Monday, March 2, 2020

Missed it Monday - Love at Fourteen volume 6 (Manga Review)

A middle school boy and girl in uniform walk outside in the fall leaves
Missed it Monday is the ongoing column where I review manga/anime that I didn't read or watch when they first came out.

Love at Fourteen vol. 6 - 5/10 (*see full scoring rubric at the end)

Love at Fourteen volume 6 (Yen Press) continues the series' mix of amazingly cute relationships with some problematic elements. It has some really strong moments when it focuses on the main couple of Kanata and Kazuki. But there is a pretty concerning set of events between the teacher, Hinohara-sensei, and her student, Nagai, that detract from the volume in my mind.

Volume 6 is situated around two main events, the class trip and the school cultural festival. On the class trip, the girls are all talking about the boys, who's confessed to whom, and all that stuff. They assume that the "mature" Kanata has lots of love experience, but she's still pretty naive. On the other side, the boys are all talking about how awesome it is to see the girls in their pajamas and that sort of stuff. This gets Kazuki's mind spinning about how much he wants to move things along with Kanata.

This storyline is so wonderfully executed, with all the subtle confusion of their ages, their desires, their fundamental kindness, their shyness, but also willingness to explore each other. Their relationship continues to be one of the most accurately depicted early-teen relationships in media. I don't want to spoil all the squeees, but there are just so many cute, touching moments in this storyline.

The school festival storyline is mostly about Hinohara-sensei and Nagai. This continues to be a pretty disturbing relationship to me, not because anything has explicitly happened, but because Hinohara-sensei is really crossing a lot of emotional lines and almost outright pursuing a relationship with Nagai. There's a predatory aspect to it that I don't like. Nagai is confused by it clearly, and that shows the problems with him being so young (14) and her not only being an adult, but in a position of power over him. Developmentally he is not in a place to be consenting, even though it's just flirtation and emotional connections.

The basic story of this segment is that the vice principal wants to hear Nagai sing at the festival and Hinohara-sensei is really working him hard to prepare. But at the same time, Nagai gets the feeling that she doesn't really want him to actually perform. As he digs to find out why, he uncovers that she's been asked to appear in a school uniform as a publicity stunt for another club and she was concerned about him seeing her in that outfit. 

Well he does see her in it, and he likes it (not that Nagai will ever admit anything to her), but what is most upsetting to me, is that it takes all her willpower not to use it to further seduce him and actually make a physical move on him. She admits as much in her internal dialogue. 

What perhaps saves not only this whole sequence, but maybe the whole broader story of these two, is that Hinohara finally starts admitting how wrong it is and how she has let it get out of control. This isn't explicitly written in dialogue or inner monologue, but just in her face as the school nurse talks about it out loud. It's perhaps the first time Hinohara has heard what she is doing with Nagai reflected back to her externally, and her expression of realization is heartbreaking. I hope this is a sign that she will self-correct, back off, and stop pursuing Nagai.

On the other side, there was also some nice scenes with Shiki, the girl who is in love with Kanata. She is asked about her attractions to women by the school nurse who has picked up on it. Feeling safe, Shiki admits it out loud. It's a coming out of sorts, that hopefully leads to some peace for Shiki and opportunities moving forward to explore her true self. Yet, there was also some concerning inner dialogue by the school nurse that suggests she too may pursue a student. Yuck!

The third and final major story arc concerns the spring vital sign check in with the school nurse. I've seen this depicted in like every shoujo series, but I truly wonder if this is still a thing in Japan? Either way, Kanata sees that her weight has gone up and begins dieting to lose weight. It's another example of terrible body shaming and crash dieting in shoujo manga. Thankfully both Kazuki and the school nurse help her calm down, but even that resolution has more to do with her also gaining height than it does with helping her be more body positive. The general gist still signals to girls that their weight is super important to obsess over, and I'm not okay with that. It's just an unneeded storyline and particularly unhealthy and dated.

The art is cute, but simple, with a distinctive style that works for the series. Characters are very distinctive from each other and facial expressions really depict a lot of emotion. There isn't much detail or use of screen tones, but the art works for the soft feel of the series.

So this was a very mixed volume. All the interactions between Kazuki and Kanata were adorable and sensitive, particularly the school trip sequences. But the teacher/student relationship and the crash dieting are problematic and send terrible messages. These aren't yet being explored in ways to counteract or critique those narratives, although there is room, particularly in the Hinohara-sensei/Nagai relationship for the series to right the ship and really critically address the harm being done. There's also some early hints of developments between the school nurse and Shiki and that would be another adult/child relationship that I would not be okay with. It's not a done deal, just early hints, but still.

Love at Fourteen volume 6 gets a complicated and mixed 5/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6 - the school trip was well done, but the rest was problematic
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 8 - even the problematic parts do have layers of complexity to the characterizations. Kanata and Kazuki continue to be really inviting characters.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7 - even though there are problematic aspects, it is well written. The interactions between Kazuki and Kanata on the school trip are exceptionally subtly and literately written.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - the kids are all expertly written and all their actions make total sense. I just struggle with Hinohara-sensei and now there's some stuff with the school nurse that is troubling and not necessarily realistic for adults.
BASIC SCORE (avg.):  7/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - I'm so amazed at the writing between Kazuki and Kanata as they begin to explore each other more. Really well written. I also think the fact that we finally get to see Hinohara-sensei feel ashamed is important. There are also some great interactions in side stories with the minor characters.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - hard to say, but it was an interesting interaction between Shiki and the school nurse. Could there be a real coming out at some point? Or will it shy away from actual lesbian representation?
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - not what the series is about, and actually some places where it was undermined (such as Kanata's crash diet)
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 2 - Kanata and Kazuki are progressing in their relationship and taking next steps. Hinohara-sensei might actually be beginning to question what she's doing with Nagai. Shiki is beginning to come to terms with liking women.
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - simple, effective, but nothing special
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +.5

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 2 - Kanata's crash diet is a real problem for me. The whole thing sends a message that weight is everything. 
  • Fan service (0-5): 0 
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 3 - while still nothing physical has happened, Hinohara-sensei clearly is pursuing Nagai and is clearly barely keeping herself from actually being physical with him. There's also some early hints that maybe something will happen with the school nurse and a student. 
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -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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