Saturday, February 1, 2020

Hatsu*Haru volume 10 is fine, fun even, so that's all this series is going to be from now on then? (Manga Review)

A high-school girl jumps into a highschool boys arms with flowers in the background
Hatsu*Haru vol. 10 - 7/10* (see full scoring rubric below)

When Hatsu*Haru first hit, the initial couple volumes were really strong. Kai was relatively complex as hot-stuff teen boys go. Takanashi was cute, feisty, ass-kicking, and clueless about love (ie the perfect shoujo heroine). AND they were long-time frenemies so you KNEW they would end up together after a whole bunch of complex hi-jinks and almost kisses - which was exactly what the series did!

But then, it suffered what nearly every rom-com in the history of rom-coms has suffered: what to do once they do get together? And so Hatsu*Haru volume 10 (Yen Press) continues with their relationship (and a strong focus on another pair of friends who might become a couple) in fine, but by-the-books, manner. They're still cute together, it's still fun, at least everyone in the series is exceedingly kind to each other (something I LOVE about this series). But it isn't super special as a series anymore. It's still above average, for sure, and I'll gladly keep reading it. But it's just doing its nice thing now.

In the last volume, Kai had gotten tickets to take Takanashi to the hot springs where he hopped to finally move their relationship forward a bit. Takanashi is freaking out a little about this and wins tickets too, which she gives to Shimura and Taka, so that she'll have company. Naturally the girls will room together and the guys will room together destroying Kai's hope for a romantic getaway.

When Shimura and Taka conspire to give Kai and Takanashi some space, Kai makes his move. But Takanashi says she isn't ready, and (gasp!) Kai listens to her! I do love this about the series, it models how men can treat women well.

All the men in the story treasure their girlfriends or those they are seeking to be with. Even the most play-boy of them all, Toramaru, actually is kindest and gentlest with the girl we know he'll end up with (Kagura). When we meet Shimura's father at the end of the volume, we see that her mom is the strong, competent one in the family, and Shimura's father takes his orders from her. This isn't done in an emasculating way, but shows the author's value of balance in male/female relationships. Nice!

The scene with Kai and Takanashi concludes with one of their cutest exchanges ever, with Kai asking to kiss Takanashi and Takanashi telling him that he never needs to ask for that (and some very sweet kisses that follow). My daughter said he still needs to ask for consent, but after reviewing the art, we concluded that there are clear signs that she was truly consenting. (Go daughter for rocking the push for consent!). It's a beautifully written and drawn moment in the manga.

Cooler still is Kai's inner dialogue. When he thinks back to why Takanashi fell in love with him he remembers something she said and reflects that: "so I think, it's because I listened to her. I paid attention to her feelings." Yes, Kai. Yes! Men should just listen to (and then honor) their partner's feelings! Again, I love how these male characters can serve as models for other men.

There is a slightly disturbing moment between Shimura and Taka however. He goes to make a move on her, and she resigns herself to it even though she doesn't want to. Sensing this, Taka backs down. Shimura says that all men are fundamentally the same. Shimura, not quite seeing Taka back down, thinks he's going to continue, and shouts that she's resigned to her fate, that men are stronger and she can't stop him.

While Taka makes clear he never would, it was startling to see a woman "accept" that she was about to engage in some level of unwanted sexual content and not fight back because of the size difference. All those ass-holes who proclaim it had to be consensual because the woman didn't fight back need to read this sequence. They need to see how for some women, the fighting may feel so futile that they don't try. It's sad and scary as a woman and as a father of a teen girl, to read this. It's a powerful moment, Taka handles it well, but I was left feeling disturbed by Shimura's thoughts.

We move on to a new year's shrine visit and then to valentines day. The part about valentines that was really sweet was how all the boys decide to make chocolates for the girls, like they "do" in the West (as opposed to girls giving the boys chocolate in Japan). They decide to do this because their girls are so dense they're likely to not give any chocolate to the boys and the boys want something special on valentine's day.

So as the boys are learning to bake from Kai, and seeing how much work and effort it takes, they come to their own realization, best captured by Miki: "I get it now - why the girls want to give homemade sweets! I know how they feel." The boys express that the act of putting in effort to make something beautiful for someone else makes it meaningful for both parties and captures their feelings more than a bought gift likely would. Guys, take this chapter to heart! The effort matters. The effort will help you grow your own internal feelings too!

The volume concludes with Taka visiting a sick Shimura at her home. We meet her parents as I mentioned above, and there is some room for development between Shimura and Taka. I wonder if Taka's kind response to the incident at the hot springs opened up something for Shimura. She starts to share a bit about her own past with him too. We shall see.

The art is also really good in this series. I like the exceptionally round and open eyes, the detail and complex line use and the sparkly screen tones everywhere. It's just really good shoujo art with a slightly unique take on character design that stands out from the largely generic pack.

Nothing mind-blowing happens, a lot of the manic fireworks of the first volumes are gone (and I miss them), but the characters continue to be kind and sweet and that is more than worth reading. I can't give it more than 7/10 because it isn't exceptional in any way, it's just really good for being it's simple self as it settles into its final few volumes. Enjoy a kind romantic-comedy that showcases truly decent teen boys. My biggest wish would be for Takanashi to have more time and be more central, but I've come to see this as a shoujo focused more on the boys, and maybe for good reason.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6 - hot springs, new years, valentines - yawn
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 6 - the mains used to be, some of the sides still are a little
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - fine
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 8 - I do continue to like the consistency of the character writing and the emotionally open male characters.

BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6.5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 3 - there is a nice moment with Takanashi, and another with Shimura
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 1 - Takanashi says she isn't ready and Kai listens, it's a small exchange, but important
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 1 - Shimura is warming up to Taka
  • Quality art (0-5): 3 - I have always liked the art in Hatsu*Haru

BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 1 - there's some top breasts in the bathing scene, really minor, but still, why do we need bathing scenes even during a hot springs plot? The conversation could have happened anywhere.
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0

PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -.5


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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