My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “Within Arm’s Reach”

By Kyosuke Kamishiro and TakayaKi. Released in Japan as “Mamahaha no Tsurego ga Motokano datta” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Gierrlon Dunn.

This is the first volume taking place after our main couple have gotten together… again… and as you can imagine, it’s leading up to one big scene. That said, it certainly does meander before it gets there. This series has always played with viewpoint – from the start, the main chapters alternated between Mizuto and Yume, usually with some variation on how they used to be in love but are older and wiser now. As the series went on, we got more and more viewpoints from the POV of other characters, such as the best friends of our lead couple, or the rest of the student council. And honestly, with this volume I think we may have finally gotten an answer to the question “how much is too much”. I think everyone in the entire cast with the exception of Isana gets a look in here, and it makes the book too scattered. It’s only in the final dramatic battle/love scene that it settles down – ironically, when the POV switch is at its worst.

Mizuto and Yume are now a couple once more, but there is a slight problem – they’re still stepsiblings. As a result, they have to hide their relationship from both their parents and from everyone at school. The latter is only slightly successful – Minami and Kawanami figure things out pretty fast – but it does mean that there are a certain amount of repressed feelings that are happening. And, of course, this book also takes place around Valentine’s Day and White Day, with all the plots that you’d expect with that. We get another couple getting together here, despite some truly amazing amounts of self-hatred and loathing to get through in order to accept it – and as for Minami and Kawanami… it may be a bit longer, but they’re making real prgress as well. As for Mizuto and Yume, their parents taking an extended away trip means that they may finally be able to go all the way this time… provided this does not turn into Kaguya-sama: Love Is War again.

I will admit, I was schnookered by the author. The moment the two of them decided that this was going to be some sort of contest to see who admitted to wanting to have sex first, I was fairly certain that they were going to end up just doing nothing till their parents came back. But no, for once the two have semi-matured enough – and are prepared enough to buy nice lingerie and condoms – that they actually do end up getting past the competitiveness and having their first time. The sex, as you can imagine, is elided rather than explicitly described, but the elision is actually very clever, relying on the swapping narrative POV to give us the rhythm of two lovers coming closer and closer to a climax. Also, as with the previous sex scene in this series, the first time is not necessarily “the best sex ever” – it’s typical first sex – but they’re both happy, which is all that matters.

That competitiveness may end up returning after the cliffhanger ending to this book, though thankfully it will be in the classroom rather than the bedroom. I just hope we can get back to primarily being Mizuto and Yume’s narration.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “A Proposal Isn’t Enough”

By Kyosuke Kamishiro and TakayaKi. Released in Japan as “Mamahaha no Tsurego ga Motokano datta” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Gierrlon Dunn.

For a series whose strongest point is not its fanservice, this series sure has a lot of it. That said, at least the fanservice serves a narrative purpose. Even the sex scene in the book – not between our two leads, I hasten to add, but between Aso and Hoshibe – ends up demonstrating, somewhat painfully, that the blush of first love is not always perfect, and that sometimes simple physical difficulties can “ruin” your perfect memories. Meanwhile Yume has been revving the fanservice up, in an effort to get Mizuto to drop his stoic poker face, and ends up going overboard, to the point where he finally snaps and screams at her in desperation. As for Isana… well, yeah, that is fanservice pure and simple, but it also serves to underline for Mizuto that he can’t simply pretend to be a logical robot who makes every decision using bullet points. And that’s important, because there’s a rather annoying thing undercutting this wannabe romantic reuniting… they’re both family now.

It’s Christmas, and Yume has a lot to worry about. She’s set a deadline of the new year to either get Mizuto to rekindle their relationship or just give up, and he’s not cooperating very well, to the point where she’s forced to do things like wave her cleavage at him and hope he reacts. Her birth father wants to meet with her and Mizuto, and given that he’s never particularly cared about Yume before, she’s not quite sure why. And Mizuto has started spending all his time at Isana’s place. The last is for a very good reason – having seen Isana’s art and how good it is, he realizes that she needs a manager in order to achieve anything, as she has no real drive to succeed of her own. So it’s time for Pixiv accounts and Twitter alts, as well as drawing more and more so that she improves. But doesn’t everyone still think they’re dating?

