Hatsu*Haru, Vol. 1

By Shizuki Fujisawa. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Betsucomi. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley.

On first read, my general feeling on this volume was it was the start of a nice, but fairly typical shoujo manga. I’d been told at the start that the heroine had “violent tendencies”, but honestly she wasn’t so much violent as filled with righteousness. And the male lead who’s a bit of a playboy but who ends up falling in love for real for the first time is also something we’ve seen quite a bit. So imagine my surprise when I saw one of the final author’s notes , where she mentions her original plan: the heroine was a shy, blushing girl and the hero was a bright, cheerful guy. And the heroine was the focus. That’s when I realized that there are degrees of typical shoujo manga. Yes, Hatsu*Haru has things you’ve seen in shoujo manga before, but it’s not the default like the abandoned version was. Especially since the focus of this series is on the male lead, Kai.

Kai is set up for a fall almost from the very first page. He’s dating multiple girls, arranging to date even more, and enjoying the springtime of his youth. He’s got three other guy friends, and the whole group will likely make you think of Kiss Him, Not Me or Waiting for Spring. Unfortunately, one of his casual girls was more serious than expected, saw him arm in arm with someone else, and cried to her friend Riko about it. So Rika decides to solve the problem by beating the shit out of Kai. It works, but not the way that she intended – Kai is slowly, much to his frustration and unease, becoming fascinated with Riko. He has no idea how to deal with actual deep emotions, and his friends are trying to be sympathetic but also pointing and laughing a but. Oh yes, and there’s also the problem that Riko has a crush on a childhood neighbor who’s now a teacher at their school. That and, y’know, Riko thinks he’s a playboy and a jerk.

The editors were absolutely right, changing the POV to Kai helps the story immensely, mostly as he’s by far the more interesting character. Not that Riko is dull or anything – for all that she’s called a violent monster a lot, her actual temper seems to be only on occasional and reserved for those who deserve it. But Kai is the one who needs to change more, and we also need to see that deep down he really is the dhoujo hero we’d like to see. (We don’t see much of them, but I noticed he has a large family with nultiple younger siblings, which always seems to bode well for handsome shoujo guys.) And of course there’s also the matter of Riko’s crush, which he knows about. and the fact that Riko is hanging on to it even though it’s hopeless. He’s got a lot of work to do on himself and on the relationship he wants to have.

The series is shaping up to be about 13 volumes in Japan – it just ended – so I’m expecting a lot of subplots and probably a few side pairings. Another female support character would be nice in that regard. For the moment, though, enjoy Hatsu*Haru, a typical shoujo series, but not as typical as it could have been.

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