Takane & Hana, Vols. 8 and 9

Takane and Hana, Volumes 8 and 9 by Yuki Shiwasu

At 9 volumes in Takane and Hana continues to have story arcs centered on wacky shenanigans, but since those shenanigans seem to be prodding along the romance between Takane and Hana at a glacial pace, I tend to just sit back and enjoy the story.

Most of this volume is taken up with Hana’s realization that she actually cares for Takane, and stumbling through events like Valentine’s Day and dinner with her family while she’s burdened with newfound awareness of her own feelings. There are still plenty of moments of culture shock as Takane isn’t sure what to do the first time he encounters insufficiently marbled beef. There could only be so long that Takane could survived in forced poverty in the position of a mediocre salaryman, mostly because while he is an emotional idiot, he’s actually exceedingly good at business. His current company ends up creating more of a manager role for him, and he’s clearly moving up.

Takane & Hana 9

Takane’s grandfather is pleased with the success of his machinations to force his grandson to grow through vicariously experiencing poverty, but now he’s worried that there will be no time for Takane’s romance to progress. Since exercising familial authority through housing worked so well the last time, he decides to provide Hana’s family with an elaborate mansion to live in as part of a made-up “testing program.” They all move in, only to find out later that they are also required to live with Takane. Takane and Hana end up setting some rigid boundaries around their new living situation, but they aren’t rigid enough for Okamon. Okamon has been lurking on the margins with his carefully deadpan expression, but he hasn’t weighed in on Takane and Hana’s relationship before. I was delighted that volume 9 finally featured Okamon being more direct and also presented a chapter from his point of view. While Okamon may firmly be fulfilling the role of “second lead guy” so familiar in Korean dramas, and I don’t think that he represents a serious threat to an eventual resolution for Takane and Hana, it was a nice change of pace to get to spend more time with him in this volume. I’m expecting that Takane and Hana cohabiting in a mansion will provide plenty of antics for at least 2 volumes.

Daytime Shooting Star, Vol 1

Daytime Shooting Star Volume 1 by Mika Yamamori

We haven’t had a ton of student-teacher shoujo romances being translated here recently, but perhaps series like Dengeki Daisy and Takane and Hana have paved the way. Suzume has a comfortable, slow-paced life in the country. Her classmates are all as familiar to her as siblings, and she feels free to randomly ditch class and go up on the roof of her school building to stare at the sky. Unfortunately her routines are about to be disrupted, as her parents announce that they have to go abroad for her father’s work, and they are sending her to Tokyo to live with her uncle. Suzume ends up getting lost on her way to her uncle’s house and an eccentric young man wearing a goofy hat helps her out. It turns out that Shishio is a friend of her uncle’s and her teacher! This amazing coincidence isn’t terribly surprising. The contrast between Shishio’s mannerisms when he’s off-duty and when he’s at school is amusing.

Suzume initially has a hard time fitting in with her new school, but she makes a quasi-friend in Mamura, the boy she ends up sitting next to in class. He has a almost pathological reaction of terror in response to any contact from girls. She also makes a frenemy in the form of Nekota, a girl at school who sets up a fairly weak way of deliberately excluding Suzume from a weekend outing with her classmates. When Suzume realizes what is going on, she decides to charge in and confront the issue. Shishio keeps showing up at odd moments when Suzume is feeling down, and while she’s clearly developing a hidden crush, she has plenty of other things on her mind as she attempts to deal with adjusting to life in Tokyo.

Yamamori’s art is attractive and stylish, and I enjoy the varied way Suzume is portrayed, as she swings from being timid in a new environment, to cool and confident on the volleyball court, to desperately trying to cover up evidence of a girlfight. Suzume is an engaging heroine, and I’m looking forward to see what happens next as the relationships between the characters develop more.

Komi Can’t Communicate, Vol. 1

Komi Can’t Communicate Volume 1 by Tomohito Oda

I tend to be a little leery of shonen comedies, but I found Komi Can’t Communicate both amusing and endearing. I think in general I tend to have better luck with Shonen Sunday series like this one as opposed to Shonen Jump titles. Komi Can’t Communicate is told though the point of view of Tadano, a timid freshman who just wants to get through high school without standing out too much after some disastrous attempts to distinguish himself in junior high. However, as is fairly typical for any manga protagonist wanting a normal high school life, this doesn’t end up happening.

