Monday, May 4, 2009

High School Debut (manga, vol. 3) by Kazune Kawahara

Aw, isn't the cover cute? Haruna's a cheerful person and can't help but put her emotions on display - it's not hard to imagine her acting the way she is on the cover. However, this is a rare moment for Yoh. It's sweet and fits the general feel of this series and this volume in particular.

By the end of the previous volume, Haruna had just figured out that she likes Yoh. This volume picks up where the previous one left off. Although Haruna knows she likes Yoh, she doesn't have a clue what to do about it. She's sure that, if she tells him, he'll turn her down. That's bad enough, but what's worse, as far as Haruna's concerned, is that he would no longer be her coach and she wouldn't even have that contact with him. Haruna is pathetically easy to read, especially for Yoh, so she starts acting a bit weird (from Yoh's perspective) in an attempt to keep Yoh from figuring out that she likes him.

As I've said, though, Haruna can't help but put her emotions on display. Hiding and lying isn't her thing, and she's a pretty direct sort of person, so she finally decides to gather up her courage and tell Yoh how she feels. Before she can do that, however, an aggravatingly oblivious Yoh suggests that Asaoka might make a good boyfriend. Hurt and upset, Haruna tells Yoh that there's someone she already likes and that he's fired from being her coach. It's not at all what she wanted to tell him and not how she wanted their evening to end - she's especially miserable when, the next day, Yoh does his best to ignore her.

Fumi and Asaoka help Yoh figure out that it was his comment about Asaoka that got Haruna mad. Yoh figures out the next bit, that Haruna likes him, on his own, although he can't really know for sure how she feels until she tells him. He meets up with a tearful Haruna and agrees to be her coach again, but now he's actually watching out for signs that she likes him (and there are plenty - Haruna is horrible at hiding things). Finally, when the two of them are alone, Yoh asks Haruna if she likes him. She lies and tells him she doesn't, but she can't stand to leave things that way - she runs after him and tells him the truth. Instead of rejecting her, Yoh actually smiles, and the two of them are now boyfriend and girlfriend.

Or are they? Haruna is confused when Yoh acts the same as usual the next day. Did her confession only happen in her imagination? She's not sure until she finally talks things over with Yoh, who reminds Haruna that he's a beginner at dating too (he's had one girlfriend, and that went badly). He's not sure what they should be doing either, so he has Haruna come up with some ideas from her vast knowledge of shojo manga. They try out one idea, going home together - Haruna gets so excited she doesn't pay attention to her surroundings and almost gets herself killed. She starts to worry that she's the only one who's excited that the two of them are now dating, but then she realizes that Yoh feels the same way she does, only more subtly.

Haruna's bliss is interrupted by steadily escalating bullying from the sophomore girls, who are all outraged that a freshman like Haruna has snagged a guy like Yoh. The bullying barely dents Haruna's good mood, and she does her best to hide what's going on from Yoh. However, when the sophomore girls all call her out to the school roof, Mamie rushes off to tell Yoh. Yoh hurries to the roof to save Haruna, only to find that Haruna has done well enough on her own (One of my favorite lines in this volume: "I'm sorry...but...I...I won, you know." Haruna is awesome.).

Haruna's bullying problems may be over now, but her relationship problems aren't. Yoh and Haruna go on their very first date, which, unfortunately, doesn't end up being very date-like. Once Yoh brings this to her attention, Haruna is horrified and determined to make their next date better. She relies on her usual method of improving herself, research, which Yoh tells her he wants to be a part of, since this involves him as well. They watch romantic movies together - although the movies themselves turn out not be very good research material, Haruna learns something from seeing how Fumi and Asami interact during the movie.

When Yoh invites Haruna to go to the aquarium with him, Haruna, not realizing that Yoh probably would've liked it better if it had just been the two of them, encourages Fumi and Asami to come along. In the spirit of research, Haruna tries to mimick the way Asami acts with Fumi - this doesn't go very well, and Haruna becomes depressed when she realizes that even Yoh and Asami look more like a couple together than she and Yoh do. Yoh, sensing something's wrong with Haruna, asks for some alone time for the two of them. Haruna starts to tell him that she doesn't think things are working out, until she's interrupted by some girls playing softball. They're from Haruna's junior high - it looks like the everyone in the girls' softball team there still idolizes her. Yoh tells Haruna he'll wait while she plays with them a bit. Haruna is horrified that she, once again, messes up a date (she completely forgets about Yoh while she's playing), but Yoh doesn't seem to mind. He got to see Haruna in her element, with people who like her just the way she is.

Similar to the way Yoh relaxed his views about Haruna's appearance and clothing (from "no guy would like that" to "you're fine the way you are" or something like that), he also relaxes about the whole dating thing - "we'll do this at your pace and I'm sure we'll be fine." I like that better than the alternative, watching Haruna trying and failing to mimick other couples.

I really like Yoh in this volume. Although outwardly he appears to be a cool and confident guy, this volume provides some nice peeks underneath all that. For instance, when he asks Haruna if she likes him and Haruna tells him that she doesn't, you can tell he's a bit taken aback, but he seems to handle it well enough. It's not until a few pages later, when he's alone, that you get to see him kicking himself over being wrong. It makes his happiness when Haruna finally tells him the truth even more fun. I also liked how he rushed to save Haruna when he found out she was with the sophomore girls on the roof but didn't act like his manly pride was wounded when he found out that Haruna beat all the girls on her own. Again, Haruna is awesome, and Yoh is awesome for not minding that.

There's a couple bits in this volume, once while they're shopping together and once when Asaoka is talking to Yoh later about having seen Haruna, that made me wonder if Asaoka likes Haruna a little. It's something that I forgot about for a while after first reading this volume, but the idea popped back into my head during a later volume. Once I get to that volume, I'll probably be writing about this again. I like Yoh and Haruna a lot, and I haven't really enjoyed Kawahara's Asami/Fumi storylines nearly as much as her Yoh/Haruna storylines. It's possible that I'd find an Asaoka storyline as uninteresting (or annoying) as an Asami/Fumi storyline, but I kind of doubt it. Asaoka seems like an interesting guy - I hope Kawahara writes more about him in a future volume.

Overall, this is a good volume, definitely better than volume 2. I just love this series! Once again, there's not much in the way of extras, just some author free talks.

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.
  • 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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