My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “First Kiss Manifesto”

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.

Last time I mentioned that the anime was just starting, and I wondered how it would be handled. Well, now we know, and we also know that apparently the anime producers like Akatsuki as much as I do. Almost the entire third volume was jettisoned from the anime, which decided it really did not need multiple episodes focusing on the world’s most toxic ex-couple. More to the point, they knew something had to go if they wanted to adapt this volume, which turns out to have the perfect “open ending” for an anime that might eventually get a second season. It focuses squarely on our main couple… well, OK, no it doesn’t. It focuses squarely on Yume. The back and forth narrative voices are skewed very much towards the feminine thins time around, because Yume wears her heart on her sleeve and is really easy to figure out, but Mizuto bottles everything up and is not. It takes a family reunion to finally crack the “my stupid ex” facade.

Mizuto and Yume have now gotten comfortable with each other, and with arguing. Perhaps a bit too comfortable, as their parents note they act like a couple that’s fallen out of the “honeymoon” phase. Because Yume is Yume, she looks up online how to deal with this, which apparently involves going with Mizuto to try on swimsuits. The reason for the swimsuit is that they’re making the annual trek into the rural hinterlands of Japan to see Mizuto’s extended family, and this is the first year Yume and her mother will be making the trip. Meeting the in-laws goes well enough, but unfortunately they also come with a hot older cousin, who Yume seems to be convinced was Mizuto’s first love. And in fact Mizuto has been acting even more remote and uncaring than usual lately. Is there something going on?

I don’t want to spoil one of the major emotional parts of the book, which involves Mizuto’s great-grandfather, but suffice it to say it’s really well handled and offers some insight into Mizuto himself. But what this book is really about is Yume coming to terms with the fact that she’s in love with Mizuto. I enjoy the way that it’s framed, as it’s not a case of “oh, I’ve been in love with him all this time”, but rather that the Yume here and now loves him, and her biggest rival turns out not to be Higashira (who is busy trying to write AO3 fanfics of herself and Mizuto, and failing) but her younger self, the one who first captured Mizuto’s heart. The reason that most of the narrative is from her perspective is because we need Mizuto to be mysterious and remote here. I do wonder what his reaction will be in the next book.

I may need to wonder longer, of course, given that the cover art and back cover copy of Volume 5 imply it’s a 100% Higashira focused book. In the meantime, this was an excellent romantic comedy volume… unless you’re Akatsuki and Kawanami, I guess. Sorry, guys, cute pool antics aside, you’re just not important enough.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “Childhood Friends No More”

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.

Given that I’ve said how much I don’t care for Akatsuki, and how I prefer it when the series focuses on its main couple, this third volume was always going to be a hard sell for me, as it gets into the nitty gritty backstory of her relationship with Kawanami, how it changed, and her own personal issues, with Mizuto and Yume once again being pushed to the background. That said, it does a decent job, showing me that Akatsuki is aware of her dangerous personality issues and is doing her best to change them, even if she thinks of it as “wearing a mask”. And frankly Kawanami has just as many issues, some of which were brought on my his tortured past relationship but most of which are his own damn fault, and he seems to be as obsessed with his friendship with Mizuto as Akatsuki is about her friendship with Yume. They have a lot more baggage than our two leads, and I’m not sure they need to get back together.

The first half of the book focuses heavily on Isana Hagashira, who has now been rejected by Mizuto but oddly takes that as an invitation to be even more blatant around him, since she knows he’s not interested in her romantically. Essentially, she still has some difficulties working out how normal girls react around normal boys. And she’s probably not getting any help from the people around her – for one thing, Kawanami takes an instant dislike to her as she says she’s Mizuto’s best friend – that’s his job! The second half of the book gets into the backstory of Akatsuki and Kawanami when the group all go on a “study camp” sponsored by the school, and we discover, as Hagashira points out, that the “childhood friend” trope is something best reserved for fiction.

Explaining the backstory of those two is pretty easy, actually: they’re both latchkey kids who lived next to each other, and Kawanami was naturally extroverted anyway, so they simply grew together. Unfortunately, Akatsuki’s lack of boundaries proved to be crippling – we saw a lot of that in the first volume, and it creeped me out. Here we see Akatsuki acknowledge she was backsliding, and she really is trying not to get so obsessed with those around her (Yume as well) but the sheer loneliness that settles in when she does this is crushing. The intervention towards the end of the book that led the two of them to break down in front of each other is good for catharsis, but I’m not sure it will lead them to grow closer again just yet. As for Hagashira, she’s pretty hilarious, but I do think her shtick only works, as she knows, because of Mizuto’s lack of interest. As for Mizuto and Yume themselves… the biggest romcom thing that happened to them takes place entirely offscreen.

The anime of this has started, and the verdict so far seems to be “OK but flatly animated”. We’ll see how it goes. Till then, this remains a decent romcom but I wish we would return to our main couple.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex: “Even If We Aren’t Dating…”

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 very much a book of two halves. The first half is essentially more of the same stuff that we saw in the initial volume, with our two leads bitterly grousing at each other while also showing that eventually, when they get their heads out of their asses, they will once more be a terrific couple. The second half introduces a new girl to the mix, set up to be a rival love interest. That said, the author knows what the genre is. This is not the old school genre of “guy and the 100 girls who really, really etc. love him”, it’s part of the more recent “we are cute couples who flirt adorably” genre, with the twist that they aren’t a couple anymore and their flirting is bickering. As such, sympathy in the book stays solely with Yume, though the new girl is very nice and sweet, which is a plus, and possibly makes up for the fact that Akatsuki is still in this.

Mizuto and Yume continue to stubbornly not get along, despite the fact that their entire life is a series of light novel romcom moments (as is literally pointed out later). There’s seat changes in class, which brings back awkward memories; a Mother’s Day event which brings back sad awkward memories; a sleepover with their mutual friends which turns hideously awkward when it turns out that said friends live next door to each other; and a battle over best grades in the school that goes beyond awkward and into painful. We are then introduced to Isana Hagashira, who hangs out in the library, loves light novels, is socially inept, and has really large breasts (something she will point out, as she regards it as one of her few interesting features). She and Mizuto bond immediately, leaving Yume forced to confront her own repressed feelings.

Isana reminded me not a little of Kotomi Ichinose from Clannad, and the smile she gives on the cover art doesn’t really match her in this book, where she’s mostly rather expressionless, as part of her social difficulties. She’s really sweet, and I enjoyed seeing Akatsuki and Yume slowly force her to realize that she’s fallen in love with Mizuto. Unfortunately, framing her character as having crippling self-esteem issues and then having to have her forcibly rejected due to… well, due to the plot of the series… seems a bit mean. That said, it’s not nearly as mean as forcing us to spend time around Kagure and Akatsuki, who are there to remind us what a really toxic couple are like. Not that they’re dating, but this certainly is not the “if we just admitted we still love each other everything would be solved” of our two leads, there’s some real hatred here. I fear we will learn more about it later.

So yeah, this series still works best when it’s about the main couple. Fortunately, they’re the stars of the book. Recommended with reservations.