By Karuho Shiina. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Viz.
I must admit, I'm starting to wonder if perhaps this series is a bit TOO shiny. After reading every volume, I feel as if I've just had a thorough scrub with soap and water. Everything around me is brighter and cleaner, in a Ivory Soap sort of way. Even the villains in this manga tend towards the misunderstood cutie type. There *is* conflict, but it's the sort that involves simply being unable to speak your true feelings. I'm getting to the point where I really wish that perhaps a beloved sister would die, or perhaps someone could fall down a well.
Of course that's rather petty of me, as this series is so sweet I can't wish badness on anybody. And to be fair, we do get some real-world nastiness, as Yano breaks up with her college age boyfriend... who then belts her across the chops. (It's meant to look like a slap, of course, but she has a bandage over her cheek the next day, and it's still visible a couple days later when they're over at Ryu's place. He really socked her.) I liked this scene if only as it added a bit of depth to Yano, who's generally the smartest and most mature of the group. It shows that it can be hard to follow your own advice, and reminds us that even though she's the mature older one in terms of plot beats, she's still a high school girl capable of making horrible decisions about men.
But enough of that, back to the heartwarming and adorable. Even the angsty moments are filled with this, as we see when Kurumi finally confesses her crush on Kazehaya. She knows how this is going to go, as do we. And Kazehaya, being the perfect guy, even lets her down in the perfect way, immediately noting he likes someone else, and then when she asks if her confession made him happy, notes that it did and thanks her. I think this is the turning point for our view of Kurumi, and though she doesn't appear for the rest of the volume (which is more concerned with Chizuru and Ryu), I hope she shows up again, if only to see if she's abandoned her fake 'cute' persona.
Then there's chapter 18, which is just one giant 'd'awwww!' from start to finish. Sawako's parents' reaction to Yoshida and Yano, the pictures where Sawako isn't a 'ghost photo', Pin's ludicrous paranoia, and of course Kazehaya's panicked embarrassment. Moments like these are important in the series, as not only do they make it funnier and more heartwarming,. but they also humanize Kazehaya a little bit, which is necessary for someone like him, who tends to fall into 'far too perfect' if the author is not very careful. Sawako has this issue too, but her painful earnestness at absolutely everything takes the curse off her.
(She's like a Yotsuba for teen shoujo. "Look, my friends are coming over! Look, photos! Look, adorable flashbacks!" Like Yotsuba, though for different reasons, every experience Sawako has is the most wonderful thing ever.)
Lastly, we have the Chizuru's crush plot, which will extend into the next volume. Here we get some much needed depth for Ryu, who has tended to be the sensible one but not much else. He's comfortable with his unspoken love for Chizuru, and here we see why it's unspoken, and how difficult it is for him to try to protect her without her knowing it and without his own feelings becoming clear. It's an incredibly difficult task as Chizuru is not the brightest bulb in the lamp, and her combination of straightforward and unthinking leads the reader on a heady course for disaster... which will presumably have to wait for Volume 6, as we end this one with a cliffhanger.
I did greatly enjoy this volume, and I wonder if I'm just being picky when I note that it's too sweet and wonderful for its own good. Hey, sometimes you want a good meal, and sometimes you want cake. And this cake is really well made, one of the best cakes currently coming out in the North American manga community. Go get yourselves some sugar, folks.