Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Bloom into You volume 4 is the best yet (Manga Review)

Sayaka, Touko, and Yuu
I've been pretty luke-warm on Bloom into You (by Nakatani Nio and published by Seven Seas) up to this point, tantalized by certain aspects (is Yuu aromantic, will the story stay true to that?) but also finding it somewhat slow and typical at the same time. Volume 4 started off similarly, and I was really thinking it was mostly filler, but boy howdy did the last few chapters end strong (especially the last one)! So strong in fact that I think it is my favorite volume of the series so far.

Yuu, Touko, and the rest of the student council get the script for the play they will perform. Touko, still earnestly trying to fulfill her dead-sister's goal of seeing the student council put on a play, is cast as the lead. The group heads off to a retreat to rehearse and that's when Touko meets a man who knew her sister, describing her completely differently than Touko knew her, and casting everything Touko thought she understood into doubt.

What made this volume special is that we got some serious understanding of Touko and Yuu's psychology. Touko is not only living in her sister's shadow, but has a serious mixture of idol worship and a personal inferiority complex. It's that inferiority complex that ends up being significantly impactful to Yuu at the end of the volume, and leading to an interestingly hidden word in an internal thought by Yuu (Nio-sensei, what are you hinting at?).

Yuu on the other hand is starting to find a balance in what she wants from Touko. She clearly enjoys the companionship as well as the physicality of their relationship. She also doesn't fret as much in this volume about whether it's okay to not be in love with Touko. Yuu is starting to really show that Touko is somebody in her life, her friend even comments that its one of the first time's that Yuu has ever  seemed to care one way or another about anything. I loved seeing Yuu enjoying what she enjoys and not worrying about something she is not (and also confidently asking for what she wants from Touko). In some ways, this is almost the opposite of how Touko is being exposed in these chapters.

What will be fascinating as the series progresses, is that while Yuu may get her needs met (companionship and physical intimacy) by Touko, will that continue to be enough to satisfy Touko who seems, more now than ever, to need to be loved in a way Yuu doesn't. I truly hope the story continues to be honest about the narrative of someone who is aromantic and does not take the cliched (and dishonest) way out and eventually have Yuu fall in romantic love with Touko. We need more narratives of diverse people and there is woefully little media focusing on aromantic lead characters.

I also hope that Nio-sensei will let Touko continue down the rabbit hole of self-hatred as she deals with the realization that the seemingly perfect sister she was in love with and basing her life on was actually an imperfect person like everyone else out there. Now that Touko doesn't have this idol to emulate, how will she break down and then build herself up as a unique individual? Yuu seems to be drawn to the real Touko that Touko so despises setting up a crucial dynamic. But I don't want a simple payoff, I hope that Touko's journey is done with the requisite complexity to make it feel authentic.

With my worries set to one side, this volume proved Nio-sensei's ability. Although I have no idea what Nio-sensei is planning in the long-run, if this volume is any indication, she has another level of writerly quality at her disposal and I hope future volumes are this good! There was also my favorite kissing scene so far this year, involving popsicles no less! I'm giving this volume an 8/10 for character honesty, a great kissing scene, and some nice developments emotionally. I hope the series continues at this quality level.


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