Twinkle Stars, Vol. 5

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

Endings are important, and often affect how we view the rest of the work in retrospect. Which is sometimes annoying. If you love fourth fifths of a thing, but it doesn’t stick the ending, can you really say that the whole is a failure? No, of course not. The journey to get there was spectacular. But you can say that the ending makes the series a disappointment. And I am sad to say that I felt the ending to Twinkle Stars made the series as a whole a disappointment. This is not to say I did not enjoy myself as I read it. Indeed, the first third of this omnibus was wonderful, featuring Chihiro and Sakuya finally bonding and going out on sort of dates and getting beyond all the past trauma of their lives to admit their love is wonderful. And then you hear “Sakura woke up”, and everything falls apart.

And yes, I am aware that falling apart is exactly the author’s intention. Indeed, a lot of the following volume is also excellent, showing the poignant agony of Chihiro giving up everything in order to be with Sakura, and Sakuya’s horrible pain, which she manages to work through, because she’s stronger now, thanks, in part, to Chihiro. The reactions of the others are also pretty much on point and in character. For Kanade, it’s the sympathetic ear of an adult. For Hijiri, it’s a punch, because she is the reader right now. So much of this depends on the reader being just as angry at Chihiro as the rest of the cast is, even if they don’t always show it as blatantly. The problem is that Sakura’s past was not as large a part of the story as the author intended. Indeed, I forgot she existed for volumes at a time.

That said, the good outweighs the bad for me with this final plot twist, and the emotions are well conveyed. The problem is the resolution, which feels very much like “you have this many pages to wrap everything up”. Takaya says this wasn’t the case – in fact, she says she went a volume over what she planned – but Chihiro’s revelation to Sakura as the manga draws to a close – that he’s still in love with Sakuya, and is there to make sure that Sakura gets better and nothing else. Which… would be fine, if he hadn’t kept that fact from everyone else, over the course of several years that the series timeskips forward to. Sakura, to be fair, does seem like she’ll fall apart if he’s away from her, and even after several years still seems fragile when she and Sakuya finally meet (she also still continues to use third-person when she speaks about herself, a “cutesy” Japanese thing that translates badly to English, in my opinion).

And so in the end our main couple don’t have time for much more than a reunion and tears before we hit the end. It’s very… unsatisfying. That said, before that, we had some excellent Takaya storytelling, and I’d say this is my second favorite story of hers. And let’s face it, I definitely prefer this to the trainwreck that is Fruits Basket Another, but I’ll save that rant for when it comes out in the summer. If you’ve been enjoying Twinkle Stars, there’s no reason not to get this final volume, even if I found the ending less than it could have been.

Twinkle Stars, Vol. 4

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.

The decline and fall of Hijiri continues in this omnibus, as she tries her hardest to be a Hanajima but in the end is more of a Rin, complete with the angry freakouts whenever she’s embarrassed. This is not to say I don’t enjoy the entire plotline; the relationship between Hijiri and Saki may not be the healthiest in the world, but it’s cute, and leads to several laugh-out-loud moments, such as seeing how Hijiri first ‘brought Saki home’. Her own frustrations seem to spill over into her interaction with others as well, as she tries to help a girl who likes Yuuri confess to him even though she knows he’s going to reject the girl, and also tries to nag Yuuri into making his own advances on Sakuya, even as Yuuri seems content to sit back and watch Chihiro and Sakuya grow closer.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that he suspect Chihiro will simply torpedo himself before too long. Takaya’s series tend to have a common theme of seemingly “pure-hearted and good” people repressing their own emotions and traumas, and we get a lot of that here, as the art shows a large degree of depressed, resigned stares into the middle distance as characters wrestle with the fact that they might actually be forced to confront feelings that they’ve been avoiding for years. Kanade’s past is learned here, and it too manages to be a parade of parental abuse and distorted bouts of anger, another constant in Takaya’s works. I’ve tended to think that Twinkle Stars is trying to apologize to Tohru/Yuki Furuba fans by having this title be the one where they win, with Kanade as “Kyo”, but while Kanade is an awful lot like Kyo, he’s not a romantic lead, so it doesn’t quite fit.

This may make it sound as if the entire volume is nothing but depressing moping around, and it’s not. Takaya does have a certain amount of humor in this book, usually through snarky comments and reaction takes. Again, we see this most in scenes with Hijiri, whose own subplot is meant to be a lighter counterpart to the more serious relationships. This unfortunately does have the effect of diminishing Hijiri a bit, as I noted above – yes, she’s a bit more realistic and flawed, but I also feel she’s becoming almost too much of a caricatured “angry, embarrassed girl”, a trope which I think works better in shonen settings than in shoujo ones.

Twinkle Stars ran 11 volumes in Japan, and we’re up to 8 with this omnibus. I’m not certain if the final volume will be a triple of if we’ll get a single volume 6. In either event, I do still enjoy this series, especially for the emotional resonance, though I am grateful it’s going to be wrapping up soon as I’m not sure how much more teenage romantic drama I can take.

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.