Friday, December 14, 2018

After Hours vol. 3 is an unsatisfying conclusion (Manga Review)

Kei and Emi
I loved the first two volumes of After Hours (Viz Media). But after reading After Hours volume 3, I was left confused and disappointed with the conclusion of the story. It felt so out of place and disconnected from the first two volumes that I had to go back and reread the first two to make sure I hadn't missed any foreshadowing that might better situate the third volume. On second read, maybe because the shock was gone, it wasn't as bad as I thought, but was still ultimately unsatisfying.

Volume 3 opens with Kei and Emi on the night of the big event. There is some mild plot thrown in that leads to Emi saving the day and supporting Kei's moment in the spotlight. We also get a lovely scene with the two of them afterwards, the "after hours" of the title.

BUT, then this oversized volume (6 long chapters compared to the other volumes' 5 short chapters each) can't quite figure out what to do with itself and gives us a random new-years eve chapter, an aquarium date, and then...

Then Kei goes missing. The next chapters are almost like a side-story or a story that could have been worked into the middle of the overall series, but stuck on the end, after the big night, it just feels out of place. Further, and this is why I went back to reread the first two volumes, the central driving plot elements come out of nowhere. In addition, Kei's motivation, when finally revealed, doesn't make a ton of sense for her character. Even if it does make sense in an abstract way, there was nothing in the prior 2 and a half volumes that suggested this in any foreshadowed way.

We get a sort-of resolution to this disappearance that doesn't actually resolve anything, and leaves the story in a wistful, open-ended state. This doesn't satisfy.

In the prior volume, Emi had come to terms with breaking up with her boyfriend and realizing she was in love with a woman. In this volume, she expresses some desire to build a life for herself and not just be a mooch at 24. Kei is presented as a mostly stable, grown woman, with a decent job, a rich social life and passion-project but who has some normal jealousy and insecurity within her relationship with Emi. NONE of that has anything to do with the final chapters and Kei's disappearance. 

So while not poorly written in and of itself, volume 3 mostly isn't tied to the prior two volumes. Once the concert is over after chapter 12 (the second chapter in this volume), the next four chapters just don't add anything or even make sense in the flow of the series. I almost wonder if it was originally a 12 chapter story, and when it didn't all fit right for publishing, if Nishio-sensei was asked to add more to fill it out. 

Too bad. If it had ended with the rooftop scene at the end of chapter 12 at least it would have been internally consistent as a unified story. I still think there was room to explore much needed growth and dynamics between Kei and Emi, changes that could fill a much longer series (and would have been well worth it). However, short and sweet is okay too, if it had been left at that. But the four additional chapters feel jarring and actually lessened the tightness of the first 12 chapters.

So nothing awful or horrible occurs to ruin the series, but it is a disjointed volume that doesn't end with the same tone or themes from the main story. The art continues to be top-notch. Somewhat moe but also unique and adult at the same time. Great use of grays and blacks, and a sketchiness that I like. There is a rapidness and movement in the linework that feels appropriate for a story about underground DJs. 

It had so much potential, the first two volumes really held up on re-read, but the final volume is a let-down. I give the final volume is a 5/10 due to not upholding the promise of the first two volumes. The series, because of the problems at the end, is a 6.5/10, but the first two volumes are so good, it's all still highly worth a read. 

For a different perspective on this ending, check out the review on Okazu.

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2 comments:

  1. Just finished reading my copy, and had to come on here and share my thoughts :)

    I'm of two minds! Part of me really wanted a more satisfying ending, or at least to see more of these two being a couple. But I'm quite happy with the turn it took for some reason...maybe not for any scene in particular, but for the general sense of wistful, melancholic fired-up inspiration it sparked in me.

    I like that Emi has found a community of people who she wants to grow stronger with. I mean, sure, Kei's dilemma at the end could be resolved quickly by hiring an accountant, but that's not the story Nishio wanted to tell, I guess ^_^ There's a general feeling of 'potential' that's kind of inspiring to me. As well as nostalgia. I dig it.

    Also, pp.220-221 was probably the sweetest way of saying "we need to go on a break right now." Kei shouldn't be THIS good at letting people down, omg! How much practice has she HAD?!

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    1. Sorry it took so long for me to reply! Been a busy week naturally. I too like melancholy endings where things aren't all wrapped up in a bow, however, I didn't feel like this one flowed naturally from the rest of the story. It felt tacked on. With a few more chapters, there could have been some lead-up to this that would have made more sense. But we never got enough of Kei's psychology (although her past was hinted at) to see this coming. Also, as Erica over at Okazu pointed out, a cell phone and train tickets would have also made it possible to stay together. I want to know (again the psychology) of why Kei is running from this relationship? Because it certainly appears that that's what she's doing.

      Ah well, still love it for the most-part, particularly volume 2!

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