Friday, April 3, 2020

Hatsu*Haru volume 11 is wholesome (Manga Review)

Two teens in uniforms embrace
Hatsu*Haru vol. 11 - 7.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Hatsu*Haru (Yen Press) started off strong as a series, and has settled into a nice, but conventional middle-age. As it nears its inevitable conclusion, Volume 11 focuses on getting some of the last remaining pairs of teens together in a relationship. It's absolutely kind, sweet, cute, funny, and risk-free. No complaints, I think I've accepted that this series which started with so much promise to exceed expectations is just happy to meet them instead. And that's okay too.

It's the new year, which means new classes. Kai and Riko are split up and Kai is certain that if he's not around, that Riko will forget she even has a boyfriend and just go about her business, given how un-romantic she typically is anyway.

As this is unfolding, it seems like he's forgotten her birthday. But instead, he has spent so much time working on it, only to get distracted at the last minute. When he finally shares with her all that he's been thinking and working on for her, he finally gets the deep loving acknowledgement of their relationship that he's been longing for. It's a really sweet moment.

The volume then shifts to focusing on Shimura and her confusion regarding Misaki, his confession, and her feelings for him. That ends up revealing some parts of her personality that no one saw coming, but that ends up comedic, like always for her. I will say I was mildly disappointed that some of what looked like a-romantic or a-sexual orientation in her wasn't explored more. It's also possible I was over-reading what was really her own naivete as something more. Too bad, we need more aro/ace representation.

That leaves only Kagura and Toramaru uncoupled. I didn't realize when I started reading this series that it was going to be a multiple couples series. I figured it would focus on the personality conflicts between Riko and Kai more exclusively (sort of like Toradora, or My Little Monster, and series like that). But instead, this series has paired up pretty much any named character and this volume enters the final endgame with Kagura and Toramaru too.

I think the best part of this volume was the opening chapter which gave us some of the traditional cockiness from Kai and reminded us again that Riko, as she was in the first volume, was also a very strong, competent, and self-sufficient young woman. There's a great moment where Kai is trying to "comfort" Riko because they were "just reunited" but he has something else to take care of and must go, and she's like "uh, okay" (not caring in the least that he has to go). Subtle humor that probably doesn't work when I explain it, but these are the moments from the first volumes that we've been lacking, so it's nice to see some of this humor back.

We are also treated to seeing the softer side of Kai when he takes care of a baby, and reflects on how he did this for his own siblings too. It's really sweet, and there's a wonderful joke about how Riko needs to keep him around just to share the parenting chores, only for Riko to wise-crack that he is pretty good, even though he's pretty weird.

What's perfect about that comment is that Kai is the hot hunk and everyone knows him to be the hot hunk, but Riko's always been oblivious to those qualities in him. She also knows him as a full and real person, and that she considers him weird instead of hot, shows both a mirror into her personality but also into the depth of their openness with each other. We see more of this later in the volume, where Kai's unafraid to call her a "grandma" teasingly, and she reacts angrily (comedically), and they just have this great friendship that underlays their romantic relationship. There's depth there that's hinted at without having to be fully explored to make sense. It's a nice return to form for the series.

I also liked in the scene with the baby just how tired the baby's mom looks. Like any parent with an infant, she's exhausted and it's nice in a manga that that was depicted realistically. Especially the tiredness in her eyes the first time she appears in the scene. Well done, subtle, but important that we respect the hard (HARD!) work it takes to be a parent.

The scene where Shimura finally realizes her feelings for Misaki while talking to Riko is well done, funny, and perfectly in Shimrua's personality. We also see her treat her new relationship with the same comic flare and overabundance of energy as everything else she does. It's cute but as I said above, it seems somewhat to have forgotten to earlier she expressed a lack of understanding or even interest in romance (it was actually a bit similar to some of Yuu's thoughts in Bloom Into You). Maybe it just wasn't a priority before and now it has become one, or maybe it's normal pubertal development that has brought it to the surface. I just thought Fujisawa-sensei might have been giving her a bit richer of a psyche. Oh well.

