by Shouko Akira; adaptation by Gerard Jones
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Times Two is a stand-alone volume of five short stories, all dealing with teenagers falling in love. Historically, this premise is fruitful ground for love stories, and this book is no different.
“Love at First Touch” starts off the book with just the right tone. A three-page scene elegantly sets up the characters and premise before leading into the meat of the story, told as a flashback. Eri is brusque to Taniguchi to hide her interest in him. The two have had various encounters over the past months, with Eri’s memories revolving around the ways he’s touched her. They were casual, friendly encounters, but the physical connections — a pat on the head, a hand grabbed during a race — take on new importance through the filter of her emotions.
It’s refreshing to see the object of her affection portrayed as a normal guy; it grounds the story in the everyday. This is a believable story that establishes a realistic mood without over-the-top events or histrionics. Ultimately, it’s about learning to take a risk and being honest about one’s feelings, a nice package that tells you just enough and ends on the right note.
“Expiration Date 2001″ begins just before the turn of the millennium and uses a soda can date as a symbol for a window of opportunity. Kenta and Miwa are on the track team together. The drink he casually gives her becomes a memento for her, and as the soda will expire, so will her chance to let him know how she feels. The overall premise — girl must have courage to tell boy she likes him — is the same as the first story, but the treatments and events are different enough that they didn’t seem redundant. This one adds the complications of well-meaning (but potentially problematic) friends offering support and the classic overheard misunderstanding.
I haven’t talked much about the art so far because it never drew attention to itself, which is how it should be. The flow is good, the style classic, the expressions appropriate and realistic, the characters distinctive, and the pages easy to read.
In “Second Impression”, Haruka’s in summer school, where she gets to know a popular boy she otherwise would have never spoken to. They bond over raising a sunflower. Again using the courage theme, this story reminded me of the much-superior Imadoki series, which isn’t a fair comparison. Of course a five-book series is going to be much more entertaining than a 35-page short story. I also felt like I didn’t get to know these characters as well as I did the ones in the earlier stories.
“Frequency” introduces a fantasy theme into the usual school setting. After a bump on the head, Kaori finds that she can read the thoughts of model student Morihiro. Where his perfect reputation previously made him seem untouchable, hearing what he’s really thinking gives her a new perspective on him and on herself. She’d always said exactly what she was thinking, while he rarely did, and they both learn to see the virtues of the other approach. There was a lot of potential here left unexplored due to the short length, especially involving the introduction of another female student more like Morihiro. This could easily have been fleshed out into a series of stories, which I suspect I would have enjoyed reading. As it is, the ending comes somewhat abruptly.
“Baby Universe” is the only story from a guy’s perspective. It combines a lot of elements — Christmastime, getting to know again a childhood friend, rescuing a girl from a poor reputation, trying to contact a UFO — into the piece that I liked least. The end is a bit too macho, with him deciding he knows better than she what her choices should be. Plus, the reader isn’t given enough information to know whether her situation is as the others gossip, or something different. It relies on a romantic moment to end on a high note, but I kept thinking “one special kiss doesn’t make up for everything else these kids have to face.”
Summing up, the book starts much more strongly than it finishes, but I enjoyed reading the stories enough to feel satisfied with the overall package.