The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend, Vol. 5

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 am reading too many of these high school romcoms, to be honest. There’s been a big glut over here the last few years, spearheaded by Oregairu and Tomozaki, but the best of them all have some motivation to them beyond “which girl is he going to end up with after finally having a clue beaten into him?”. You can’t simply ride on that alone, or you run the risk of… well, of being this series, which is running on fumes in terms of “I am not getting that these women are all throwing themselves at me”. Theoretically there should also be the film/acting subplot, and that does vaguely rouse my interest a bit. Hina is getting it ground in her face that acting is a series of failed auditions forever till your break, and Ai has gotten that break on the back of her idol work, but is dealing with the cattiness and fending off date requests that that entails. It SHOULD be interesting.

Ryou’s film is nearly finished, just requiring Ai to film some remaining scenes when she’s not doing her acting gig. He’s still trying to get Shizuka to star in his new film idea he’s had, but a) there’s no script yet, and b) she really doesn’t want to. It doesn’t help that her mother is overly worried about her, which is coming out as anger. It also doesn’t help that, as a result of that, Shizuku is lying to her. This leads to a run away from home plot!… that lasts about five pages. This series just can’t get that dramatic. As for Hina, since she’s still depressed about her failed audition, and lacking much else to do, she’s helping Ryou study for school… mostly by forcing him to do it. Ca they all get together in time for a summer festival? And will the girls manage to convince Ryou they like him?

This series is not much like Oregairu at all (Ryou wishes he had Hachiman’s narrative panache), but they do share one thing in common, which is that the relationship between the lead and his little sister is the best thing about the series. Mana remains the best character in this by a country mile, being cool, self=confident, chiding but also supporting her brother, and being friends with all his various girl friends. If she had a spinoff, I’d read it, mostly as it would not be this series. There’s nothing wrong with this except that it’s boring, and I keep waiting for a payoff that I know is a good 7-8 books away, if that. The reason that a lot of romcoms these days have the leads hook up early is that everyone got tired of series like these, where we know who will win (it’s Hina) but we have to watch Ryou being thick as a brick for ten more volumes before he gets it.

If you have to read every romcom out there, this is one. I think I’m going to drop it here.

The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend, Vol. 4

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 book tends to work against my fragmentary memory. It’s been almost a year since the last volume, which doesn’t help. Nor do Fly’s illustrations, which in this series tend to make everyone look very similar to each other. And, of course, everyone refers to each other by different names – be they polite “last name only” folks, childhood friend first names, cute nicknames, etc. What all this ends up meaning is that I find myself constantly trying to remember which girl is which and what their backstory is. But then that’s also what Ryou is doing here, of course. His entire childhood seems to be a blur, and even the promise with his childhood friend turns out to be something of a lie. He can remember things when literally confronted with them, as we see in a beach scene. But he’s too buried in his own self-loathing to really try experiencing anything else, such as, say, dating one of the girls in love with him.

The bulk of this volume is concerned with making the movie everyone has decided to do, with Ryou as the director, Shizuka as the writer, and Hina and Ai as the actresses, with the clever conceit that the guy they’re both in love with is never seen, but merely implied offscreen. Of course, there are a few hiccups to get through. Getting a camera requires getting a part-time job, but fortunately Ai’s agent can help Ryou out. A scene filmed on the beach turns into an entire vacation day at the beach, and Ryou and Hina almost, ALMOST moving forward in their relationship but still failing. The big subplot, though, is that Hina, the talented amateur, and Ai, the former-idol-turned-actress, are both up for the same role in a production. Only one can get the job, while the other is doomed to disappointment. What can Ryou’s role be in regards to both of them? And can he find a path of his own?

Probably the most gripping scene in the book is where Ryou, at the absolute limits of his utter loathing of himself, starts pouring words out into a notebook for the entire night, and they end up turning into another, different film that he wants to make – this one with Shizuka as the lead. We can probably guess why – given that it’s a product of his own frustration and despair, it makes sense that he’d turn to the girl in his life who’s also gloomy and self-hating to get the right vibe. But the frustration and despair stem from the two main girls in his love triangle (sorry, Shizuka), who are both gorgeous, talented, and know what they want to do with their life – or at least, that’s what he thinks. We know from the occasional non-POV narration we get from them that both are also feeling a bit lost and afraid, which is why Ai’s agent asks Ryou to step in and help in THAT way at the book’s conclusion.

There are better “summer of my youth” romances out there, but there’s nothing really wrong with this one.

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 friend. 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 sister 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.