Sunday, April 26, 2009

High School Debut (manga, vol. 2) by Kazune Kawahara

(This post has lots and lots of spoilers for this volume.)

Although Haruna's realization that she might be in love with Fumi shocks her, neither Yoh nor Asami are all that surprised. It takes a lot of coaching and help from Yoh, but it's not long before Haruna and Fumi have a date scheduled at the zoo. Haruna is terrified she'll mess things up, so Yoh agrees to follow the two of them and text Haruna tips and instructions as she needs them. Asami wants to follow too, but Yoh is very opposed to this. His words: "You'll get in the way!"

Haruna and Fumi get along well and, with Yoh's help, the date appears to be a success. Fumi doesn't appear to notice that Haruna feels anything more for him than friendship - the guy is even more clueless than Haruna, if that's possible. However, Yoh is confident enough about how things went that he advises Haruna to confess her feelings. Haruna also wants to tell Asami, since Asami helped her out and let her borrow a top to wear on her date. Unfortunately, when Yoh and Haruna arrive at Yoh's house, they find Asami in Fumi's lap, kissing him. Haruna runs off but comes back, only to be told by Yoh that she should probably leave. Fumi tells her that he and Asami are now dating. Fumi's not being mean - he still doesn't have a clue about Haruna's feelings for him.

Although Fumi still doesn't get it, Asami certainly does. Haruna can't stand the way things are between her and the two of them, so she decides to go see Asami and talk about everything that's happened and why Asami never told Haruna that she liked Fumi. Asami tells Haruna that there was no reason for her to tell her anything. In her words, "It's just that Fumi liked me better in the end." Haruna leaves after this painful conversation, and then Yoh chews Asami out for her actions. He doesn't believe that Asami actually liked Fumi until Haruna started liking him. At this point, Asami gets upset, saying that all Yoh ever seems to think about is Haruna anymore, and he's been neglecting his own sister.

Yoh goes to Haruna and lets her cry on his shoulder, promising to help her find someone even better than Fumi. The next day, Haruna manages to do ok, despite having to watch Asami cuddle with Fumi while the two of them arrange a date at the movies. On the day of Asami's date with Fumi, Yoh tries to help Haruna find another guy. It doesn't go well - none of the guys interest her. When Haruna gets a call from Asami and discovers that she's alone and for some reason skipping out on her date with Fumi, Haruna runs to her and encourages her to see Fumi. Asami tells Haruna that she should take her place, since a guy like Fumi could never really like someone as horrible as her (Asami). At some point during their conversation, Fumi spots Asami. Asami is sure he'll be furious that she stood him up, but Fumi just assumes he got their meeting place wrong (like I said, he's even more clueless than Haruna). In tears, Asami finally says she likes him.

As Yoh and Haruna continue to have problems finding her a new guy, Asaoka suggests that they may be having difficulties because there's someone Haruna already likes, someone she can't admit to liking. Haruna realizes that this person is probably Yoh. Unfortunately, if he finds out, he won't be her coach anymore, and he might not even want to be her boyfriend, so Haruna does her best not to act out of the ordinary around him. Instead, she works hard at practicing softball for the Sports Meet. It's hard, though, and she finds herself thinking about all the things she's learned to like about him and freaking out when he leans a little too close after giving her a sweatband.

Yoh is also preparing for the Sports Meet - amazingly, he's going to play basketball, a sport he hasn't really played since the infamous "beads incident." It appears as though, for some reason, Yoh may finally be over his old girlfriend. Now that Yoh's over her, though, is it possible that he might end up with another girlfriend? Haruna gets upset at the thought, and Yoh and his friends assume she's upset because Yoh might not be able to be coach if he gets a girlfriend. Later, Yoh reassures her that he doesn't plan to get a girlfriend until she has a boyfriend. All Haruna can think is that Yoh's girlfriend couldn't possibly be her - after all, Haruna is nothing like Yoh's ex-girlfriend, so she's not his type, is she? These thoughts (and the words of some jerk spectators) cause Haruna to do less than her best while pitching during her softball game. When Yoh gets disgusted with her, Haruna goes back to pitching her best and is happy when Yoh tells her it's ok for her to come and watch him play.

I was amazed that Kawahara didn't try to hook Haruna and Yoh up in the second volume, but the buildup to that eventuality is really nice. In this volume, it's tough to tell whether Haruna has decided to like Yoh because Asaoka put the idea in her mind, or whether she really does like Yoh - with Haruna, it's difficult to tell because, as she herself admits, she's easily influenced. I have to say, though, that Yoh's friends are funny. Fumi may very well be the most clueless person in the universe, while Asaoka is extremely perceptive (although he doesn't say so, I think he's already guessed Haruna's feelings for Yoh).

