Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Vol. 3

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.

I must admit, I’m growing increasingly frustrated with this series. I really do enjoy the romance between Alisa and Masachika, which is cute. And I also definitely like the family drama that is Masachika’s backstory, as well as the “war” he’s currently having with his sister. So basically I like the rom and the drama. The problem is the com. This book frequently tries to be funny, and while the jokes sometimes land, much of the time it’s more annoying than anything else. Masachika thinks in otaku terms a lot, as does his sister, and the conversations the two have frequently deviate into bizarre and depraved topics. Which is in character. But sometimes it seeps into the main story. The entire hypnosis chapter was ludicrously bad, and I kept waiting for a deconstruction or reversal. But no, it was exactly what it seemed. The same goes with Ayano, whose gimmick is that she’s a masochist and constantly aroused. At least she doesn’t mention uteruses. This time.

We’re still in the race for Student Council President. One of the three contenders has dropped out (and is dealing with nasty rumors about dropping out), but the other ones are still going strong. Yuki and Ayano, frankly, have things in the bag almost certainly… but it’s the almost that’s the problem, as Yuki knows that with Masachika at her side, Alisa can pull off pretty much anything. Then fate steps in, as after working himself into a frenzy trying not to scream at his mother during parental visits, Masachika gets a bad cold and is bedridden for two days. This allows Yuki to force Alisa to try to campaign on her own… and she’s wretched at it. Can a now recovered Masachika manage to help Alya regain her confidence and give a suitably dramatic, powerful speech? Or is “powerful” not what they need here?

In case folks are wondering, no, she still doesn’t realize he speaks Russian. This is despite his Russian-loving grandfather appearing, which I was sure would spoil things, especially when he meets Alisa’s mother, and the fact that, at the climactic speech, he literally says something to her in Russian, which she interprets as him learning it specially for that moment to encourage her. I anticipate a big blow-up when she eventually finds out. For the moment, though, once you ignore most of the comedy (though I did laugh at “Dammit! I forgot I was human garbage!”, this can be quite sweet, particularly when Alisa takes the lead on their not-dates and Masachika allows himself to simply relax and enjoy her company rather than being… well, himself. As for Yuki, she’s deliberately playing the villain to get her brother to step up and try again, and it’s working, but I have to wonder what it’s going to do to her own life.

So this is a flawed romcom, but the dramatic moments are good, and the lead couple is sweet. Just… try to ignore the author being funny.

Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Vol. 2

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.

When this was licensed, I jokingly called it “The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Russian”, and my review of the first volume talks about this being in that “syrupy sweet romance” genre, but this second volume seems to have shed a lot of that, and it feels much more like a standard romcom now, complete with other potential romantic interests and a better look at Masachika’s backstory that shows it was not, in fact, as normal and mundane as I thought it was. Basically, the first volume was a bigger success than the author expected, o now we have to go back and make things a bit harder for our couple. Admittedly, given Alya’s deep embarrassment at, well, anything, that’s not too hard. The goal for the series seems to have changed as well, going from “get this tsundere girl to admit she likes the guy” to “get the guy to take up what he had abandoned and also kick his family in the teeth”. Which, yes, may include his sister, who’s happy to play the villain.

The last book ended with Masachika deciding to help Alya become student council president, and most of this book is about the fallout from that decision, as a lot of people have feelings about it. There’s Yuki, who is conflicted, but mostly seems to be happy that Alya has finally gotten Masachika to care about something again, even if it isn’t Yuki. There’s Ayano, who is Yuki’s maid (and used to be Masachika’s), and who is mostly comedy relief but also feels a bit betrayed by Masachika abandoning Yuki. And there’s Sayaka, the girl that Yuki and Masachika beat our for the student council in middle school, who is furious with Alya for using her looks and feminine wiles to steal Masachika away from the OTP. (Said OTP being his blood-related sister, I remind you, which is why he finds this so baffling.) Clearly there’s only one thing left to do. Debate.

This is decent. There’s one line from Ayano that I could very much have done without (I mentioned it on Twitter), but for the most part she’s an amusing “ninja maid” addition to the cast, and I hope she gains actual depth. As for Masachika, it’s now clear that his issues are not just “my parents split up”, but that he was the scion, and deliberately abandoned that role, pushing it onto his sister and adapting a “whatever” personality that everyone around him hates. Alya has been the only one who can really get him to break out of that, and he’s also proving to be the best thing for Alya in return, giving her confidence and the drive to succeed in her goals. (She too has a sister sacrificing things for her – the series is not ashamed to have its thematic parallels hit you in the face.)

So they’re a good couple… except they’re not a couple yet, and this series being the kind it is, I expect that won’t change soon. But will we have the student council election next time? If you like romcoms, this is solid.

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.