Monday, January 20, 2020

Missed it Monday - Love at Fourteen vol 4 (Manga Review)

Two high school students get ready for the sports festival
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review anime/manga that I didn't watch/read when they first came out.

Love at Fourteen vol. 4 - 5/10

It really really hurt me to rate this volume so low. In many ways, Love at Fourteen vol. 4 (Yen Press) was just as cute, sweet, and uplifting as the prior volumes. But in other ways, I've really had to rethink the series in light of a side couple's story.

Love at Fourteen follows long-time friends Kazuki and Kanata, who are seen as more mature than the rest of their third-year middle-school peers, and who begin secretly dating. They are incredibly sweet and kind to each other and model students. Theirs is a simple and cute story but that has some surprising emotional resonance. Their story in volume 4 is just as wonderful as in the prior volumes.

It's uniform changing time and Kazuki and Kanata can't get on the same page. They both want to wear the same uniforms as the other, but they keep getting it reversed. The other part of their story focuses on preparations for the school athletic festival where their time is split away from each other but the ways they find to connect anyway. Cute!

But, volume 4 spends a lot of time with the side couple of Nagai and Hinohara-sensei. Nagai is a male 14 year old middle school student. Hinohara-sensei is his 25-ish (I'm guessing) female teacher. They've had an uncomfortably flirtatious relationship to this point in the series. It's been a little unclear whether she really is romantically into him or not, but this volume makes it explicitly clear that she does have feelings for him.

In one scene, Hinhoara-sensei is getting ready for work, and trying on outfits, and settles on a tight skirt, and then thinks to herself "Even Nagai will ...." before she sits down, and changes clothes, and says "no no no no no" to herself, indicating that she's uncomfortable having that thought (but she has the thought none-the-less).

Hinohara makes a bet with Nagai that if his team wins the festival, she'll give him a kiss. That is NOT okay for a teacher to say to a student!

Hinohara-sensei's friend, the school nurse, clearly knows that both Hinohara and Nagai have feelings for each other, and actually is rooting for them. That's sick. It's sick not just because a person is depicted helping a student/staff relationship (with a middle-schooler!) but that the author, by creating this person, is lending her support to this relationship. It isn't a critical dissection of the problems of and adult/child relationship, it's an implicit (and maybe explicit) support for it.

At the festival race, Hinohara is making eyes at Nagai. Then the nurse tells her that he's injured but still running to prevent Hinohara from going on a date with another teacher. Hinohara's face drops in concern. Is this concern for his health, or is this concern for realizing just how far down the rabbit hole of impropriety she's gone?

Then, when they do win. She plays it cool, but Nagai comes up and gives her a kiss on the cheek and she blushes badly. After he leaves, she sinks to the floor and puts her head in her hands.

And all that between them is where the score for this volume got so low. Half the volume is the wonderfully kind main couple's relationship, but so much of this volume is dedicated to moving Nagai and Hinohara-sensei forward that I was really really uncomfortable.

First, Nagai is 14. Hinohara is an adult and his teacher. For both those reasons, she holds a power-imbalance over him. He's below the age of consent. She's his teacher, what should be a safe, trusting adult, who is there to nurture and protect. It's just not okay for any teacher to ever date or even flirt with a student.

Second, why wasn't I as bothered by this side couple as much in the first volumes as I am now? In my prior volume reviews, I did hint that I was uncomfortable, but it wasn't yet to the point of disgust. Volume 4 made me disgusted. What changed in between volumes is that I just reviewed "Daytime Shooting Star" volume 4 where I railed against a burgeoning romance between a 15 year old girl and her 25 year old teacher. It really got me thinking about why I was viewing a young man with an older female teacher relationship less harshly than a female student with older male teacher relationship.

This required me to unpack a lot of my internalized biases. Biases that said "girls are more vulnerable than boys." Biases that said "it's okay for a young boy to lust after an adult female," but not vice versa. Biases that are simply false and in need of fixing.

If anything, a 14 year old boy is far less mature than a 14 year old girl - simply neurologically speaking, so maybe that makes him even more vulnerable. It's also a sign of cultural toxic masculinity, including the belief that it is okay for boys to take conquest of others, that made me less worried about a young boy in a relationship with an adult woman than a young woman in a relationship with an adult man. It made me blind to the vulnerability of Nagai. That he was a boy made me less concerned, but that lack of concern isn't based on reality. Young boys are just as vulnerable as a young woman.

I've spent many days thinking about this before writing the review. Although at first, this relationship was concerning to me but not creating a high level of disgust, the more I thought about it the more upset I became. Having spent so much time thinking about my feelings with Daytime Shooting Star vol. 4, it really crystallized my disdain for this side story.

On another, slightly less moral note, I also wasn't sure that teens would give a rat's ass about adults (so how likely is this type of story to really exist?). So I asked my 16 year old daughter if she's ever been attracted to a 25 year old man. She mentioned a few movie stars she's head over heals for. She said she's never met a young male teacher, so she couldn't answer that part directly. I also thought about my own growing up. There was one teacher who was in her mid-twenties, and a lifeguard at a local pool, who was totally hot. But no matter how attractive she was, I was always much more attracted to girls my own age. So I don't really know whether attraction of a child to an adult is real, or is more symptomatic of other underlying trauma or needs on the part of the child if it does happen.

As for why adults would be attracted to children? Well, there's unfortunately some pedophiles out there. But for those adults who aren't pedophiles, what would be in it for them? Let's be honest, kids are stupid, annoying, smelly, etc... They can't make deep and complex conversations with adults. They don't have many life experiences. Simply put, they are really immature. What sort of relationship would it be for an adult to be with a child?  What would the adult really be getting out of it? Why would any adult be attracted to a child if not pedophilia? How realistic is Hinohara's characterization?

And yet, there are SOOOOOO many manga stories about students and teachers. Is this really that common a thing? Is it really something that kids are interested in reading? Are these stories actually written for adults (gross)? Just in the few series I'm reading now, "Daytime Shooting Star" "O Maidens in Your Savage Season" "Love at Fourteen" "If I Could Reach You" (and probably several others I'm forgetting off the top of my head) there is a waaaaaay overabundance of this storyline. What gives? There are so many more love stories to be told, why must it be underage children with adults/teachers?

Looking at this from another perspective, it certainly exists that students and teachers get into inappropriate thoughts, and even relationships, with each other. The question for me is whether the author is condoning this or critically examining it. I'm still on the fence with where the author will go with this. In some respects, it looks like she's cheering them on (and encouraging us to do so). On the other hand, with Hinohara expressing some confusion about her feelings, it gives me the hope that maybe the author will more critically examine this and ultimately end things between them, with heartbreak, and consequences, and more healthy next steps. We'll see.

I had to give this volume a low score, even without being sure how things will end up, because half the story (the one focused on our main characters) was great like always, but the one with Nagai and Hinohara was quite problematic (especially not knowing how it will resolve). We're left getting mixed messages about whether the author is encouraging this student/teacher relationship or will ultimately critically examine it for its severe problems. Until we know for sure, I have to be skeptical and so Love at Fourteen vol. 4 gets a 5/10 for its mix of goodness and problems split between the two couples.


Please legitimately purchase or borrow manga and anime. Never read scanlations or watch fansubs. Those rob the creators of the income they need to survive and reduce the chance of manga and anime being legitimately released in English.

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