This volume of Gatcha Gacha begins with what might almost be a side story, as we are introduced to Sae, a classmate of Motoko's from middle school, and get a flashback to those times. Sae has her own hideous issues, but seems to have become far more cynical about them than Motoko. This culminates in a fascinating conversation on the school roof, where Sae wonders about the sky's blueness, and Motoko notes that it's due to God. Faith is not something that Sae expected from Motoko at all, and she realizes that Motoko is NOT someone who's been crushed by her awful life, but has even more hidden strengths.
As a chapter of the manga, it fits awkwardly, and I'll admit it could easily have been chopped out. I was rather surprised to see the fact that Sae was sleeping with a guy at the age of 12 left unedited by Tokyopop - the fact that we don't see it likely helps. It also shows Motoko knowing what's going on and seeing events being manipulated around her, but going with the flow rather than fighting against it - something that we'll also see in the 2nd half of the manga.
The last half of this volume is the sort that after you read it, you want to go back and reread everything with the new perspective you've gained. Motoko (we think) spends the entire time being rather blase and cynical about the revelations in these chapters, as if she's known about them long before. The is an oasis of calm while everyone around her is freaking out, which annoys all of them, but especially Yuri. Then, when everything comes to a head at the hospital, it's shown she DID know about everything in advance - she knew it was false.
This leads to one of my favorite exchanges in the entire series, which shows that Motoko is not just a sadistic girl-watching maniac, but has a deep and genuine affection for people. As she says to her grandfather:
Gawd! Wake up and smell the truth! Masako wasn't a cheater. She was a good woman. And Fumio was a prince of a man. Sure, we were always dirt poor and they worked long hours just to save up enough money to take care of my sister, but they *never* lied to me. Not once. They were the best parents ever.
Speaking of deep affection, Yuri completely panics when it's mentioned that Motoko may leave Japan, and goes into overdrive when trying to defend her. Strangely enough, though, when Hirao tries to defend her against another of her scummy ex-boyfriends (he makes a horrible Scott Pilgrim), she tells him off, noting this is her problem and he should butt out. Of course, this clearly doesn't apply to her. Hirao notes that Motoko can take care of herself in this battle, and asks "Is this friendship between girls really that important to you?" The question resonates with Yuri for the rest of the volume.
And so I have at last caught up with the releases of Gatcha Gacha in North America, just in time for the final one to hit in early November, a mere 2 1/2 years after this one came out! I thank Tokyopop once more for going back to the well for this underrated shoujo title, a story with a bunch of completely broken, fucked-up protagonists that nonetheless manages to make all of them admirable people, if not the best role models. I wish we had more shoujo like this. Recommended.