My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “Childhood Friends No More”

By Kyosuke Kamishiro and TakayaKi. Released in Japan as “Mamahaha no Tsurego ga Motokano datta” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Gierrlon Dunn.

Given that I’ve said how much I don’t care for Akatsuki, and how I prefer it when the series focuses on its main couple, this third volume was always going to be a hard sell for me, as it gets into the nitty gritty backstory of her relationship with Kawanami, how it changed, and her own personal issues, with Mizuto and Yume once again being pushed to the background. That said, it does a decent job, showing me that Akatsuki is aware of her dangerous personality issues and is doing her best to change them, even if she thinks of it as “wearing a mask”. And frankly Kawanami has just as many issues, some of which were brought on my his tortured past relationship but most of which are his own damn fault, and he seems to be as obsessed with his friendship with Mizuto as Akatsuki is about her friendship with Yume. They have a lot more baggage than our two leads, and I’m not sure they need to get back together.

The first half of the book focuses heavily on Isana Hagashira, who has now been rejected by Mizuto but oddly takes that as an invitation to be even more blatant around him, since she knows he’s not interested in her romantically. Essentially, she still has some difficulties working out how normal girls react around normal boys. And she’s probably not getting any help from the people around her – for one thing, Kawanami takes an instant dislike to her as she says she’s Mizuto’s best friend – that’s his job! The second half of the book gets into the backstory of Akatsuki and Kawanami when the group all go on a “study camp” sponsored by the school, and we discover, as Hagashira points out, that the “childhood friend” trope is something best reserved for fiction.

Explaining the backstory of those two is pretty easy, actually: they’re both latchkey kids who lived next to each other, and Kawanami was naturally extroverted anyway, so they simply grew together. Unfortunately, Akatsuki’s lack of boundaries proved to be crippling – we saw a lot of that in the first volume, and it creeped me out. Here we see Akatsuki acknowledge she was backsliding, and she really is trying not to get so obsessed with those around her (Yume as well) but the sheer loneliness that settles in when she does this is crushing. The intervention towards the end of the book that led the two of them to break down in front of each other is good for catharsis, but I’m not sure it will lead them to grow closer again just yet. As for Hagashira, she’s pretty hilarious, but I do think her shtick only works, as she knows, because of Mizuto’s lack of interest. As for Mizuto and Yume themselves… the biggest romcom thing that happened to them takes place entirely offscreen.

The anime of this has started, and the verdict so far seems to be “OK but flatly animated”. We’ll see how it goes. Till then, this remains a decent romcom but I wish we would return to our main couple.

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