Writer/Artist: Maki Minami
Translation: JN Productions
Adaptation: Amanda Hubbard
What They Say
Just when it seems like Hikari might finally come to terms with her feelings for Kei, a huge new obstacle looms up between them. Kei's grandfather, the patriarch of the clan, comes to Japan, demanding that Kei return to London. But is that his real objective, or is he hiding something?
It's probably not a good sign when it takes me multiple tries to work my way through the first chapter of a new volume of manga. The opening couple of chapters deal with the end of Hikari's and Kei's trip to Australia, and they're very slow going -- most of the first chapter in particular seems to exist either to show off stock images of Sydney or to give Hikari a chance at being comically overenthusiastic about the things she runs across while sightseeing. This, combined with a loopy follow-up storyline involving Hikari sneaking into Kei's grandfather's hotel room, effectively killed off my interest each time I started working my way through this volume: it ended up taking five attempts to make it through the opening act. If not for my determination to eventually review the damned thing, I probably would've let it set on the shelf indefinitely.
Now, to be fair, I don't at all expect that everyone's going to share my reaction to this part of the story. My circumstances are that I'm coming into Volume 11 having only ever read the series's first volume, and I came away disappointed that ten volumes had brought so little growth to the series: what was at first a mildly quirky (if occasionally) clichéd comedy series had inevitably shifted into a showcase for the lead characters' relationship, without picking up the requisite chemistry between them to support this sort of story focus. In the context that Minami is assuming readers to have bought into the relationship between Hikari and Kei, all this meandering around in Australia makes more sense; in my case, having barely believed from their actions that the two were a couple (had a later conversation not explicitly spelled it out), the whole sequence feels like it drags on forever and could've easily been replaced with a single short phone call to deliver the one bit of relevant plot advancement. I expect that a lot of the reader's enjoyment is going to depend on their willingness to get emotionally involved in a relationship with few signs of actual affection.
It's not just the Australia story arc where this is a potential problem; much of the rest of the volume deals with the relationships among the S*A students that range from obvious but strained (Akira and Tadashi) to lukewarm (Hikari and Kei) to barely developed (Megumi's crush on Yahiro). Some of these arcs work better than others, but all are at least a little bit strained, particularly a chapter where Akira intentionally tries to sabotage her relationship with Tadashi per advice gleaned from a magazine. At least all of these stories have the benefit of moving swiftly enough to distract from some of the goofier moments, especially for readers who're in the mood for melodrama.
The volume closes out with "Food Paradise", a one-shot story that deals with the budding relationship between a high school girl and chef at an unpopular local restaurant. The chapter hinges on a one-note joke about the girl having an insatiable appetite that scares away any potential suitors -- I don't really find gluttony jokes inherently funny, so this story didn't do much for me. Based on the sheer ubiquity of similar gags in seemingly all forms of manga and anime, I'm assuming somebody out there thinks they're a riot; adjust your expectations accordingly.
Despite my harsh words about the first couple of chapters, I don't actually hate this book -- its sin, so to speak, is that it's an inoffensively average shoujo romantic comedy in a market flooded with inoffensively average shoujo romantic comedies. It's serviceable, sure, and my guess is that readers who really like bog-standard Shojo Beat releases will find it enjoyable enough. But absent any novel "hook" -- and with so many above-average and outright outstanding shoujo series now competing for American readers' time, money, and shelf space -- I can't give the same mildly warm recommendation to readers who're on the fence about the series that I did for the first volume.