There was a scene, where Shimura is avoiding Misaki and Misaki does a double handed kabedon and I was a little uncomfortable with its use in a series where the guys have been generally good, kind, and sweet. It's still a power move between a bigger stronger man and a woman, and I don't like it. It's a brief moment, not given any real weight in the volume, but I wanted to point it out because it's a move that should be eradicated from men's physical vocabulary. It's sole purpose is to intimidate and that's not cool.

SPOILER ALERT (scroll down if you don't want it). There is also an unasked for kiss directed by Misaki at Shimura. I'm against non-consensual kissing and certainly Shimura was not on the same page as Misaki yet. However, the scene did turn out quite funny, when after the kiss, as Misaki is asking Shimura if that helped her clarify her feelings, she then takes his head in her hands and forcefully starts kissing him back. Her lustful aggression in the moment is perfect and funny in its visual depiction, as all her pent up confusion is released and now she's just going for it, fully in love! Total perfect reaction from her, even if he shouldn't have kissed her without permission. A few pages later, there is just one of the sweetest two page spreads ever, where Misaki comments that "I finally caught you" as the two embrace on the side of a grassy hill. Awwwwww.


To wrap this up, talking about Toramaru and Kagura, they have such great opposite personalities, the childhood friendship, the relationship between their parents (which we get to learn a lot more about in this volume), makes me sort of wish Kagura was the lead in her own series. So even though it's a bit rough to see everyone get paired up with each other, because it never works out so neatly in real life, I am glad to get more time with her. She's got some hysterical moments in this volume. 

Toramaru on the other hand has some questionable moments, like when he's meeting Kagura to go shopping and brings some random girls along with him. But, Kagura also is very clear to herself, and ultimately to him, for how she expects to be treated in a relationship. I love to see that type of self-assurance, self-respect coming from a girl in manga. We need more of those moments for our daughters to encounter in media.

The art is strong as always, definitely an additional selling point for the series. It mixes great line use with lots of screen tones and details. It has great expressions, every character is well defined, and emotions are plain as day to read. It doesn't quite top my favorite couple mangakas, but it's really close. That's how good the art is. It's everything you'd want in modern shoujo art.

So Hatsu*Haru volume 11 is funny, kind, sweet, romantic, and safe. The art is awesome. There are only the  most minimal imperfections in the story. But it's that "safe" thing that sticks with me. The first couple volumes felt new and exciting and the later volumes are really nice, but not invigorating. That really isn't a complaint, just an observation. The series is just a really nice, kind, shoujo series and that should be appreciated. There's so much nasty stuff out there, it's nice to find something wholesome. Yes, that's the word for it. This series has just become so wholesome. Hatsu*Haru vol. 11 gets a really nice 7.5/10 and deservedly so.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 7.5 - yeah, there's lots of good things in this volume.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 7.5 - we get all their various personalities on display.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 7 - there are some meaningful moments that are really well written.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 6 - Toramaru is too dense, and really the same could be said for Shimura. I get it, the density plays up the comedy, but I don't buy it for real teens.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 7/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 2 - the scenes with Kai and the baby! Just the underlying relationship between Kai and Riko. 
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0 - earlier volumes looked like Shimura might have been aro/ace leaning, but nope.
  • Female agency (0-5): 2 - Riko has always been a strong character, but seeing Kagura be clear with how she expects to be treated and respected is awesome.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - not really much, I guess Shimura
  • Quality art (0-5): 3 - love it!
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +1

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): .5 - the kabedon and an un-requested kiss do not get critiqued, but Toramaru's behavior does (he looks like an ass for bringing the girls) so it's just a half point deduction.
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
  • Other (0-5): .5 - it's just a bit too straightforward, I'd like a little more emotional weight to balance the comedy.
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -.5



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