By Shimura Takako. Released in Japan by Enterbrain, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Beam. Released in North America by Fantagraphics.
In my last review, I noted that all the characters were just starting to reach that age where love would come into the picture, and wondered what would happen when it arrived. Well, that moment is here, and the answer is simple: a trainwreck of feelings and emotions. There’s actually not as much regarding Nitori and Takatsuki’s gender identity disorder here, but there doesn’t need to be. Takako-san has set up all the characters’ wants and needs in the first three volumes, and now can send them careening everywhere confident that we’ll follow along.
This is not to say that everyone is embracing these new-found feelings. Nitori and Anna’s feelings for each other, for example, almost read like they’re out of Bob’s Big Book Of Manga Cliches. Anna is clearly attracted to Nitori, but is still a bit weirded out by Notori’s gender issues, so this tends to come out as abuse. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting Anna to be as utterly tsundere as she is here, given this is a very realistic, subtle work. And Nitori is also attracted to Anna, but she’s sending all the wrong signals, so he just ends up frustrated. And then there’s Takatsuki to consider…
Sometimes friends fall out, particularly in the elementary school/middle school years. The tragedy of what happens with Saori is that she can see it – hell, she excoriates herself for it, quoting from Anne of Green Gables again – but still can’t help what her heart feels, and this causes her to lash out at Takatsuki. Meanwhile, Takatsuki’s relationship with Nitori is all over the school – there’s a rumor they were seen kissing, and it won’t quite die down. It’s getting to the point where Nitori and Takatsuki are starting to dream of each other… erotic dreams. Takako-san’s subtleties excel here, as you clearly know that we’re seeing wet dreams without there being anything racy or suggestive.
In the end, almost everyone ends up unhappy or unfulfilled here, which is not a surprise given the age of the protagonists. Saori seems to have shut down (the unwanted attention she’s getting from a male friend at church isn’t helping), and the others are simply trying to keep it together. The other friend in their little group, Sasa, barely appears, but it’s noted a couple of times they want to try to stay on an even keel for her – she seems to be the heart of the group. There is, however, one romance that does work out, and fittingly, it’s for a slightly older couple. Maho is finally able to get over her own shyness and panic, and she and Seya become a couple. (His own feelings for Nitori-as-a-girl are still an issue, of course.)
So another solid volume that really makes me love these characters even more. My favorite part of the entire book was probably a chapter where Nitori, frustrated by his sister, Anna, and everything going on at school, decides to run away. Not being able to afford to go anywhere, though, as the day progresses Nitori just ends up at a zoo. In the end, the day passes and on Nitori’s return, no one realizes he’s even been gone. Nitori’s imagination and emotions are further along than his maturity level, and it’s causing him great pain. Will middle school help to guide him? Can’t wait to find out.