by Miyoshi Tomori
published by Viz; $9.99 US
The opening chapter wraps up the Anna storyline from several of the previous books with an oh-so-convenient letter from the now-departed former classmate that lays out her feelings and motivations. I found this helpful, because I admit, I had trouble during that lengthy tale reconciling what characters did, why they said they did it, and how I thought people would actually behave.
Thankfully, the rest of the book is back to the strengths of the storyline, with Maria appreciating her new friends as they graduate to a new school year. First, the class is going to run a marathon, an interesting setting for the usual questions over trying to fit in — the girls are all planning to run slowly and cross together to avoid any of them being embarrassed by finishing late — or being true to oneself and actually trying to do one’s best. It’s a strange setting for an emotional realization, but Maria has one anyway, about her feelings for Shin.
Maria is drawn in gorgeous fashion, with plenty of closeups of her pageboy framing her luminous eyes. She’s the appeal of the series for me, as she struggles to make friends and grow outside the stereotypes others have forced her into. I identify. She’s a dogged individual, sometimes in spite of her self, and regardless of the trouble it gets her into.
A new character joins the cast. The freshman Shintaro likes Maria and isn’t shy about expressing it, unlike some others. His brash enthusiasm shakes up the little group in ways that make for more story fodder. Like Maria, he has problems understanding social boundaries, but unlike her, he doesn’t let his lack restrain him. She’s embarrassed by it, but he embraces it, even when it puts him in danger from older students who don’t like the way he stands out.
There’s also a beach trip, with the requisite swimsuit panels. Background material includes some author’s notes and a quiz to determine which character you’re most like.
The trip continues in Book 9, where the group fractures temporarily over Shintaro’s behavior but reunites over a disaster. Then it’s back to school, where music again enters the story. Maria wishes to hear Shin play piano in a concert hall, so he faces his father to try and make it happen. His past emotional struggles over living up to that legacy take focus for a while, and we’re shown the transformative power of both music and touch.