After Ren rejected her, saying he already had a girlfriend, Ninako asked him if they could still talk to each other like usual. Ren agreed. Although Ninako struggles to behave like his rejection of her never happened, Ren doesn't seem to have any such trouble. Ninako quickly realizes he probably feels awkward too, but is acting normally in an effort to make her feel better.
Unfortunately, things keep coming up that remind her of the fact that Ren rejected her. It seems like everyone knows Ninako was rejected. A group of girls who were also rejected by Ren begin to bully her a little because she refused to badmouth him along with them. Then, as if things weren't already difficult enough for Ninako, she meets Mayuka, Ren's girlfriend. Mayuka, too, sees the real Ren and loves him. She's cheerful, and nice, and pretty much impossible to hate.
Witnessing all these undercurrents of relationship drama is Ando, a friend (?) of Ren's since middle school. Ando is a player who flirts with pretty much every girl he sees and whose emotions for girls have apparently never been more than surface level. However, he finds himself wanting to help Ninako, intrigued and attracted by the way she continues to genuinely like Ren even after being rejected by him. As if things weren't already complicated enough, he seems to be falling for Ninako.
So, in brief: Ninako still likes Ren, who's dating Mayuka, who has no idea that Ninako likes Ren. Ando is beginning to fall for Ninako, which annoys Ren for reasons he's not ready to admit. Oh, and since I haven't mentioned him at all yet: Daiki still has feelings for Ninako, but there is definite evidence that he's falling for Sayuri.
Bonus Chapter - "Another Light":
This chapter takes place two years before the beginning of Strobe Edge and shows how Ren and Mayuka met.
Mayuka's family is going through a rough time: first her parents are separated, and then they decide to divorce. Ren starts off as someone comforting to talk to and develops into someone Mayuka loves. They eventually begin dating. Although Ren is two years younger than Mayuka, she feels like he's maturing much faster than she is, and it makes her anxious. Her anxiety prompts her to begin her modeling career, in the hope that Ren won't leave her behind. Her difficulty with telling Ren about her worries almost wrecks their relationship, but they make things right in the end.
You know how I was kind of iffy about the first volume? Well, I'm so glad I continued, because this volume was wonderful. I can't wait to see what happens next. Who would have thought that turning a love triangle into a love pentagon (?) could actually improve a story?
Although Daiki had a few scenes, he spent most of the time way in the background. I appreciated this, because it gave Ando more page-time. Ando may have only just appeared, but he's already my favorite character. He's definitely a player, but he's not a bad guy. When he sees the way Ninako is hurting, he truly wants to help her. I don't think he has a clue about how to deal with feelings for girls that run deeper than surface level “you're cute,” so it's going to be fun watching him fumble around, trying to deal with his budding feelings for Ninako. Especially since she knows his history with girls and isn't likely to believe that he's behaving any differently towards her than he does any other girls.
I have to admit, right now I'm shipping Ninako and Ando more than I am Ninako and Ren. The whole “Ninako loves Ren, who's dating Mayuka and who maybe has budding feelings for Ninako” thing is a bit nerve-wracking, and I felt like applauding when Ando told Ren off for the way he handled Mayuka meeting Ninako. Ren's the sort to quietly behave in whatever way he thinks will make those around him feel better (and I really hope the series takes a closer look at why this is and doesn't just stop at "because he's so nice"), but there's going to come a point when he'll have to make a decision that will hurt either Mayuka or Ninako.
I'm incredibly impressed with Sakisaka's decision not to make things easy for herself. She could have turned Mayuka into a villain, the stereotypical pretty girl who is snotty, controlling, and mean and doesn't deserve her great boyfriend. She didn't. In fact, the bonus chapter made Mayuka even more sympathetic. If Ren dumps her, Mayuka will be crushed - their relationship will have broken apart the same way her parents' marriage did. And I doubt Ninako would be happy if she ended up being responsible for the end of Ren and Mayuka's relationship. This series is shaping up to be one that will be rough on both characters' and readers' emotions. It's tough to root for Ninako's love for Ren, knowing that this is almost like rooting for Mayuka's heart to get broken.
So, am I continuing with this series? You betcha. I need to know what happens next. I'm going to root for Ando x Ninako, even though it's almost guaranteed not to happen.
In addition to the bonus chapter, there were a few author freetalks, in which Sakisaka wrote about getting her driver's license and seeing her pet chinchilla give birth. She also wrote about her efforts to get work done more quickly, and, um, those bits had me thinking "oh please don't die." Seriously, not eating and not sleeping is not good. I'm so glad she got herself a couple assistants.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You (anime TV series) - If you'd like another good, complicated school romance with a really likable heroine, you might want to try this. I've written about the first three volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
- High School Debut (manga) by Kazune Kawahara - Something about Ninako reminds me of Haruna, the heroine of this series. Haruna is a cheerful and athletic girl who, now that she's in high school, would finally like a boyfriend. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a clue how to get one. She ends up enlisting the help of a cool-looking guy named Yoh, who agrees to help her on the condition she not fall in love with him. Well, of course that doesn't last long. Yoh, like Ren, is quiet and doesn't smile often, but he turns out to be pretty nice. I've written about the first four volumes.
- Skip Beat! (manga) by Yoshiki Nakamura; Skip Beat! (anime TV series) - I don't think this is quite as appropriate a read-alike as the other two, but those who'd like another romance starring a really likable and sometimes dense heroine who's not afraid to do things that are painful or tough for her may want to try this. I've written about both the anime and lots of the manga volumes.
- Alice 19th (manga) by Yuu Watase - I don't know that this is the best read-alike - it's more of a fantasy story than a school story, and there's quite a bit of supernatural action and danger. Also, one of the heroine's big problems is that she is too shy to really say what's on her mind, whereas the thing that everyone likes about Ninako is that she's so open and honest. However, like this volume of Strobe Edge, there's a very painful love triangle - Alice has a huge crush on her older sister's boyfriend. Alice learns that she's a "Lotus Master," someone whose words have power. Unfortunately, she gets into an argument with her sister and must then save her from the dark forces that threaten to swallow her up. Her feelings for her sister's boyfriend complicate things.