by Hinako Ashihara; adapted by John Werry
published by Viz; $9.99 US
It’s always nice when a favorite series ends strongly. The main story, a teen romance with dark undertones and a lovely treatment of seasonal changes to mark the passage of time, finished in the eighth book. The ninth volume contained a couple of background stories that weren’t quite as successful as I’d hope, but this, the true last volume, recaptured the magic of the first books.
Most of the volume follows Daigo, now a school teacher, learning to have faith in his choices as a shaper of young minds. He had a favorite teacher when he was a child, and she had them bury a time capsule of items that meant something to them. Now, 20 years later, when the class reunites to dig it up, Daigo finds that his role model is just as human and flawed as he feels.
It’s a wonderful story about how things we don’t notice as important wind up having big effects on us later, and how important good teachers are. “Good” here is described as those who respect their charges and value them as little people, not so much based on knowledge of a subject. Even the most fallible people can have great influence and make the world better through the example they set. They may not always stay true to what they’re trying to teach, but that doesn’t mean the principle was wrong.
Additionally, the idea of a time capsule evokes the hourglass imagery of the main series, symbolizing time passing and children growing to adulthood and the importance of memory. Even if you don’t know much about the characters, it’s a lovely cross-generational tale about inspiration. If you’ve been following the series, it’s even better to hear hints of Fuji’s future and to see a settled Ann and Daigo depending on each other.
Daigo’s insecure about whether he’s actually capable of doing his job well, having less faith in himself than the reader might. We’ve seen his quiet strength and know others can depend on this country farmboy who does what’s right. But he’s also correct to worry about the effect he might have on a classroom full of impressionable young minds. That’s a big responsibility, and one worth doing well.
Artistically, the school setting allows Hinako Ashihara to return to drawing adorable children, a skill she excels at. She also creates distinctive personalities quickly, through just a few interactions and expressions. I wish I had such a fun elementary class, one with cooking and a Christmas play and group festivities. Also of note in this story is the touching portrayal of a lonely older woman without children of her own.
There’s an important reminder here of building neighborhood and generational ties, of helping those around you. You won’t always have the effect you want, and sometimes you have to wait to see how things turn out, but good intentions and good hearts have good results. When you’re with someone you care about, all memories are good ones, in a way, because you got through them together. Time keeps passing.
The book also contains two short behind-the-scenes pieces showing the author’s research travel and a bonus story about the birth of Ann’s half-sister.