Shortcake Cake Vol. 5

Shortcake Cake Volume 5 by suu Morishita

I feel the need to preface this review by noting that there is absolutely no Rei content in this volume, for those readers who might have been hoping for that. What this volume does feature is plenty of internal anguish and teenagers just being weird in endearing ways. There’s something about the way that Morishita is skillfully navigating some familiar shoujo tropes that has me full of suspense about what happens next instead of rolling my eyes at the potential love quadrangle that is slowly being explored.

The volume opens with Ten still trying to sort out her feelings, as her feelings for Riku have grown only after she turned him down. Meanwhile, Chiaki lurks in the background, doing his best impersonation of a second lead guy from a Korean drama, as he makes veiled references about a girl he likes to Ten, with her not realizing he is actually talking about her. There’s some great paneling in the opening pages of the manga, when Ten is thinking about her and Riku living in the same house, the illustrations of them silently looking at each other interspersed with the everyday interiors of the boarding house underscore her quiet contemplation and awkward feelings about the whole situation. Ten continues to just be adorable all around, as she starts acting incredibly awkward around Riku and boisterously slaps Chiaki on the back and tells him not to give up on his mysterious crush.

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The part of this volume that I absolutely loved was when Chiaki comes up with a bizarre excuse to go on an outing with Riku, in an attempt to smooth over any issues with them both liking the same girl. They go on a random shopping trip, followed by some bookstore browsing and debating about UFO machine strategy. It really underscored how socially awkward Chiaki is, and if if I wasn’t rooting for him do to my general tendency to fall for second lead guys, the fact that he quotes from Anne of Green Gables in this volume was extra adorable. I’m enjoying the slow pacing of this series, and definitely recommend it if you are looking for a high school romance with more depth than the typical shoujo series.

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.

Shortcake Cake, vol. 3 and Ao Haru Ride, vol. 3

Third volumes are when I feel longer running series start to settle in a bit. The reader knows all the main characters and the ongoing story lines have been established. In the case of most shoujo manga, it also means it is love triangle time!

Shortcake Cake Volume 3 by suu Morishita

Shortcake Cake 3 opens with a rainstorm, and the unsettling weather continues to mirror the turbulent emotions associated with teen romance throughout the volume. Ten continues to be fascinated with Chiaki, while Chiaki and Ten are pretending to date to throw off the odd obsessive impulses of Riku’s brother Sei. At the same time Chiaki is feeling guilty because he thinks that Ten should be with Riku, even though Ten already previously rejected him. This all sounds like teen-age soap opera insanity when I type out a summary, but Shortcake Cake delivers this all to the reader with a level tone, interspersed with the slice of life aspects of the characters being thrown together in the same boardinghouse and having to deal with issues like fending for themselves when their House Mom gets sick. Riku and Ten have a few moments together where it is clear that he’s not yet gotten over her, as he casually asks what she thinks of Chiaki. This encounter happens when they are crouched under a table cleaning up after a kitchen mishap, showcasing Morishita’s ability to make every day incidents seem oddly intimate.

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Rain shows up as a background image to the panels where Ran contemplates this moment, thinking “It was as if he was saying all over again that he likes me.” Chiaki keeps his feelings to himself, and keeps pushing Ten towards Riku. One of the reasons why I like Shortcake Cake so much, is that this point I’m genuinely unsure of who Ten might end up with, and she’s not portrayed as fickle or uncaring, just a girl who is uncertain of her feelings. This volume was much more somber in tone than the previous volumes of Shortcake Cake, but it explored new emotional territory for the characters. I’m continuing to be fascinated by the way they influence each other, and that makes for an intriguing series.

Ao Haru Ride Volume 3 by Io Sakisaka

In contrast with Shortcake Cake, I am firmly convinced that Futaba and Kou are going to end up together, but seeing how this unfolds with the pressures of teenage friendship and Kou’s newly acerbic personality is what makes Ao Haru Ride interesting. The volume opens with Futuba dealing with the fact that her new friend Yuri also has a crush on Kou. Futuba cycles through a variety of feelings, as she wants to be supportive to one of her first real friends, but she can’t escape her attachment to Kou. First, Futuba vows to like other boys, but this resolution does not last long. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I enjoy about Ao Haru Ride is the characters’ tendency to get things out into the open fairly rapidly, so it doesn’t seem like there will be multi volume story lines revolving around people not talking to each other.

