by Aya Nakahara; translation by Pookie Rolf
published by Viz; $8.99 US
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this romantic comedy, especially coming in a book late. It’s a classic pairing of opposites executed with believable teenage romantic confusion.
Risa’s the tallest girl in the class, and Otani’s the shortest boy. Both have crushes on more typically attractive students, so they try to help each other. Unfortunately, their crushes wind up going out with each other, leaving the two misfits to bond out of desperation.
Risa and Otani spat a lot, in classic fictional shorthand for “deep feelings alert”. When Christmas, the biggest date night of the year, rolls around, they have to decide whether spending it together without romance is better than being alone. Then Otani’s ex-girlfriend shows up to complicate things (and make Risa jealous).
The kids are drawn cute or funny or starstruck as necessary. I like the diversity of expression, but the surprising moments of unexpected honesty are what won me over with this series. The two leads tell each other things they wouldn’t tell someone they’re dating, for fear of being rejected or laughed at. But it’s just those revelations that make their relationship more successful than the more superficial dating kind. They’re still young, so they’re having trouble distinguishing between outward attraction (a certain kind of look, for example) and responding to particular personality characteristics, the foundation for a more lasting pairing.
The complex twists and turns remind me of my own high school days. Unlike some other shôjo series, the characters here don’t need any artificial barriers to keep them apart or force them together; the normal teenage insecurities and desires are enough to keep them ping-ponging. When an ex says they want to talk to you but won’t say why, do they want to get back together? Should you hope, or should you demonstrate how you’ve already moved on? If you ask if a friend is going to be at an event, does that hint that you’re interested in them, or is it just self-protection to avoid being a fifth wheel? Can you help someone who says they don’t want it? Is it possible you know better for them?
Later in the book, the two have to struggle through the expectations of Valentine’s Day, and then a tall, handsome childhood friend of Risa’s returns to provide additional complications. Haruka is very protective of Risa, complimenting her and bringing out parts of her that even her friends don’t see often. He constantly picks on Otani’s height, which makes the shorter boy crazy in highly amusing ways.
When Risa and Otani come through for each other, even when it means personal sacrifice, I get all sniffly. It’s heart-warming to read a romance based on internal strength and good qualities, about two friends learning to become more. I’ve got to hunt down Book 1.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)