By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan as two separate volumes by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.
This was the first series to be released after the end of the amazingly popular Fruits Basket, and everyone was on tenterhooks to see what it was going to be like, both here and in Japan. Of course, for various reasons it wasn’t actually released here till 2016, a good five years after it ended in Japan, so a bit of the bloom is off the rose. Still, it’s hard not to feel a bit of affection and excitement for a new Takaya title. After reading this first volume, I get the sense that she had a better idea of where she was going with this – there’s a lot of backstory hints dropped here that the author is content to simply drop and then leave alone for a while. I suspect it will reward a reread. In the meantime, we have the adventures of a determined girl who always seems cheery but may be hiding a deep sadness, and the boy she runs into one day.
I admit I did find it hard not to fall into the trap of “this is character X and Y from Fruits Basket mixed together!” at times. Sakuya does have a Tohru-esque sheen to her, though a lot of that is simply a similar “I will be happy and determined” attitude. I’m also thinking of Hijiri, who I will warn in advance is my favorite character. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but let’s face it, she’s Hanajima and Shigure mixed together, and there’s no way I’m not going to love that. A mask of sweetness hiding a deeply manipulative side but still basically a good person. We also get the male best friend with a crush that is clearly doomed (blond, of course, as the clear winning guy has darker hair – you win again, shoujo cliches). And Kana, Sakuya’s guardian who seems to be a deliberate step away from a Shigure sort – from what the story tells us, he’s a struggling artist, and many question why he can even take care of Sakuya at all.
Then there’s the male lead Chihiro, who is easily the most fascinating character in this first volume. And I will admit, not always in a good way. We first met him after he invited himself into Sakuya’s house by pretending to be her boyfriend, something that seems completely out of the blue. Later, when she meets him again (she sees him on a train that she just misses, and proceeds to jump off the tracks and run after it till she hits the next stop, which may be the most Takaya thing ever), it feels a lot more unstable and dangerous, and frankly my first thought was to tell Sakuya to stay the hell away from him. Naturally, this is when she realizes she’s fallen in love. The second half of the book, where he (inevitably) shows up as a New Transfer Student, is thus filled with incredible awkwardness, fake smiles and Sakuya freaking out – but doing her best!
Basically, Twinkle Stars is exactly what you want in a new Takaya series. If you’ve read her other work, there’s a lot here that’s familiar – not just the characterizations, but the plot beats and emotional responses. But that’s actually great, as she’s so good at that. Twinkle Stars is like getting a brand new blanket that’s as warm and cozy as your last one. Settle down with it.