By Kaneyoshi Izumi. Released in Japan as "Men's Kou" by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Comic ("Betsucomi"). Released in North America by Viz.
After the gut-wrenching plotline of Volume 2, I was ready for something a bit lighter, and indeed this is a bit lighter than Volume 2. At the same time, though, it draws heavily on that, with Maki being told my everyone in the world that he has to try to move on, but finding that it's not really as simple as that. Things get even worse when he meets a surfer girl whose name is very familiar...
First, though, we have the comedy. This features Miyaji, the girl we'd met at the end of Volume 2. She's still crushing a bit on the handsome, smart, and athletic Kamiki, and wants him to treat her different than he does everyone else. So when they decide to spice up their school play by adding an actual female (pretending to be a male in drag), hijinks naturally ensue. Honestly, this was the story that read the most like 'typical' shoujo, and you'd expect that in typical shoujo, Miyaji would be the heroine whose life we follow. Here it's the guys, though, and we discover that class jerk Nogami is not the only one who has an unerring ability to ruin relationships by simply opening his mouth.
The other non-Maki chapter features Nogami, who presumably saw Kamiki being tactless in front of the girl who likes him and thought "Hey, that's MY schtick!". So we get another chapter featuring his passive-aggressive (emphasis on the aggressive) relationship with the school nurse. Being a teacher/student romance, naturally she is getting pressured to leave for the sake of the students, despite the fact that no romance has actually occurred. Nogami is having none of this, of course, and refuses to read her 'final letter' to him, most likely as it's saying goodbye. This all culminates in her final address to her students, interrupted by Nogami in an epically awful way. Naturally, this is all part of a plan to make her admit she wants to stay. The ending itself felt a bit rushed, and the author noted it wasn't what she originally planned. On the other hand, the last line was great.
Then there's Maki. I realize that this is far more likely to occur in Japan than in North America, but running into a teenage girl with the exact same name as your dead junior high crush has to be a giant monumental coincidence. It doesn't help that she has a similar grumpy demeanor. (She's also quite busty, something I noted only as it's rather rare in shoujo manga. Counting the school nurse, this now makes two women in the series with that attribute. No wonder the author notes that everyone doubts this is a shoujo manga...) Maki finds himself fascinated by her, but as always is putting up a front of 'nice guy' that girls find off-putting.
Maki, frustrated by his friends heaping abuse on him for his lack of a love life, asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend. She does this, despite having accused him of being gay multiple times (she even calls him an uke, and is rather startled when he manhandles a guy attempting to grab her with ease). She also calls herself a BL fan, and Maki is so desperate for her companionship (it seems) that he starts trying to molest Kamiki to attract her interest. Of course, this culminates in her tearing him apart for pretending to have a girlfriend without bothering to even hold her hand. And it becomes clear that she's just as smitten with him as he is with her.
This was my favorite part of the manga, but it's still very odd. Erika's similarities with Maki's former girlfriend are eerie, and I keep thinking that there's more behind this than there actually is. Her facial expressions, especially when she noted someone would be miserable with him as a boyfriend, read very much like she has a backstory of her own that will hold things up as much as Maki's will. And once more we see Maki, who is outwardly the perfect high school boyfriend, giving off auras of 'I am preoccupied with something else'. Luckily, he seems to finally be trying to work past this, and asks her to give him more time to make this work. Of course, he's going to have to mention his past at some point, especially as Erika finds her namesake's picture on his phone right at the end.
Arguably the main thrust of this volume relies too heavily on coincidence, but that is the problem with a lot of fiction, and it's not like I'm asking the series to be completely realistic. More to the point, this series has some of the best characters I've seen in shoujo in a while, being handsome guys, outwardly great, but all with quirks that makes it easy to see why there are immense problems with having any of them as a boyfriend. Maki in particular is riveting, and I root for him to make things work with Erika while realizing that there are immense problems with it happening. More to the point, anyone who ever drops a series after one volume should read this as a great example of why you should give it a bit more of a chance.