Most of the characters in this series are really likable and fun to read about. The big exception, for me, is Asami, and this volume is the beginning of my extreme dislike of her. Fumi may be clueless, but Asami definitely isn't, and she knew exactly what she was doing when she seduced Fumi after his date with Haruna. She has that horrible conversation with Haruna where she makes it seem like she had no part in how things turned out and was just going with the flow - kicking at Haruna like that is a lot like kicking a puppy. To make matters worse, she heaps on the PDA after her conversation with Haruna. Asami's not dumb, so I can only assume she was trying to hurt Haruna on purpose. She seems to have an attack of conscience later on, but I don't think that really makes up for her actions. It's like Kawahara used Asami to keep Haruna from ending up with the wrong guy and then, once that was done, tried to restore Asami to her place as the amused, interested, and occasionally helpful spectator in Haruna's quest for love. This didn't really fly with me.

I'm not sure how else Kawahara could've dealt with the budding relationship between Haruna and Fumi, however. Haruna and Fumi are both nice, clueless characters who, I think, would've eventually slipped into an easy and comfortable relationship. They're both so easy-going that they would've made for a pretty boring manga couple. I suppose Kawahara could've had Yoh eventually realize his feelings for Haruna and have him win Haruna away from Fumi, but shojo manga is just rife with that sort of thing already. Plus, I don't think it would've fit Yoh's character very well. Actually, I had thought that at some point Asami or Asaoka would've convinced Haruna that the guy she really likes is Yoh and not Fumi. Both of these characters have noticed what Yoh and Haruna are like together, and I think both of them have commented on the amazing amount of effort Yoh is putting into finding Haruna a boyfriend.

Oh, before I go on to the read-alikes/watch-alikes, I should add that one of the things I didn't like so much about volume 1, Yoh's criticism of Haruna's love for sports (because it gives her non-girlie, and therefore unattractive, muscles). In this volume, he takes back what he said - he now thinks that her love of sports, the way she dresses, and the way she wears her hair are all part of her good points. Aww...

Like the previous volume, this volume includes some author free talks. In addition, there's a little test at the end that is supposed to tell readers how good they are with guys and give them advice depending on their level of ability. It makes me think of the tests you'll find in teen magazines - I could just imagine Haruna earnestly filling something like this out.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Those who'd like another story with romance, a sweet and cheerful female main character, and a guy who isn't always good at expressing his emotions might want to try this.
  • Kare First Love (manga) by Kaho Miyasaka - Karin Karino is a shy student at an all-girls school who doesn't stand up for herself enough. Aoi Kiriya is a handsome and popular student at an all-boys school. Althought they seem completely different, when their paths cross Kiriya ends up asking Karin out on a date. As their relationship develops, Kiriya teachs Karin to be more confident, while Karin helps Kiriya deal with his family-related issues. Those who'd like another series featuring a female character who's a newbie at love and relationships might want to try this.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list. Not like it's the first time, though. Those who'd like another romantic series with a clueless heroine might want to try this.
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - In Kiri's school, there's a team of three guys who transform random girls by doing their hair, make-up, nails, etc. It's said that any girl they make over is guaranteed to get a date with whoever she has a crush on. Kiri is also a master hairstylist, but she prefers to work anonymously, and she's more willing than the guys to help out girls who aren't already good-looking to begin with. Kiri usually acts pretty apathetic, but she's got a soft heart and can be persuaded to use her skills to improve people's self-esteem. Those who'd like another series featuring makeovers and romance (far less romance than High School Debut, however) might want to try this.
  • Crimson Hero (manga) by Mitsuba Takanashi - All Nobara has ever wanted to do was to play volleyball, but, since she's the eldest daughter, her family wants her to become the next hostess for the family's ryotei (old-fashioned Japanese restaurant). Although Nobara's mother makes it as hard as possible for her to pursue her love of volleyball, Nobara still has the aid of her aunt and ends up living with the members of the Crimson Field High School's boys' volleyball team as their dorm mother. Although, due to lack of interest, this high school has no girls' volleyball team, Nobara is determined to pursue her dreams and gets the team reinstated after challenging the boys' team. Those who'd like another series with romance and a heroine who loves sports might want to try this.

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