Tuesday, April 9, 2019

After the Rain volume 3 - Sweet and maybe predictive (Manga Review)

Volume 3 - 8.5/10

First, can I say how much I love the size (as in page count) of After the Rain?! These are hefty volumes and I truly appreciate that. Yes, they're more expensive, but I love the 2 for 1 sizing. It seems to be a thing lately for older series to be re-released that way and I'm starting to see more new releases (like this one) coming in that format as well. Great choice! On to the review of Volume 3.

We pick up with Akira (the injured high-school track star and current waitress) still in love with her middle-aged, divorced, slightly balding restaurant manager (which could be awful, but isn't for those who haven't read this series yet). The volume has a bunch of little episodes that add up together nicely including things like the school festival and knitting a scarf for Christmas. In one important episode, Akira and the manager (and his son) run into each other (really?) at an amusement park only to then run into the chef and his step-sister (the chef's romantic interest?) which means that any time they would have had together is spoiled by the unexpected company. After some needling by the chef, Akira asks the manager out on a friend-date. In this volume, we also get a little bit more insight into the managers past as a young author/husband.

What's really important about this volume is that it starts to place Akira's former running career at the center. At the restaurant, Akira runs into a young runner from another school who used to idolize her. She learns about Akira's injury and it turns out she has the same one. She can't forgive Akira for giving up when she's worked so hard to come back from her own injury just to race Akira and pushes hard against Akira because of it. Akira dreams about running. Akira also bumps into her estranged best-friend Haruka while Haruka is out running. She watches Haruka running from the library window on another day. And Haruka also bumps into the manager and his son and helps him pick out his own running shoes. Again and again throughout this volume, we keep coming back to running, including the manager's own potential growing awareness of that aspect of Akira that she's repressing.

What is critical about the focus on running, is it continually sets the foundation that this series isn't really about Akira and the manager coming together as a couple and instead will focus on how she puts her own youth back together after the serious trauma of her injury. Maybe he too will be healed through their friendship and get back into writing novels. If I could foresee where this is going, then that's what I would want. The relationship should be one that brings them both back to what they love, even though they ultimately won't be together as a couple. It would be the right way to go and this volume certainly bolsters that delicate possibility.

On the relationship front, Yui, a peer from the restaurant, has an interesting opinion when Akira confides in her that there is someone she likes (but doesn't say whom). Akira states that she's told him her feelings, that they went on a date, and that they text each other, but that he referred to her as a friend. Yui believes he's keeping Akira on hold. I'm not so sure about that. If he were a teen boy, this would be my conclusion too, but as an older divorce`, with what we know about his personality (and kindness), I bet he's lonely and likes the friendship, but I really don't see the author giving us any signs that he's romantically interested in Akira (although he does seem flustered by her in a being-uncomfortable-around-her sort of way). His lack of interest in a romantic relationship is a good thing for my long-term enjoyment of this series. The romance needs to remain one-sided for the series to keep its tone and value. Other stories can explore May/December romances, and maybe there are even times to explore the impact of adult/teen relationships (as icky as that is), but with the soft, slightly pensive, melancholy, wistfulness of this series, having the manager actually reciprocate would ruin the mood of the story. It's an interesting moment between Yui and Akira and works well if we assume that the manager isn't keeping her on hold so much as never doing anything to actually lead her on in the first place.

The writing continues to be strong. I love that despite her cold, tall, beautiful looks, Akira keeps being presented as a normal person. For example, taking part in her class's haunted house at the school festival early in this volume. She might look somewhat stuck-up and aloof, but she isn't, she's just a bit quiet and reserved, but apparently nice and friendly and part of the class. That she has no big personality quirk and is normal is one of the appeals of her character and the way she's written. She's an amazing silent observer, but also has these totally honest teen moments.

The art continues to be well done and different from other series. The art has a very long line (and person) quality with some simple sketchiness. There is moderate detail in the backgrounds, and good use of tones, but it isn't an overwhelmingly technical art either. It's got a good flow to it, and it still has the hand-drawn aesthetic rather than looking as if it was illustrated on the computer. There's a great panel of Akira looking out, defending her decision to keep loving someone who doesn't love her back rather than moving on. There's another great shot of Akira, the manager, and his son from behind, making them almost look like a family. Great writing and interesting art that reinforces the mood.

I'm still loving this series. Three volumes in, it doesn't seem quite as ground breaking to me as it did when I read the first volume. But that's to be expected now that I've gotten used to it's brilliance. But boy, was that first volume a revelation to me. But so far, so good with keeping up the quality, mood, pace, and direction from volume to volume. Volume 3 is a solid 8.5/10 as part of a brilliant series. I just hope it keeps up towards an emotionally rewarding (and bittersweet) ending. If it does, it will go down as one of the greatest series ever.


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