Haibara’s Teenage New Game+, Vol. 3

By Kazuki Amamiya and Gin. Released in Japan as “Haibara-kun no Tsuyokute Seishun New Game” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Esther Sun.

There *is* a serious element to this series, and it’s 100% down to “every girl is falling in love with Haibara, and he has to make some of them sad”. He’s not at a point where he can do that yet. That will likely lead to bad things down the road. Still, that’s the only REALLY serious part of the series. It’s not the sort of book that, having given Haibara a chance to redo his crappy high school and college years, is going to turn into a “no, you screwed up again, try a third time” sort of series. That said, I must admit that I was sort of on tenterhooks midway through the book. These are still high school kids, and when there’s a very strict controlling parent and a runaway kid who stays over at the house of a boy she’s clearly falling in love with, well, things could have gone very bad. As in “I will notify your parents and the school” bad. But this is not that sort of series.

It’s summer, and everyone has passed their exams, albeit by the skin of their teeth for some. This means it’s time for a summer activity. Let’s hit the beach! Everyone agrees, and they rent a nice cabin with rooms for everyone. The only issue is Hoshimiya. We’ve heard before how strict her family is, and trying to get around it by pretending there aren’t any guys going on the trip is the sort of lie that’s easily discovered. So she’s not going. Fortunately, she and Haibara manage to bond anyway, as he runs into her at a cafe, where he discovers her big, big secret – she’s a novelist! He agreed to pre-read her book, whose main characters seem somewhat familiar. Unfortunately, daddy dearest discovers this, and announces that a) she can’t be an author, and b) she has to distance herself from her friends. This goes badly.

Hoshimiya is still very much “in the lead” in this harem series, and this book gives us a much needed focus on her and her family, and shows that she and Haibara are a lot more alike than he may have realized. In fact, my favorite part may have been when she admitted that she didn’t really like him much at first because of all the fronts he was putting up. That said, of course, by the end of this book she’s totally smitten, and although you would think this would be good news for Haibara – she’s the one he likes, after all – he still can’t quite reject Uta yet. And that’s not even getting into his childhood friend, who he’s 100% oblivious to. She, at least, seems to have made her own decision, even if it hurts her, and I hope things go better for her with someone else, though I doubt it will.

All this plus a new girl, who comes on like a relatively blasé storm, and who will no doubt feature heavily in the next book. If you like good old-fashioned “who will win” romcoms, this is for you, though be prepared for your favorite to lose. That always happens in old-fashioned romcoms.

Haibara’s Teenage New Game+, Vol. 2

By Kazuki Amamiya and Gin. Released in Japan as “Haibara-kun no Tsuyokute Seishun New Game” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Esther Sun.

After the first volume of this series was more Com than Rom, this second volume flips it. Natsuki is a guy who is in love with another girl and trying, with stuttering, shaky steps, to get to the point he can do something about it. But he’s got another girl who’s confessed to him and is coming on strong, a third girl who I suspect is waiting for a future volume to get her spotlight, and his childhood friend, who is definitely Love Interest #4, even if neither of them are ready to admit it yet. It’s been a while since we’ve had a book series that’s solely about “which girl will he pick?”. The genre these days has shifted to “sweet adorable romance between a couple who get together right away”. Unfortunately for Natsuki, that’s not the genre he’s in, and this series is unlikely to have polyamory be the answer, so he’s going to have to break someone’s heart. And he’s not ready to do that.

Natsuki is still attempting to get together with the girl he likes, Hikari. And his childhood friend Miori is still trying to get together with his hot friend Reita. the solution is obvious – a double date, with careful subterfuge to make it look like they’re just all going to the movies as a group. It actually doesn’t go that badly, though progress stalls when Miori runs into her upperclassmen from the basketball team, and it becomes apparent that they are Not Getting Along ™. That said, Natsuki’s bigger problem is Sakura, who still has a massive crush on him, and is very cute and likeable in her own right. He’d probably be quite happy if he just decided to date her. But he can’t make that decision… though he CAN agree to accept her invitation to go to a festival together. Boy, this book really consists entirely of Not Dates.

The author talks in the afterword about how, despite all the drama surrounding the book, everything is pretty easily fixed, and I quite liked that as well. This is a series about typical teens with typical problems, and it doesn’t need a dramatic climax, it just needs to have people talk about what’s really bothering them. This is difficult with Miori, who likes to present a front of “I’m fine and don’t need any help”, and because Natsuki has known her a long time, he just accepts that – it takes Sakura asking him to help the team to galvanize him. (By the way, what the hell was the coach doing in all of this? Worst coach ever.) As for Natsuki’s love problems, well, that’s not a function of him going back in time, and he knows it. He’s wrestling with things a lot of kids do at that age. Miori suggests just giving up and dating Sakura, but this IS where the book functions as a light novel – our hero will not give up on his first love so easily. And this leads to sadness, but so far it’s an ambiguous sadness.

The next volume in this series came out only three months ago in Japan, so we may have to wait for more. Till then, if you’re nostalgic for romcoms where you’re not sure who Winning Girl is going to be, this is a good choice.

Haibara’s Teenage New Game+, Vol. 1

By Kazuki Amamiya and Gin. Released in Japan as “Haibara-kun no Tsuyokute Seishun New Game” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Esther Sun.

I think, like most people, I have no desire to go back in time and try to do things differently. Not because I’m reasonably content with all my life choices, but simply because I know that if I ever did I would be resolutely terrible at it, and probably locked away within the first week. I suppose with Haibara it helps that he’s not all that far removed from his past, but still: there’s too many ways for everything to go wrong. As indeed we find in this book, where we discover that the only thing worse than screwing up, is NOT screwing up. Fortunately, it turns out that Haibara’s old past was mostly self-inflicted, and that he’s hanging out with a nice gang of popular kids. Chitose Is in the Ramune Bottle might argue this is a bit unrealistic, but it’s not meant to be. Everyone knows what they’re getting with this teenage fantasy. And to its credit, it’s written pretty well.

Natsuki Haibara is a college student who regrets his past. He tried to reinvent himself in high school, and it was such a failure that it cost him any friends he once had. He spent the rest of his time in a self-described grey existence. And so he makes a wish to God to get a do-over… and wakes up back in his parents’ home, 7 years earlier. He’s just graduated middle school, meaning he’s still overweight, wearing glasses, and fashion ignorant. He can’t do much about the last, but he can fix the first two, and goes on a month-long binge to get himself to the point where he can have a rainbow-colored high school debut… this time with the experience of knowing exactly where he went wrong. But that experience can cut both ways, and it turns out that just because you’ve gained 7 years worth of talents it does not make you less oblivious about other people’s feelings.

I appreciated that the main conflict in this first volume is not directly about Haibara and a series of girls who kind of like him (though that is of course here as well, as that’s the genre we’re in), but about trying to reconnect with one of the few friends in high school who supported him until he finally screwed up too much, Tatsuya. Initially Haibara is really wary of Tatsuya, and it shows, but he asks his friend Reita (who is the standard “cool hot boy” in these stories) to let him work it out himself. Then, he can’t take his own advice as he’s unable to realize that, thanks to years of extra experience, he’s now TOO perfect, to the point where he makes others jealous of him. And now he doesn’t realize that the answer is mostly “let Tatsuya work it out himself”. Luckily, everything turns out OK.

This can be hard to read at times, especially if you have no desire to relive the horrors of high school interrelations, but it’s solid and avoids most of the pitfalls I was hoping it would avoid. It’s decent romcom, with a minimum of rom at the moment, though I expect that to change.