Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Vol. 4.5

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 joked on Twitter that after Agents of the Four Seasons (which was terrific) and The Deer King (which was sublime), anything read after it would always suffer in comparison, so I’d have to “sacrifice” a series and it might as well be Alya. Honestly, though, I think I’d have been ‘meh’ about this volume even if it hadn’t come after books that are much better than it is. First of all, and most obviously, my least favorite part of the series to date was the horrible hypnosis subplot in the third book, and so it’s not surprising that I greeted a short story that’s basically a sequel to that with numb horror. More to the point, though, the last volume was relatively disconnected to begin with, showing the cast on summer break, so I’m not sure why we needed another volume that shows the summer break stories we missed the previous time. Can’t we just get on with the plot?

The stories: 1) Sayaka and Yuki bond over their love of otaku stuff, but that also means they’re rivals; 2) A day in the life of Nonoa, whose facade hides a whole lot, and her underlings she has picked up from the bottom; 3) Alya and Ayano both suffer trying to cure their fear of spicy ramen; 4) Masachika and Yuki’s father gets home from overseas, and realizes that his son and daughter are a bit weird; 5) The cast try to clear up the “seven mysteries of the school”, which involves wandering around the school late at night; 6) Part 2 of this, involving Alya and Masachika getting “locked” in a gym storeroom; 7) Part 3 of the story, where we deal with Maria and Alya’s fear of ghosts, and discover that ghosts can be punched; 8) The story of how Touya and Chisaki met; 9) more hypnosis; 10) Maria and Alya go shopping for swimsuits; 11) the cast has a “guess who cooked what meal” competition; 12) the girls, late at night at the summer event, talk about love; and 13) Masachika and Alya, on the subway, discuss the kiss that happened in Book 4.

As with most of these collections, some stories are better than others. I enjoyed the “guess who cooked what” chapter more than I expected, mostly as it did not fall into the trap of anime cliches. Sayaka and Yuki being giant nerds was also amusing, though honestly we get that from Yuki all the time. Masachika and Yuki’s own father worrying they’re a bit too incestuous helps to show why the two of them have gotten away with hiding their sibling relationship for so long – people don’t want to pick the creepy option. And the final chapter was sweet and quiet, and probably should have been in the fourth book to begin with. Aside from the one I mentioned above, none of these were bad, but they weren’t essential – even the author admits they’ll never be brought up in the main series. It is a quintessential .5 volume.

Fortunately, Vol. 5 is next. Let’s hope for plot.

Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, Vol. 4

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.

There’s a short story volume due out next, but quite honestly, this one also feels a bit like a short story volume, detailing the wacky adventures of the cast on their summer break. There’s no real through line of plot except Masachika’s crippling self-hatred, and the cliffhanger is one I had sort of guessed, so for the most part this feels a bit disconnected. It is also the horniest book in the series, and this comes from a series that is already pretty horny. That said, it does have one of my least favorite things about light novels, which is the idea, held by both boys and girls, that a man having sexual thoughts is the same as the man doing sexual deeds. There are a whole lot of wacky harem manga situations in this book, and a lot of them lead to Masachika having an erection he’s trying to hide. And that’s OK. He’s a teenage boy. But it’s not OK for him, and he continues to consider himself the worst person in the world. It’s annoying.

The student council is going on a summer vacation to a beach house, but before that we have a few plots involving Masachika and Yuki being themselves. This involves a great deal of sex talk, a fair bit of sibling violence, and an amusement park visit where their secret identities end up getting exposed to Sayaka (who is shocked) and Nonoa (who’d already guessed). Oh yes, and Alya keeps coming over to Masachika’s house when everyone out to do homework, and so far… they’ve done homework. Which annoys her. At the beach house, we get bikinis, swimming, bathing, room switching, and a festival with fireworks, all of which are reasonably cute. Unfortunately, Masachika keeps assuming that he’s screwing everything up, and overcompensates to try to fix it, and ends up hating himself even more by the end of it. He ends up going back to the playground where he played with the foreign kid… who turns out to be someone he knows.

As is pretty typical in the genre, the reader ends up sympathizing with Alya heavily here, despite her accidentally getting groped when Masachika tries to save her from falling onto jagged rocks. (She even trots out the “take responsibility and marry me” chestnut, which I haven’t seen in quite some time.) There’s a whole lot of muttered Russian in this book, which Masachika understands but has to pretend he can’t, but really, she could not be more obvious. Even he gets it at the end of the book. But, as with so many other books in this genre, only one thing is stopping the two from being a couple, and it’s the man’s idea that he’s not good enough for her. To be fair, he has the trauma to back it up, and the scenes we get from his childhood in this book are as depressing as you’d expect. But it’s like eating a marshmallow sandwich where the bread is misery.

Next volume… won’t resolve this cliffhanger. Short story volume. Till then, if you like self-loathing and boobs, this is the perfect title for you.

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.