Monday, February 3, 2020

Missed It Monday - Love at Fourteen volume 5 (Manga Review)

Two middle school students in uniforms look up surrounded by fall leaves
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review manga/anime that I didn't read/watch when they first came out.

Love at Fourteen vol. 5 - 5.5/10 (*see below for full scoring rubric)

I know you are all tired of hearing me rant about child/adult relationships in manga/anime. But sadly, there are a lot of them in many of the series I'm reading (which I didn't know at first). Rest assured I'm starting some other series soon so hopefully we'll have other stuff to talk about.

With that in mind, Love at Fourteen vol. 5 (Yen Press) gives us more great stories with our lead young couple, but also gives us one adult pursuing a child and four children crushing on adults. It's that focus on adult/child relationships that drives the score so low on this volume. Thankfully none are explicit, they are mostly crushes from a distance, otherwise the score would be lower.

Before we talk about the bad stuff, let's talk about what this volume does right.

Firstly, Kanata and Kazuki continue to be enormously cute on their own and together. They are just nice, normal, real kids. They don't, and never have, felt like what an adult thinks kids are, but really are just like the kids I've met every day between my two careers (in music production and now in education) as well as my daughter and her peers. That's quite a writing accomplishment.

Volume 4 starts with the students preparing for a math test. Everyone assumes Kazuki must know it all since he's the "mature" one. But mature doesn't mean academically gifted and he's embarrassed to say he doesn't understand. He solicits the help of Shiki to teach him. She agrees to do so as long as he sets her up on a date with Kanata.

It doesn't work out the way anyone thinks, but in the end, we find Kanata and Kazuki opening up even more to each other and we get to see what Kanata's jealous side looks like. It's a very sweet interaction and Kanata makes it clear he needs to tell her things before anyone else, even if he's scared she won't like what she hears. That's a mature relationship.

More important though is how Kazuki shows tremendous character in this story. When he and Shiki are being teased for possibly dating (they aren't), to protect her reputation, he confesses that she was simply tutoring him because he was embarrassed he didn't know linear functions. He outs himself as needing help with school in order to do right by her (even though she was actually scheming to break Kazuki and Kanata up - and he knew it). He simply did the honorable thing in a tough situation.

The other main story is the class trip. The two get suckered into helping plan it when Eto walks into the science room and discovers the two together. During the trip itself, we get another sneak peak into just how cute Kanata and Kauzki are, when they are forced to tell each other that they have been secretly taking candids of each other for months. They share their shots and we get to see just how cute they both are in their love for each other.

From there, the story shifts to focus more on Nagai and Hinohara-sensei. During the plane ride, she sits next to him and subtly uses her body language to flirt/make him aware of her. Then she comes up to him as he's walking alone at one of the destinations. Nagai gets angry at her for always "messing" with him and tells her to leave him alone.

The story takes a turn when a local high-schooler bumps into Nagai and Nagai mouths off. From here, things escalate, culminating in a scene between Hinohara-sensei and Nagai that was both emotionally moving but also worrisome as to which direction the author will take this child/adult relationship.

That's a perfect pivot to talk about my concerns with the sheer number of adult/child relationships on display in volume 5 (and the series). We have Nagai who is being pursued by Hinohara-sensei. She seems more romantically into him than he is with her, but he's certainly aware of her. We have Doi who is crushing on Hinohara-sensei, we have Eto who we learn has a crush on her science teacher, and now have the new student who is infatuated with an adult woman on the train (and even follows her to learn more about her! Stalker!).

I asked my daughter (16yrs old) if she was ever aware of kids having crushes on teachers. She said that some thought a teacher might be hot but that none had crushes on them. So why is there so much of this in manga? Is there a socio-cultural aspect that is different in Japan? I don't know. I would think that most 14 year-olds would be paying attention to other fourteen year-olds. But we have at least four in this series who are romantically interested in adults.

That's bad enough, but there is no excuse for Hinohara-sensei, a teacher, to be actively flirting with, and in some ways pursuing a relationship with, a 14-year-old. My only hope is that there is some sort of awakening, comeuppance, something. Or maybe, it's not romantic for her. Maybe he reminds her of a child or sibling she lost and I'm just misreading it as romance. I don't know, but until we get a solid fix on this, I'm really uncomfortable.

Looking at the volume as a whole, there is such strong writing with Kanata and Kazuki that it makes it worth reading. They are two fourteen year olds in love who also act like real fourteen-year-olds. Great writing. But even the uncomfortable nature of Hinohara-sensei and Nagai's "relationship"/interactions has an emotional weight to it that I haven't found in other adult/child storylines in manga. That doesn't make it right, but it is more interesting to read than others. I hope that it will conclude with a resolution that does justice to the writing quality while also protecting the child from exploitation.

The art is very open and minimal. That's not a bad thing, but it isn't a selling point of this series either. However, facial expressions are well done and the art certainly isn't bad, just simple.

So what to make of it? If it was just Kanata and Kazuki, this volume would be a 7.5/10 easy. And I hate to say it, but I actually like the way Hinohara-sensei and Nagai's emotional connection is depicted even though I hate that she's a teacher and he's a child. But that relationship, combined with more unbelievable youth crushes on teachers/adults has me worried and is also not wholly believable. So all those child/adult relationships and crushes reduce the score to a 5.5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 7
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 7 - surprisingly so, there's always some nuance
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - fine
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 5 - the main couple is great, but I struggle with why so many 14-year-olds are crushing on adults.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6.5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 3 - great moment with Kanata getting angry/jealous; Hinohara-sensei's response to Nagai's disappearance was surprisingly moving
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 not really a part of this series, but not a problem either
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 not really
  • Quality art (0-5): 1 - simple but pleasant
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 3 - hard to know where the series is going. One adult pursing a child, four children crushing on adults. Nothing explicit has actually happened though.
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0 (other than the child/adult relationships above)
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -1.5


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.

All comments are moderated by a real person who only checks them once a day. Therefore, comments may take a while before they show up. Thanks for understanding. It's how we keep this a community of lovingkindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Remember: please talk about the work, and offer counter points to others' analyses but DO NOT ATTACK THE PERSON whose analysis you are countering. (no ad hominem comments) Thanks! <3