Twinkle Stars, Vol. 3

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan as two separate volumes by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

I laugh heartily at my comment in the last review that Hijiri was absolutely perfect. She’s still my favorite, but this omnibus seemed entirely designed to show off that no, Hijiri is not perfect, that she is arrogant and headstrong and coming from a definite position of privilege, and when combined with the genuine fear she has of seeing her best friend get hurt again, it naturally leads to a bad confrontation. Which does, at least, get us Chihiro’s backstory, and the girl that he was supposedly in love with, Sakura. The love that it was, though, was a deeply unhealthy one, something the reader is well aware of as it plays out. Takaya is always at her best when showing off emotional pain, and we get that in spades here – there’s a suicide attempt, mostly successful, and implications that Chihiro also has suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, Takaya also writes Pollyannas, and that’s exactly what’s needed from Sakuya here.

Back to talking about Hijiri, literally everyone in the book realizes that she is doing the wrong thing and calls her out on it. First Yuuri, then Saki… it’s something that only she can do, being rich enough to basically have Chihiro’s entire past investigated to make sure that he’s not going to be causing Sakuya pain. And then, when she finds out about Sakura, his old love, telling her about it. Then she compounds it by refusing to admit what she did was wrong. It takes everything tat we’ve loved about the character for the last two omnibuses and turns it on its head, showing off the unpleasant and negative sides that her personality can have. We also learn how she first met Sakuya, and how her curiosity about those who felt pain turned to guilt and horror as she realized what that really means. Oh yes, and thankfully the crush on the teacher is not going to happen.

As for Chihiro, he’s more of a Yuki than a Kyo, if you know what I mean. It’s always a challenge to see someone repressing all their past emotional wounds and scars and not have them turn out somewhat flat, and again, Takuya is a master of doing this the right way. His confrontation with Sakuya at the reservoir is the highlight of the book, as we see that his obsession with Sakura (even the names are similar – at least in romanji) to an eerie degree) can turn to hatred as much as it does to love. Sakura is also a lonely child with a tragic past of abuse, like half the cast here, but she’s not written in a sympathetic way. I’ve no doubt she’ll wake up at some point, and I do wonder if she and Sakuya will ever meet.

Twinkle Stars gives fans of this author exactly what they want – deep emotional heartache and catharsis, calling out abuse for what it is, and showing that just because someone has a tragic past does not mean that their current joy and happiness has to be faked. I can’t wait to see where this goes next.

Twinkle Stars, Vol. 2

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan as two separate volumes by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

One of Takaya’s stronger points is her ability to depict a character hiding their own emotional pain and despair, usually because they don’t want to make others worry or because it’s simply not the done thing to admit your feelings. We see more of that in this new omnibus, as we get more details on Sakuya’s depression and what led to her living away from her family with Kanade. Now to be fair, we’ve covered a lot of these sorts of situations in Fruits Basket – I mean, if you guessed emotional abuse from a parental figure, give yourself a nickel – but it can be argued that this sort of thing needs to be brought into the open as much as Takaya does. Sakuya’s repressed feelings – which she isn’t suite sure about, possibly as her new stepmother is pushing at her to hate her – are one of the highlights of the volume.

Of course, what makes Sakuya such a strong character is that it really isn’t entirely a mask to hide her emotional pain. Sakuya’s joy at being with her friends and seeing the stars is very real too, and so are her budding feelings for Chihiro, even if she finds them a bit terrifying. Chihiro is slightly less interesting in this second volume, mostly as he’s far less mercurial – he seems to have accepted Sakuya as a new friend, and therefore there’s not as much pushing back, though I suspect we’ll get that from a different angle in future volumes. Yuuri and Hijiri get the cover art, and Yuuri also gets a bit more backstory, which develops the reasons he’s fallen for Sakuya while also showing that he absolutely is not going to be the winner.

And then there’s Hijiri, who is perfect. I would like to say it’s rare I fall for a character so fast, but that’s not true, this happens all the time. But it’s always a pleasure when it does. Hijiri has a sharp tongue, but is looking out for her friends, and I am pleased to see that the very first page of this omnibus shows that she and Yuuri will not be set up into a ‘pair the spares’ romance. Of course, this also seems to be because she has a crush on her teacher, which makes me wary. Better is the amusing relationship she has with her masochistic manservant Saki, who is 100% devoted to her and has no trouble showing this in front of others, much to her dismay. Takaya’s comedy can be forced at times, but when she’s on a roll you will laugh your head off.

The preview for the next omnibus seems to show that we’ll be getting Chihiro’s backstory next – I keep thinking things are movign a bit fast, but then I recall that this series was less than half the number of volumes that fruits Basket had. That doesn’t make it any less good, though, and I look forward to intense emotional pain as only Takaya can give to readers next time around.

Twinkle Stars, Vol. 1

By Natsuki Takaya. Released in Japan as two separate volumes by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

This was the first series to be released after the end of the amazingly popular Fruits Basket, and everyone was on tenterhooks to see what it was going to be like, both here and in Japan. Of course, for various reasons it wasn’t actually released here till 2016, a good five years after it ended in Japan, so a bit of the bloom is off the rose. Still, it’s hard not to feel a bit of affection and excitement for a new Takaya title. After reading this first volume, I get the sense that she had a better idea of where she was going with this – there’s a lot of backstory hints dropped here that the author is content to simply drop and then leave alone for a while. I suspect it will reward a reread. In the meantime, we have the adventures of a determined girl who always seems cheery but may be hiding a deep sadness, and the boy she runs into one day.

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I admit I did find it hard not to fall into the trap of “this is character X and Y from Fruits Basket mixed together!” at times. Sakuya does have a Tohru-esque sheen to her, though a lot of that is simply a similar “I will be happy and determined” attitude. I’m also thinking of Hijiri, who I will warn in advance is my favorite character. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but let’s face it, she’s Hanajima and Shigure mixed together, and there’s no way I’m not going to love that. A mask of sweetness hiding a deeply manipulative side but still basically a good person. We also get the male best friend with a crush that is clearly doomed (blond, of course, as the clear winning guy has darker hair – you win again, shoujo cliches). And Kana, Sakuya’s guardian who seems to be a deliberate step away from a Shigure sort – from what the story tells us, he’s a struggling artist, and many question why he can even take care of Sakuya at all.

Then there’s the male lead Chihiro, who is easily the most fascinating character in this first volume. And I will admit, not always in a good way. We first met him after he invited himself into Sakuya’s house by pretending to be her boyfriend, something that seems completely out of the blue. Later, when she meets him again (she sees him on a train that she just misses, and proceeds to jump off the tracks and run after it till she hits the next stop, which may be the most Takaya thing ever), it feels a lot more unstable and dangerous, and frankly my first thought was to tell Sakuya to stay the hell away from him. Naturally, this is when she realizes she’s fallen in love. The second half of the book, where he (inevitably) shows up as a New Transfer Student, is thus filled with incredible awkwardness, fake smiles and Sakuya freaking out – but doing her best!

Basically, Twinkle Stars is exactly what you want in a new Takaya series. If you’ve read her other work, there’s a lot here that’s familiar – not just the characterizations, but the plot beats and emotional responses. But that’s actually great, as she’s so good at that. Twinkle Stars is like getting a brand new blanket that’s as warm and cozy as your last one. Settle down with it.