by Chica Umino; adapted by Akemi Wegmuller
published by Viz; $8.99 US
As the book opens, young artist Hagumi is stressing out while preparing for an upcoming art show when the gang of students unite around a late-night snack break. In other stories, the group goes on a ferry and a Ferris wheel, welcomes the professor back from Mongolia, and talks a lot to and about each other.
I had such high hopes for enjoying this series, after hearing great praise for it, but it’s still not quite clicking for me. Part of that is my fault. First, there’s the overinflated expectations I had, which weren’t possible to live up to. Then, at this point, I’ve seen the TV show and the movie, as well as reading the previous book, and as a result, these characters are too familiar to me. They seem to be doing the same things over and over. Part of that is their character — “aimless” is a kind way to put what bedevils most of them — but part is due to seeing the story three different ways.
It doesn’t help that the main plotlines are “Takemoto likes Hagumi but she may be in love with Morita so Takemoto never says anything to her” and “Yamada likes Mayama but he likes someone else so she suffers in silence”. I want to see someone do something to break these fragile impasses. They’re bound to end soon anyway, because students only have so long to live that lifestyle before moving on. Take action! Make a choice! Have courage!
I can see what others appreciate in it intellectually, but it’s just not hitting me emotionally. It feels to me like an older person wallowing in nostalgia for their schooldays as a way of living in the golden past instead of the challenging present. That impression is influenced by the way Takemoto wraps each section up with his melancholy moral and moment of reflection. (It doesn’t work for me in Grey’s Anatomy, either.)
Plus, the scratchy art style isn’t growing on me. In the beginning, Hagu looks like a Japanese clown take on Mickey Mouse, with two big poofs of hair for ears and simple wide circle eyes. The artist uses multiple lines on cheeks to show emotion, but they look to me like the pen got out of control. Then there’s Hagu’s elfin-like size, which still seems creepy when two college students are both infatuated with her. Having the others make fun of the same confusion, calling her 20-year-old birthday photo that of a 7-year-old, doesn’t help.
I did like the “let’s all pitch in” attitude of the Christmas chapter, though, as the shopping street workers try to compete against the nearby new supermarket. (Even if it was a sitcom plot.) As the book went on, I found myself warming to it, until I actually enjoyed the last, bonus story where Yamada and Hagu make overstuffed tea cozies. That was realism I could relate to, the enjoyment of simple craft.