by Io Sakisaka; adapted by Ysabet MacFarlane
published by Viz; $9.99 US
There’s something reassuring to a simple story comfortably told. With this volume, we’re now firmly into a high school love triangle, as begun in book two.
Ninako loves Ren while Ando (shown on the cover) pursues her. We barely get a glimpse of Daiki, the third side of the triangle from the first book. I suspect he was too nice a guy, while Ando has the redemptive arc of going from player to dedicated guy transformed by the power of love. There is a hint, late in this volume, that another storyline might be coming up for Daiki in future books, though.
One thing I appreciate about this romance, different from other love manga I’ve read, is that Ninako isn’t afraid to ask questions to find out what she wants to know. Early on, she’s confused about how Ren is treating her. She knows that he’s off limits, dating someone else, but she still wants to be friends with him. When he starts avoiding her (due to some machinations by rival Ando), she actually asks him why. That kind of direct conversation is often avoided by creators who want an easy way to drive plot through confusion. It was refreshing to see something different here from Io Sakisaka.
Ninako later confronts two classmates trying to bully her — in a scene I had to read more than once to figure out what was going on, since the similar uniforms and hairstyles confused me temporarily — and Ren himself. She may be just as uncertain in romance as any girl her age, with internal monologue questioning herself and her choices, but at least she’s willing to take action when she needs to.
Visually, the class is doing some kind of cosplay photo booth for a festival, which provides excuses to draw characters as pirates or samurai. Ninako, in contrast, gets a giant frog suit, playing off her cuteness and relative youth (that I found a charming plot point in book one). In this way, she’s a more typical heroine, needing a guy to take care of her in small ways.
The next chapter turns a misheard remark into Ninako’s certainty that Ando is not long for this world. It’s a silly misunderstanding, but Sakisaka makes it clear at every step just how and why Ninako gets it wrong, until we’re laughing, not at her, but at how easily everything leads to the ridiculously wrong impression. We’re smarter than she is, but we’ve been that way since the beginning of the series, and it’s fun to watch her learn, especially since she’s so good-hearted about it.
Halfway through the book, Manabu, a friend of Ren’s, takes a bigger role. Both he and Ninako have flunked math and work together both for a make-up exam and a part-time job. Of course, Ren ends up being involved in both venues. That allows others to start observing the change in Ren’s behavior when he’s around Ninako. The characters are good blends of self-knowledge and ignorance, making them seem like realistic teens.
There are some intermittent author’s notes talking about her craft and how much work it takes, as well as how she thinks about things. I also thought her page of disappointments, ranked by how frustrating they were, was entertaining. (The publisher provided a review copy.)