By Fuka Mizutani. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Rakuen Le Paradis. Released in North America by Yen Press.
Sliec-of-life can be very difficult sometimes in the West, particularly if it also has romance in it. The genre tends to involve a laid-back quality, with lots of chapters devoted to normal kids doing normal things, and recalling the nostalgia of your teenage years. It’s the antithesis of a title like Naruto or Parasyte. But when done right, slice-of-life can bring a smile to your face, making you want to turn the pages faster so that you can bask in the warm glow of the cast’s feelings. Love at Fourteen is definitely slice-of-life done right; I lost track of the number of times I said “Oh my God, they’re adorable” about halfway through this first volume.
The premise of this volume will not seem unfamiliar to readers of another Hakusensha series, His & Hers Circumstances. Kanata and Kazuki are both the most admired kids in middle school, both having an air of ‘maturity’ about them that sets them above the pack. Of course, that maturity is also what keeps kids from getting too close to them. However, the pair have a secret – they’re childhood friends, and have been “acting” mature as it’s expected of them, when frequently they want to do nothing but relax and let their emotions hang out. The troubles start when the class points out, independently, how gorgeous Kanata’s hair is, and how deep Kazuki’s voice is, things which had never really occurred to two young teens who have hung out for years.
And so they start to realize they’re in love with each other, and are not quite clear how to deal with it. What follows are a series of chapters with lots of heavy blushing, frustrated desires, and sweet reunions. The drama is minimal, mostly as these two don’t make their own drama. “Acting” mature has been the norm for so long that they find they’ve actually *become* mature. What’s more, it’s never stated outright, but I suspect like most Japanese middle schools open relationships are heavily frowned on, so all this has to be kept a secret, which is a pain when you’re having trouble keeping your hands off each other.
I had thought that there was going to be a bit of drama towards the end of the volume, as one of their trysts is observed by Nagai, the class troublemaker. However, before he can start an obvious blackmail attempt he is quickly caught up in problems of his own, stemming from the class music teacher, who’s trying to get him to stop being truant and start singing. I’m a sucker for teachers who can wrap teens around their fingers, and so this was possibly my favorite chapter, and I really hope we see the two of them in the next volume.
In the end, though, this is really Kanata and Kazuki’s series, and there’s an abundance of them to enjoy here. It’s early on, and we haven’t even had a first fight chapter. Things are developing slowly and sweetly, as you’d expect from two kids who’ve known each other so long and now have to redefine each other… and themselves. The book has little definitions interspersed throughout on puberty and developing a sense of self, and you can see our leads develop accordingly. Most importantly, after reading this you will have the biggest goddamn smile on your face you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.