Saturday, May 16, 2009

High School Debut (manga, vol. 4) by Kazune Kawahara

Christmas is coming up, and Haruna is determined to make it the best one ever for Yoh. Specifically, she wants him to say, "I never knew that Christmas could be this good. Having a girlfriend is the best thing ever." Of course, all Haruna and Yoh's friends are supportive, but they know him well enough to doubt he'll ever say anything like that.

After talking to everyone she can think of, Haruna comes up with what she believes is the best list of romantic Christmas activities ever. Plus, after briefly having a part-time job (she was fired for working too hard), she can afford to get Yoh a great present and give herself a make-over (with Asami's guidance) in time for their date. Although the activities Haruna planned don't turn out quite like how she imagined, the date is still a big success, until things go badly during dinner. One of the waiters at the restaurant decides to play a trick on all the couples (he's jealous that he doesn't have a date for Christmas). The game he starts up reminds Haruna that, although Yoh has been happy with her during their date, he used to be happy with his ex-girlfriend and probably even kissed her at some point. In her head, she knows that this is all in the past, but in her heart she can't help but feel upset. Yoh chases after Haruna and ends up kissing her and telling her that, from now on, he won't kiss anyone else but her.

You'd think this would be a happy moment for Haruna, except that now she can't hardly stand to be around Yoh. Every time she's around him, all she can think about is their kiss, and she finds herself being unable to speak, or running away without meaning to. Her sudden awkwardness around Yoh hurts his feelings, and suddenly Haruna's relationship with him appears to be falling apart. Haruna can't even talk to her best friend Mami about it, because she sees Yoh and Mami doing something together and thinks the two of them might be on their way to becoming a couple. It doesn't help that a store employee sees Yoh and Mami together and mistakenly concludes that Yoh is Mami's boyfriend.

Haruna is determined to make things right with Yoh again, but because she still freezes up around him she knows she can't do it on her own. Asami offers to help by going out on dates with Haruna and pretending to be Yoh, so that she can tell Haruna what she's been doing wrong and help her learn to act normally around him again. Haruna doesn't know it, but Yoh sees what she's doing with Asami. He also sees Haruna helping him out by shoveling the snow in front of his house for him - even though she can't be near him, she still wants to help him however she's able.

Haruna is shocked when Yoh shows up at her house one day, eats the cake she had intended to give him on Christmas, and leaves. Haruna goes after him and tries to talk to him, but, even after all her practice with Asami, she can't. Yoh solves things by talking for the both of them, saying that, while he understands why Haruna has been acting the way she has, it still upset him. Haruna apologizes to him and even manages to hug him. Yoh later tells Haruna that he went out with Mami so that she could help him find a good catching glove. He figured that he could rehabilitate Haruna by playing catch with her - even if she couldn't look at him under normal circumstances, she might be able to while throwing the ball to him.

This volume is like Haruna's emotional roller coaster. She starts off high, hits the kiss bit, and plummets to a low. Haruna's high is both funny and fun. I'm pretty sure I've compared her to a puppy before, and that comparison fits yet again. She practically vibrates with excitement at the thought of a perfect Christmas with Yoh. My favorite part was when Mami suggested that Haruna find out what Yoh wants by going shopping with him and subtly asking him what he likes. Mami knows Haruna and seems a bit worried about her ability to be subtle. Considering Haruna's response ("Subtly, got it! I'm gonna write it on my hand!"), it's easy to guess that she's right to be worried. I just can't believe Yoh didn't figure out what Haruna was up to.

As prone has Haruna is to emotional overload, it's not surprising that her kiss with Yoh throws her so badly out of whack. I was kind of surprised that she thought Mami and Yoh might end up as a couple - while it didn't look good, from Haruna's perspective, that Mami and Yoh were having some kind of secret outing together, Mami's the last person I would expect to do something like steal her best friend's boyfriend. Actually, I suppose I'm not really sure what Mami's capable of - Kawahara hasn't really done much with her at this point.

Asami got a little time in this volume and, as usual, I got a little annoyed with her. She doesn't do anything really bad - in fact, it was kind of sweet that she agreed to try to help Haruna get over her issues with Yoh (I think this might show her affection for Yoh more than any kind feelings towards Haruna, but still). She cancels a date with Fumi because of the potential entertainment value of Haruna's problems - not exactly nice, but kind of funny. The one bit that bothered me was when Asami took Haruna out for her Christmas makeover. She takes Haruna to all kinds of stores that are so expensive even she doesn't normally shop at them, probably just so she can mooch off of Haruna and get all her free gifts. It's only a little thing, but it sticks with me, because I never really got over Asami's actions in volume 2.

Now on to Asaoka, and his very unusual violent reaction. It's always hard to tell what he's thinking, because he smiles all the time. He's such a laidback character, in general, that it was a bit of a shock to see him punch the waiter who gave out the test/game that upset Haruna during her Christmas date. I wonder, was he more upset that Yoh's date took such a bad turn, or that Haruna was hurt? I'm going to guess that it was because Haruna was hurt, because I'm still running off the suspicion that he secretly likes her. I just know Asaoka is going to be a really interesting character in the future.

Overall, this is a fun volume. There's plenty of humor, plus Haruna and Yoh's relationship moves forward a tad. I loved the high concentration of "Yoh smiles" in this volume, as well - compared to how he usually is, he's practically giddy during the first half of this volume. Very cute. One thing, though - in volume 2, when Haruna talks about her feelings for Fumi, she says, "So this is what love feels like... It's my first time feeling this way," to which Yoh responds, "And it probably won't be your last." This isn't the only shojo manga series I can think of that recognizes that high school love isn't necessarily eternal, but I think the majority of them don't even bring this sort of thing up, so comments like these still catch my eye. In this volume, however, we're back to "eternal high school love," as Yoh tells Haruna he won't kiss anyone but her from now on. I would have been even more upset if Yoh had qualified his promise with "while we're dating," though. I'm not really sure what I want - it's just that my brain latched on to the difference between this volume and that one.

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.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. This series has a part near the beginning that's similar to Haruna's awkwardness around Yoh - like Haruna, Yukino has some problems telling Arima how she feels, which almost messes up their budding relationship.

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