Ao Haru Ride 3

Futaba isn’t really able to deal with her feelings honestly, and attempts to come up with arbitrary tests like “if Kou follows me off the train, I’ll keep loving him.” Sakisaka’s excellent paneling makes a conversation near a subway platform look filled with dramatic emotion. Futuba and Kou keep getting thrown together, which doesn’t do much for Futuba’s impulse to bury her feelings to maintain her friendship with Yuri. One of the things I liked most about this volume was seeing Futuba, Yuri, and Murao bond over their romantic tribulations. Futuba is starting to piece together what type of person she wants to be and pondering how to be a good friend. This volume finishes on a bit of an emotional cliffhanger, so I’m curious to see what happens next.

Shortcake Cake, Vol. 2

Shortcake Cake Volume 2 by suu Morishita

The first volume of this series efficiently introduced the boarding house where most of the characters live, showed Ten to be a cheerfully blunt heroine, and hinted at an intriguing love triangle. The second volume provides more depth about the relationships between the characters along with some dramatic confrontations and too many flowers. As the volume opens, Riku is dealing with his feelings of rejection after Ten offhandedly asked if he liked her, and then turned him down, assuming that he was just being his normal overly flirtatious self. Chiaki quietly observes their interactions. Just when things are starting to calm down again, Rei shows up when Ten and Chiaki are walking home from school to issue the command “Be my Girlfriend!” Considering that his name for Ten is “Ugly”, she resists his allure easily, pointing out to him that he’s clearly never been in love. Rei is actually Riku’s younger brother, so his pursuit of Ten is more of a cry of attention than anything else.

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One of the things I enjoy about this series are the distinct character designs, but I have to say Rei’s almost feral facial expressions and perennial tired look make him appealing, even if he does have the emotional maturity of a baby squirrel. I enjoyed seeing how quickly Chiaki and Riku moved to help Ten out, even though she shows that she’s perfectly capable of defending herself. Shortcake Cake feels refreshing to read, mostly because many of the characters are in tune with their emotions and what they want. Leaving things unsaid or not knowing one’s own feelings are familiar shoujo conventions, and even if that will be happening a little bit in this series, Ten seems capable of handling it.

Shortcake Cake, Vol. 1

Shortcake Cake, Volume 1 by suu Morishita

I’m always up for more shoujo series, and Shortcake Cake starts off with a very promising first volume. The story begins with Ten Serizawa dealing with her daily 2 hour commute to school. She gets up early and naps on the bus. But as she hangs out with her school friends, she begins to realize that her commitment to the commute means that she can’t take part in after school gatherings with her new classmates, as she has to keep checking the time to be sure she’s able to catch the last bus back to her more rural home. Ten’s friend Ageha points out how much easier it would be if Ten moved in to her boardinghouse. Ageha sneaks Ten in one day after school (the residents aren’t supposed to have outside guests), and Ten experiences the hazards of boardinghouse crashing, like avoiding the house mom, tiptoeing past the boys’ floor. In the process she has a brief encounter with the handsome bookworm Chiaki, who dazzles her with his good looks and quotes Turgenev at her.

Ten sees that the boardinghouse is much more spacious and nice than she was imagining and decides to move in. She meets another resident, the overly flirtatious Riku. As Ten gets settled in, she starts getting entwined in the lives of the residents. She sees Riku gently turning a girl down who asks him out and points out to him that if he would stop flirting with everyone, random girls wouldn’t get the wrong idea. Riku’s ingratiating manners are looked on as odd by most of the boardinghouse. Riku starts falling for Ten, and can’t act like his normal self around her anymore. The new friends go out on an outing, and Ten learns more about Chiaki’s bookish ways and his reactions to his looks-driven popularity. Finally, a third boy is introduced, Rei, who wears traditional clothing and is drawn to resemble a blond L from Death Note. He’s given to odd insulting outbursts.

So a romance being set up where many people slowly fall in love with a relatively ordinary girl is familiar shoujo manga territory, but the situation in Shortcake Cake doesn’t feel artificial or unearned, because Ten is objectively pretty adorable with her Sailor Moon style pigtails and her quirky hobby of following along with radio exercise programs. Morishita does a great job with character development in this volume, leaving just enough mystery for the reader to become invested in finding out why Chiaki is so withdrawn and wonder why Riku is overcompensating by acting superficially pleasant to most of the girls he meets. The volume ends on a cliffhanger which shows Ten forcing a confrontation about something that most shoujo heroines would leave unsaid for 5-6 volumes, which instantly got me onboard for the rest of the series!

Morishita’s art features a liberal amount of screen tone, and her characters quickly switch back and forth between regular and exaggerated facial expressions. Ten frequently shifts into cat face mode whenever she’s being mischievous or startled. The production for Shortcake Cake sets it apart from other Shojo Beat volumes, with matte covers and a cute strawberry on the spine. There are some additional black and white illustrations for chapter covers included as a bonus in the back of the book. I can see why this shoujo series was so highly anticipated, and I’m looking forward to reading more.