience a more normal high school romantic relationship? But I’m not holding my breath because the second lead guy rarely gets the girl. I enjoy Yamamori’s stylish illustrations in each volume, and the prospect of non-Shishio romance for Suzume makes me feel less of a general sense of creeping dread about the ending. In any case, Daytime Shooting Star continues to be an extremely engaging high school soap opera.

Blue Flag Vol. 3

Blue Flag Volume 3 by KAITO

Blue Flag continues to be an incredibly nuanced and introspective look at teenage life with an unconventional love quadrangle that shows characters intersecting in different ways, producing moments of self-reflection. As the volume opens Taichi has redeemed himself from a trauma in his childhood by saving a kitten from being struck by a car – only for his old friend Toma to break his leg saving Taichi. Toma’s stuck in the hospital and unable to lead his high school team to victory in the baseball championships but one of the biggest conflicts in this volume isn’t due to physical pain as Taichi’s crippling insecurity causes him to lash out at the people around him. Having an event that he genuinely feels guilty about causes him to feel even worse about himself.

Blue Flag Volume 3

Toma betrays his own feelings when Taichi comes to apologize, saying that Taichi’s life is more important than baseball and then attempts to cover it up by saying that Taichi is his best friend. Taichi is so used to comparing himself to Toma unfavorably that he’s not even able to really process this information, and it seems like his insecurity is preventing him from acknowledging the genuine friendship that Toma is offering. Taichi even lashes out at Futuba when she attempts to comfort him, pointing out that he’s only a means to an end for her crush on Toma. Masumi steps in to help Futuba process her feelings for both Taichi and Toma, but I hope in future volumes she gets a little more of the spotlight herself, instead of being a default teenage relationship counselor for the other kids.

Throughout this volume KAITO’s art portrays teenage drama and introspective moments with the same amount of facility and care. While there are plenty of dramatic incidents in each volume as the protagonists start trying to figure out who they are and what they want in terms of romantic relationships, it is clear to see that they are moving forward. While Taichi’s self-loathing is still ensnaring him he’s still moving forward in terms of having more of a genuine connection with other people than he’s had before. I’m hoping that these friendships help him feel better about himself and his place in the world as the series develops.

Ao Haru Ride, Vol. 13

Ao Haru Ride Volume 13 by Io Sakisaka

I have this issue sometimes when I really like a series and the final volume comes out, I tend to procrastinate reading it a little bit just because I don’t want the series to end. So the last volume of Ao Haru Ride has been sitting in my house for a couple weeks now before I decided to read it. This was a very satisfying concluding volume that showed the main characters settled into a relationship in a very adorable way that contrasts nicely with all the sadness and difficulty that they faced along the way.

Ao Haru Ride 13

Futuba and Kou are now firmly a couple and dealing with new issues, such as her wanting more reassurance about his feelings for her, and figuring out that while he might not verbalize his feelings as much he cares for her a great deal. As a couple with an established relationship they can even help out with Kominato’s extremely transparent plan to confess to Murao by agreeing to go on a double date that just coincidentally is happening on Valentine’s Day. While Futuba and Kou are plenty adorable with each other, the pain of the past isn’t forgotten, as seen in a misunderstanding when Futuba can’t find Kou at on the first day of school and is frightened that he’s disappeared again the way he did in the past. There were enough chapters showing Kou and Futuba in their new lives as a couple that felt like they were settled down with each other but looking forward to the future in the best way possible. The volume concluded with a surprise Strobe Edge bonus story, and it was a real treat to see those characters again. Ao Haru Ride dealt with teen romance in a complex way, layered with themes of loss and nostalgia that made it much more meaningful than the typical shoujo romance.