He meets his classmate Komi, who is held up as the class princess due to her beauty and aloof nature. But as he encounters her by the lockers and in the classroom, Tadano begins to realize that she’s not silent because she’s stuck up, she actually has a psychological condition that prevents her from talking to people. They find a fairly adorable workaround by having a conversation through writing on the chalkboard, and Tadano vows to help Komi achieve the goal of having 100 friends. This unfortunately means that Tadano is going to have to ramp up his own social skills if he’s going to serve as a friendship wingman to a girl who is having such difficulty with verbal communication.

I enjoyed the way Oda’s art showed Komi’s body language as she struggles to get through school, with her poses that could be mistaken for snobbishness or extreme social terror at the same time. She also sometimes reverts into wide-eyed chibi mode when something happens that is particularly alarming. In their quest for friendship Tadano and Komi meet Najimi, a classmate who appears to be gender fluid, but who is a totally social butterfly and the most popular person in school. While enduring the awkwardness of high school creates plenty of comedic situations, I thought that the first volume of Komi Can’t Communicate actually had a great deal of heart, which made it much more fun for me to read than a comedy that’s more mean-spirited. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Tadano and Komi at their extremely quirky high school.

Ao Haru Ride, vol 5

Ao Haru Ride Volume 5 by Io Sakisaka

One of the reasons why I like Ao Haru Ride is the way it effectively gets into the agonizing headspace of first love, where tiny decisions or comments made in a moment fraught with tension end up propelling a relationship forward or dooming it to the status quo. It takes some superior authorial skills to portray the inner soliloquies of teenagers as consistently sympathetic but Sakisaka has the chops to make the reader fully invested in all of these charged interactions. Futuba is still struggling with her feelings towards Kou, and it looks like things are going to go to the next level when he actually asks her out to a summer festival.

Futuba builds up the prospect of festival attendance in her mind, thinking it is a perfect time to tell him what she feels, but Kou ends up canceling and before they know it they are back in school. Kou seems more distracted than usual, spending a bunch of time texting on his phone. Ao Haru Ride is heading into familiar shoujo territory as Toma keeps popping up around Futuba, quickly realizes that she likes Kou, but still lingers around since it is clear that they haven’t started a relationship yet. While Kou isn’t asking Futuba out again, he’s clearly getting annoyed at Toma’s consistent presence. Kou’s distraction is due to his trying to help an old friend as they get adjusted at a new school, and any shoujo reader can tell that this is going to introduce a new ongoing complication to prevent Futuba and Kou getting together. Sakisaka is great at portraying the agony of the emotional calculations Futuba goes through, as she thinks if she hits on a magic moment it will be the right time to confess to Kou. Meanwhile, Toma’s keen observations of Futuba show her to be different from the tomboyish self image she’s struggled to maintain. While the plot points of summer festivals and school activities are well-worn shoujo territory, I’m captivated by these particular characters, with all their quirks and awkward moments.

Shortcake Cake, Vol 4

Shortcake Cake Volume 4 by suu Morishita

I’m growing more and more fond of this series. I enjoy the steady, slice of life way the plot unfolds, the great sense of place that is grounded in the boardinghouse setting, and most of all the silent moments between the characters that are filled with meaning. I swear, a 4 panel layout of characters from Shortcake Cake just glancing at each other would be a long drawn out speech about feelings in a less well-executed manga.

Switching back and forth one’s object of affections isn’t really anything new, but as Ten starts to reassess her feelings for Riku, Chiaki comes down with a severe case of second male lead in a Korean drama syndrome, where he basically speaks to Ten about his feelings for her in incredibly oblique riddles that she is totally unable to pick up on. Oh, the foolishness and frustration of teenage shoujo manga love! Chiaki and Ten’s fake relationship to fake out Rei gives her an excuse to dismiss his declarations of affection, which Chiaki conveniently times for when Rei is around. Ten realizes her emotions are shifting and thinks to herself that if she was reading a story where she was the protagonist, she wouldn’t like it, because the main character contradicts herself and is selfish. She thinks of her current life being “a bad book” but it seems to more like just what anyone would expect from a teenager not very practiced at friendship. Ten’s self awareness goes a long way in making her sympathetic as she attempts to figure out her suddenly very complicated romantic life.

Chiaki and Riku also attempt to negotiate the strange new undercurrents in their friendship. Ten starts a summer job and in a fraught decision, the trio decide to go to a beach together during their vacation. This volume very much felt like summer, and as Ten goes home she starts to get more clarity over her emotions. I enjoyed the way Ten is self-reflective throughout the book, she seems to be making a decision that will carry over to the next volume, but she’s put in a lot of emotional work behind the next step on her journey.