Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Vol. 1

By Sunsunsun and Momoco. Released in Japan as “Tokidoki Bosotto Russia-go de Dereru Tonari no Alya-san” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Matthew Rutsohn.

High school romcoms have made a big comeback in recent days. Technically, they never really went away in Japan, but like sports manga in the 2000s, non-supernatural tinged light novels in the 2010s were forbidden. The gateway has now burst open, though, helped by the breakout hits such as My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong As I Expected, Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki and Chitose Is in the Ramune Bottle. And we have the “sweet” subgenre, characterized by minimal conflict and a lot of “awwwww” moments. Now there’s a good chance that when a new series hits big numbers in Japan, and makes the end of year lists, it’s likely to get a license. And this year’s golden girl is Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian. If you are asking “apart from the Russian, what’s so new about this variation?”, the answer is not much, though it does have an interesting twist I won’t spoil. But the main goal of this genre of books, being sweet and relaxing, works just fine.

Alisa Mikhailovna Kujou, aka Alya, is our heroine. She’s half-Russian, and is a transfer student into a school known for academic excellence who nevertheless ends up at the top of the grade charts. She’s known as the “solitary princess” for her general attitude, which is standoffish. Sitting next to her is Masachika Kuze, who is… look, just read any of the other books in this genre and you’ll know exactly what he’s like. Seemingly lazy and shiftless, secretly plagued by backstory and works hard when no one else can find out. That kind of guy. In class, Alya treats him harshly, scolding him, reminding him of the school rules, and calling him an idiot. That said, in reality she has a crush on him, and occasionally says things to herself in Russian to blow off steam about it. Unfortunately… Masachika knows Russian.

This is a good book. Likeable characters, fast and breezy writing, some amusing lines. Alya is a kuudere who does not really take much poking to get rid of the ‘kuu’ part, and honestly the main surprise was that they did not end up together at the end of the book – I suspect this was written with a longer series in mind, rather than as a “contest winner” one-shot. Masachika’s “tragic” backstory is rather mundane, but that ends up working well here, and reminds us that most teens don’t really need much to get derailed from their dreams. A divorce, a childhood friend disappearing, a realization that being a winner means there’s a loser… it’s standard stuff, but fits well here. And there’s also a lot of cute romcom scenes, helped out by Yuki, a fun character who appears to be the “other woman” in this book but ends up nothing of the sort.

Basically, I get why this is popular. If you like the genre, read it. If you want fast progress or more compelling drama, don’t read it.

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