By Kaoru Tada. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Margaret ("Betsuma"). Released in North America by Digital Manga Publishing.
Come on, Tada-san, throw me a bone. I realize I said in my last review of this title that it was basically like drinking raw shoujo straight from the tap, but even so, this is ridiculous.
The problem is not really Kotoko, who is pretty much the same throughout this vo0lume. The pacing of this series is realistic yet also slow, so as we head into the 2nd year of college Kotoko's lack of maturity niggles a bit more. Still, she's a shoujo heroine, so you pretty much take simple yet happy as a default option. She did briefly show that she can do OK if she applies herself, when she studied for her English final so she stayed in the same class as Naoki, and she was good (if panicky) in a crisis, but she's still pretty much a huge flake.
The problem is Naoki. He is developing, and we see it. He's starting to deal with the fact that he's essentially still adrift in life, and tries to make a clean break by moving out and living on his own. Which is exactly what he needed to do, so no issues there. But man, what a stoneface. The only time we see him show emotion is when he's pissed off. His moments of contemplation are entirely from Kotoko's point of view, and reveal nothing to us of his thought processes. Even in the final pages, where he thanks Kotoko for everything she did, doesn't seem to move him into a smile.
These chapters ran in Betsuma in late 1991, and shoujo was clearly another world then. Nowadays publishers know that you need to pay attention to other demographics while still remaining true to your core readership. Jump, for example, has a large female readership, as any cursory examination of all the Gintama yaoi at Comiket should tell you. Likewise, many guys these days are fans of shoujo and shoujo magazines (including myself). Here, though, we see Naoki only through Kotoko's eyes. He is a deep, unfathomable mystery, and we get few to no hints or reassurance that he even cares that Kotoko exists. Hell, even when they're forced to spend the night in the same bed, we don't get the standard shot of him watching her sleep with a sweet look on his face.
This does help to keep the suspense going - unlike many other shoujo manga, you can easily see why Kotoko has no self-confidence in their relationship - but it does make for very frustrating reading. Of course, it's also very well-crafted, and a page-turner as well, so everything balances out. I thought we had one too many rivals show up by the end of this book, but that's OK. The pure shoujo title continues to mine a deep, rich vein of girly romance. If you can put up with the lead being a ditz even now that she's headed into her twenties, and the hero being so hard to read he needs a Naoki for Dummies book, then this is still highly entertaining.