Monday, June 10, 2019

After the Rain volume 4 (manga review)

Akira x Kondo
After the Rain vol. 4 - 8/10

After the Rain continues its slow, delicate, low-stakes story in volume 4 (Vertical Comics). Like the volumes before it, very little happens (at least of consequence), but one can sense the subtle shifts in the characters under the surface narrative. It also continues to suggest that the romantic plot is hardly the point of the series at all (and that's a good thing).

Quick catch up: Akira is the injured star of the track team, who has refused physical therapy to heal after surgery and given up running. She works at a diner and has fallen for the slightly balding middle aged divorce manager. He is a former writer with a young son. Even though she has expressed her feelings for him, nothing is happening, and propriety remains between them. This could all be icky, but it isn't, because of the extremely sensitive writing of Mayazuki-sensei.

In volume 4, Akira is showing more and more outward feelings about track. At one point she tries to throw out her track spikes, but ultimately tells her mom not to. She and her friend (and track mate) Haruka continue their awkward meetings, unable to say the things they need to say to each other. Akira even visits an up-and-coming "rival" at another school (and by visit, it's in typical Akira fashion which means she stands, says nothing, then leaves!). Kondo, too shows his conflict about writing, this time mirrored through comments and interactions with his novelist friend. There is a birthday party for Yuto (his young son), co-planned by Akira and Kondo, there is more work on the Christmas scarves, and even a little tension between Akira and Kondo as he becomes more and more uncomfortable around her.

Lots of little things happen, but as with the other volumes in this series, it is the unsaid feelings expressed through subtle changes in facial expression that show so much under the surface. Nothing is ever said, it's just people going through the day doing what they can to move forward in the face of life's roadblocks. Akira and Kondo continue to be a very similar pair, but while Akira still says she has feelings for him, and Kondo begins to think he might have feelings for her, I just can't shake the sense that they will never get together (that's good) and instead slowly get back on track with their true loves, track and writing, respectively.

The subtlety of storytelling, the slow moments, the wistful lost-in-thought expressions, exemplified in this volume as Akira and Haruka both reflect on Akira's former love of running, the way the wind sounded in her ears, are beautifully drawn. The art, while not realistic, is also not cute. Its long forms, telling eyes, and perfect pacing complement the writing exquisitely. The backgrounds have care taken, there is good use of shading and screen tones, and each character is uniquely portrayed. The art manages to be both simple and revealing at the same time. Just like the writing.

If you've liked this series so far, this is a great volume, even though there are really no specific plot developments worth belaboring. It continues the slow steady march of time, slow slight growth in the characters, and just enough progress to suggest where things are going.

I for one am loving this series and hope it continues in the same fashion and allows each of our lead characters to grow organically. I love how nothing has been forced in this series, and no matter where they go (together or apart) as long as it happens at its own pace, rather than through overt plotting, I'll continue to be happy. This volume gets an 8/10 (it's somewhat a time-passing volume, with no real developments, so that's why it isn't higher, but for what it is, it's excellent).


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