The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend, Vol. 3

By Kennoji and Fly. Released in Japan as “Chikan Saresou ni Natteiru S-kyuu Bishoujo wo Tasuketara Tonari no Seki no Osananajimi datta” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.

There is a very famous meme in regards to the visual novel/anime franchise Fate/Stay Night regarding Shirou’s obliviousness towards any and all romantic affection from other girls, which has Rin showing him diagrams of sex ending with “Jam it in”, to which Shirou’s response is “ lost me.” Of course, the real reason beyond Shirou’s lack of emotional sensitivity stems from his traumatic past. Ryou’s past is not quite as traumatic as Shirou’s… despite the cliffhanger to this book… but he is another character whose obliviousness has more depth to it than the standard anime harem lead. That said… it’s been three books, and the solution to all of this seems to have been “add more girl” each time. I’m hoping that Ai Himejima may be the final straw, mostly as she brings something to the table that the other non-Hina girls don’t have: she is also a childhood fr9iend. And, apparently, was also in love with Ryou.

The book starts almost the same way the first one did, with Ryou rescuing a girl from a groper on the train, and almost getting in trouble for it himself. Said girl turns out to be Ai (aka Himeji), who is transferring to their school… in June, an odd time to transfer schools. It is, however, just in time to be part of the annual school trip, which involves lots of shrine visits and cultural education. Himeji is eager to reconnect with Ryou, and also reconnects with Hina, though she’s less thrilled about this. (Ryou finds himself thinking “they must be very good friends” in response to their constant arguing over him… again, this book requires a lot of patience.) Is Himeji going to steal Ryou away from Hina? Why did she transfer in the first place? And can Ryou please stop hating himself?

The main reason that Himeji is interesting is what she brings to the table: she was in elementary school with Ryou and Hina as well, and (as the cliffhanger points out) may have been far more involved with Ryou than he remembers. This series relies heavily on the transient quality of childhood memories, especially when you have a lot of upheaval in your life in between, and I wonder (but doubt, frankly) if this will cause Ryou to actually push back a bit. We also get a sense that Ryou and Hina need each other, if only as without him around she might end up in a lot of trouble. The scene where she tries to give directions to a “lost tourist” and is almost taken off to a dark alley somewhere is chilling, and fits oddly in the midst of this relatively fluffy book. Oh yes, and we get Ryou’s brother giving him condoms – again. She knows someone needs a constant ass-kicking if he’s going to get anywhere.

This is not really an essential high school romcom, but I’m curious as to how things will shake out. It’s not in the genre of “sugary sweet and conflictless” – the love quadrangle won’t let it be – but it’s the next level down.

The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend, Vol. 2

By Kennoji and Fly. Released in Japan as “Chikan Saresou ni Natteiru S-kyuu Bishoujo wo Tasuketara Tonari no Seki no Osananajimi datta” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.

This got off to a slow start but was definitely improving as it went along. Last time I said that this was what books like Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki deconstructed, and that was certainly true of the first book, but here we see the author starting to really look at the situation. Ryou is the standard oblivious, self-hating potato protagonist, but here we see how that’s actually hurting everyone around him – and hurting himself as well. Ryou has, by the end of the book, four love interests, three of whom seem to be along the lines of “did a decent thing in front of her”, which is also standard high school romance LN but reminds you how goddamn low the bar really is. And he’s actually a little more serious than most high school boys – he doesn’t feel comfortable returning anyone’s feelings until he understands how love feels himself. Unfortunately for the rest of the cast, this may take a while.

Our cast is in that most popular of years, the 2nd year of high school, and as such they have to deal with present-day concerns like the school festival while also trying to think about the future. Ryou can’t really imagine what he’ll be doing in the future beyond vague “college, I guess”. Hina, on the other hand, has a secret… and a dream. She really is far more mature and put together than Ryou, something that he dwells on constantly. That said, he might not be dwelling on it enough, given that Hina said she’d happily give everything up to spend her days married to him… and he didn’t react at all. (She was expecting him to at least push back on that.) Even a surprise first kiss cannot get past Ryou’s wall of self-loathing that he’s put between the two of them. Will a film project help, or just make things even more complicated?

I remain pleased with the relationship between Ryou and his sister Mana. She clearly loves her brother, supports him, and is STILL buying him condoms he won’t use, but there is not one speck of subtext between them, which is an increasing rarity in books these days. This is meant to be a realistic sibling relationship. The other strong part of this book was Hina. She’s been hiding her dreams of being an actress from the others, but it turns out that she has some serious chops. This leads to good and bad things with Ryou. Good in that filming something she can use as a quick promo video shows off his film editing skills, leading to a possible future direction. Bad in that he clearly puts her on a massive pedestal, and clearly the main reason he is not going out with her is for that reason. She tears into him for it, and her frustration is palpable.

That said, we get yet another saved childhood friend at the end of the book, and this risks becoming Osamake if it’s not careful. It can be difficult at times to deal with Ryou’s moping, but the book eventually rewards you.

The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend, Vol. 1

By Kennoji and Fly. Released in Japan as “Chikan Saresou ni Natteiru S-kyuu Bishoujo wo Tasuketara Tonari no Seki no Osananajimi datta” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.

I have not read the two other series that this author has out in English. Hazure Skill and Drugstore in Another World are both in genres that I’m gradually trying to read less of. But ‘syrupy sweet high school romance’ is still a relatively new genre in English-translated light novels. Honestly, the marketplace changes a lot these days, and yesterday’s down and outs are today’s up and comers. Remember 15 years ago when we all said sports manga was impossible to license? Even just five years ago I was saying that you couldn’t get a LN title licensed unless it had some sort of fantasy or supernatural plotline in it. But now here we are. That said, to be honest I picked this up because of the artist. Fly is best known here for Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, and this is in the same basic genre. That said, the two books are doing different things. Tomozaki is a deconstruction. This book is what it deconstructs.

Ryou is a typical light novel romance protagonist: nondescript, doesn’t have many friends, school skipper, thinks of himself in terrible ways. One day on the train he sees a girl being groped by a salaryman, and decides to make a scene and get the guy caught. Later, in school, it turns out that he’s sitting next to said girl in class… and that it’s Hina, his childhood friend. They had been inseparable in grade school, but in middle school she got super gorgeous and popular, and he got more self-conscious and so they drifted apart. But while he may have mostly forgotten about her, she certainly hasn’t forgotten about him. As the book goes on, Ryou starts to notice that Hina is asking to walk home with him, and making him food, and asking him out on dates. Does this mean… she has feelings for him? Nah, let’s not overthink this.

As always with this genre, whether you can tolerate it or not depends how much you like ‘oblivious’ teenage boys. I’d say it was unrealistic except I was also a teenage boy, and no, it really is this bad. That said, at least the series gets a confession out of the way by the end of the first book, even if it leads to “I’m not sure how I feel about you”. Hina is cute, and the reader is meant to understand her frustration with Ryou and sympathize, and it works pretty well. I also loved Ryou’s younger sister Mana, who does not have a shred of the standard “younger sister of the protagonist” character to her and is quite happy wingmanning for her brother, though buying condoms for him turns out to be a mistake. (There’s no sex in this book, sorry to disappoint. Everyone’s very pure.) And the love rival role is handled pretty well, as she’s good at analyzing Ryou and Hina and knows that’s why she doesn’t really have a chance.

There’s nothing outstanding about this book, and it doesn’t have a good gimmick like Tomozaki. But it’s decently written, and there are no terrible people in it yet. If you like the genre of “pretty girl tries to get guy to admit that someone might actually like him and it’s her”, this is a good one to try.