The “is this incest or not?” part of the conversation is not really resolved here, mostly as, well, the premise of the series means that “not” is going to have to be the correct answer. I think the fact that they’ve only been siblings for 9 months takes the curse off it a bit. More difficult is that these two are both big, BIG nerds, and it not only comes out in their school work and reading but also in how they live their lives. Mizuto has never really felt passionate about much till he gets the idea to “manage” Isana’s art, and he proves to be very adept at it. Unfortunately, he’s also listening to Yume’s dad, who is projecting hard onto Mizuto and giving him advice that may not be that helpful. As for Yume, she doesn’t want to cut Mizuto off from Isana, who is her friend as well, but can’t quite work out how close they should be after he and Yume become a couple without resorting to math. Never decide how friendly your lover can be with other women using math.

The author is quick to assure us the series is not ending despite the couple confessing (reconfessing?) at the end, so we’ll see what the fallout is. But this was an in-character, if not entirely satisfying, way for these two to fix things.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “Time to Get Serious”

By Kyosuke Kamishiro and TakayaKi. Released in Japan as “Mamahaha no Tsurego ga Motokano datta” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Gierrlon Dunn.

The subtitle of this volume serves as an accurate description of what’s inside. Of course, that’s not to say there still isn’t a great deal of broad humor in the book. I mean, Isana exists, for one. There’s also Yume deciding that the best way to seduce Mizuto is by wearing a miniskirt and cat ears, and (ça va sans dire) endless discussions of breasts, with much groping of the larger girls happening from the other girls. (Isana even notes this is the sort of thing she though only happened in light novels, implying that she’s read her own series.) That said, this is about a trip that all the main and supporting cast take, and the girls decide to use it to confess, seduce, or otherwise make things clearer to the object of their affection. Does it work out? Well, sort of. Some of the pairings are actually becoming pairings. It won’t surprise you,l though, that the main pairing remains up in the air.

The student council are planning a getaway trip to a hot springs town (given that their president’s family is loaded, this isn’t as hard as it sounds), and Yume is asked to fill out the numbers a bit, so Mizuto, Isana, Minami and Kawanami end up coming along as well. Aiba has decided that this is the trip where she stops being the teasing flirt and seriously confesses to her senpai, and so the other girls also decide to make an effort. Well, apart from Isana, who is supposedly here for art study. Kurenai ramps up her attempted seductions of Joji, wanting to lose her virginity without really thinking trough what that actually means. Minami has finally accepted the fact that she’s still in love with Kawanami, and her own attempt to be serious baffles and annoys him. As for Mizuto and Yume… LEWD HAND HOLDING.

The main couple are still hamstrung by Mizuto’s own reluctance and Isana’s presence in their life (going poly would solve most of these problems, but I can’t see the author or publisher OKing that), so it’s the other couples that carry the book. This is easily the best volume for Minami, who, once she decides to stop being an annoying bitch around her ex all the time and genuinely try to help him, turns out to be pretty awesome. Both Kawanami and Hoshibe (the senpai) are dealing with past traumas that have left them either unable to move forward or literally ill, and this book is about getting past that with the help of others. It’s also about being yourself, to a degree – Kurenai fails here because she was just trying far too hard. She’d be much better off trying to raise Joji’s bottomless well of self-hatred first. Basically, at the end of this book we have one definite couple, two “give it a book or two” couples, and Mizuto, Yume and Isana. Who remain in stasis.

The 9th book may change that, as we are reminded that where there are stepparents there are also parents, and one of them is still alive. Till then, this is a good volume in a romcom that’s enjoyable provided you can wade past the wall of breast jokes.