by Fumi Yoshinaga
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
I hadn’t realized that the series concluded in this volume. The stories still feel similar to the previous, without the kind of directed wrapup you see in other manga. Some situations are even left open, without clear solution.
It’s been a while (two years) since the previous installment, but I found that the characters came right back to me. Plus, there’s a handy catch-up listing to start. Harutaro and Shota are trying to make manga professionally, while Kai and his teacher lover are figuring out their relationship, left as the cliffhanger from book 3.
But as the book opens, we meet Harutaro’s mother, visiting from her job overseas. She turns out to be surprisingly tyrannical, another character twist I’m beginning to find typical of Yoshinaga’s work. Art-wise, the figures are attractive in a finely lined way, lovely to look at regardless of their mood.
Catching up with Harutaro’s family is just the introduction to the soap opera with Kai, his teacher, and her married former boyfriend. This is a volume with plenty of decisions, focusing towards the future. New characters include a young manga editor with the philosophy “you must be cruel to be kind”. The advice he gives to Harutaro and Shota provides an interesting glimpse inside the manga industry.
Just taken on its own, this book is a relatively satisfying story of two boys completing a year of high school and working towards achievement in a field they adore (although approached that way, you’ll wonder at the high number of side characters and why the purpose of the presence of some is so unclear). There’s even high drama, as the question of Harutaro’s previous battle with leukemia is taken up again. It’s a bit abrupt, dropping from everyday concerns to matters of life and death, but I suppose one could argue that that’s more like life.
As a minor qualm, this volume doesn’t exactly match the previous ones. In the years since the earlier books came out, Digital Manga has cut back, as so many other manga publishers have, on its production value. In this case, the book no longer has a dust jacket, although the pages are still on good paper, at no change in price. I’m sure, though, that fans are just happy to see the series finish. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)