My Darling Next Door Volume 1
I found My Darling Next Door a comfortable read, with familiar characters and situations. (It’s by Rukana, and it’s a digital-only release from Kodansha.) Ririka is a high school girl who lives with her divorced father, cooking for them both and taking care of the house. She meets their new neighbor, Hino, a single man new to the workforce and not long out of university, and invites him over for dinner. Dad offers to keep feeding him in return for him tutoring Ririka, and she develops a crush on him.
This is faint praise, but I liked the story so far for what it wasn’t. It’s not frantic, which I’ve found to be an issue with other series I’ve read with a similar schoolgirl/ businessman premise. Because Hinocchi, as she dubs him, is some combination of over-tired, slow, or absent-minded, he doesn’t seem as predatory as he otherwise might.
I would have liked to see Ririka have some interest beyond makeup, taking care of her father, and wondering what it’s like to fall in love. She’s not a fully realized character, but she is cute to look at, very expressive. Particularly when she’s embarrassed — there are a number of “only in stories” scenes, such as when Hino answers the door shirtless or crowds up against her to get something off a top shelf.
We also get no idea what Hinocchi’s motivations are. Is he interested in her? Is he really that naive, that he doesn’t realize what close physical contact might imply? He asks her to dinner; is that returning hospitality or a date? Is he just being nice, and is she reading more into it because she’s a teen girl and he’s convenient and not bad looking?
The chapters revolve around remarkably small conflicts. What does it mean when someone doesn’t reply to your texts? Should students have different expectations about how long it takes to get an answer than working adults? (Well, yes.) In another, he takes her to play futsal (indoor soccer) with some co-workers because neither of them have anything to do that weekend.
The moments where something with more depth might happen pass by quickly. Out with his friends, she realizes that what she likes about him is all superficial, and she doesn’t know much about him as a person, but that’s quickly forgotten when she starts obsessing over him drinking from her straw. There’s a hint of more in the last chapter, when everyone forgets Ririka’s birthday. That’s a bit charming and leaves me thinking there’s more potential to develop here.
You can read the first chapter at the publisher’s website. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)