Thursday, December 27, 2018

After the Rain vol. 2 keeps the slow, delicate, pace going (Manga Review)

I loved, LOVED, After the Rain volume 1 (by Jun Mayazuki, published by Vertical Comics). That was somewhat surprising given what could/should be a really creepy premise. In fact, it might be the best seinen manga of the year (a genre I don't typically read, either). So I am extremely pleased to say that Volume 2 continues with the softness, sweetness, slow pace, and delicacy of volume 1.

Akira is a former high-school track star, former because of a severe ankle injury (ruptured Achilles tendon?). She is now working at a local family restaurant. There she finds herself falling in love with her middle-aged, balding, nothing-special manager. This is how volume 1 begins, and that should be a really creepy warning sign to stay away. But instead, it's an incredibly kind and sweet story, that almost (almost) makes it feel plausible that Akira could fall in love with him.

Volume 2 picks up as Akira has met her boss's son from a previous relationship. We are also introduced to Kiyan, Akira's former (still?) best friend and track mate. However, it's clear that Akira has distanced herself from everyone in track, including Kiyan, even though she remains friendly with other students in her class. Combining the tension of their interactions with her boss's statement that Akira doesn't know anything about him, and we get the central emotional point of the volume. We also meet a friend of her boss's and discover more about his past as a writer. A depth of character, that if continued to be explored, will serve this series well.

I don't want to give away any details, because there is minimal plot to begin with (a good thing for a story like this) and so reading it for yourself is the joy. It's the small nuances of facial expressions, pacing, the minimal use of text, the subtlety that makes this series so incredible, not the actual events. Therefore, giving you the details of the chapters is both useless and potentially ruinous to your enjoyment.

Suffice it to say that Mayazuki-sensei continues the quality of volume 1 in volume 2. My only thought was that volume 2 didn't seem as revelatory to me as when I read volume 1. I don't think it's because of any difference in quality, but perhaps volume 1 felt so amazing simply because it was unexpected, so volume 2 isn't as much of a surprise. That's not a criticism at all, because volume 2 is wonderful.

Let's talk about the art. The facial expressions on Akira are incredible. She is so quiet, and appears as though she would be the stock haughty character from any other series, but instead, due to the range of facial expressions she is given, she has the most incredible emotional range and we immediately gravitate to her and empathize with her because of those feelings. She's adorable, not in a fluffy moe way, but adorable in that she is so earnest and wears her heart on her sleeve (face), even though she isn't trying to let people in. It's wonderful to see a character that visually suggests one trope (she's tall, thin, athletic, long perfect dark hair, etc...) but actually embodies another (the cutesy, love struck, teen). She is vibrant and fetching and unique and the art perfectly accentuates and adds to how her character is written. Volume 2 simply continues this amazing artwork.

Further, the line work is delicate and refined throughout. The use of screentones is closer to that of a shoujo series than a seinen, but still a bit more understated than many shoujo. I love me some good screentone use, and it's used well here. Any more would ruin the delicacy, any less would leave the work too bland. Excellent balance. The characters are drawn long and lean (my favorite style), with not a hint of moe outside of some intentional comedic moments (I don't mind when it's sporadic, I just don't love when a whole series is that way - although I can get over it if the characters and story are awesome). Overall, it is graceful art for a graceful series.

Volume 2 is a strong 8/10. It isn't higher simply because it isn't shockingly amazing (it's just plain great!), nor are there any big moments that create huge emotional epiphanies or amazing singular moments (although there are lots of beautiful, subtle moments).

We're still early in the series and that understatedness is as it should be. My hunch will be that there won't be any big moments at all, but instead the slow steady development and growth of Akira into a young woman, whatever direction that takes. In the end, I anticipate this series being a landmark series, more than just the sum of its individual volumes. We'll see, but I'm super excited by the quality of the first two volumes.


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