Friday, May 29, 2020

Shortcake Cake volume 8 finally hints at the return of Rei (Manga Review)

A high school boy with an open collared white shirt
Shortcake Cake vol. 8 - 6.25/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

Shortcake Cake (Shojo Beat/Viz) has been an up and down series for me so far. I like the main character, Ten, and the side characters. The early volumes introduced a complex back story for Riku in the form of some hidden relationship with the rich strange kid Rei. But then Rei went missing after a couple volumes and the story focused mostly on Ten and Riku coming together as a couple. But now that they are together, Rei pops up in volume 8. And so finally, we start getting a deeper and more interesting story than the bland romance we've had so far.

In volume 8, Ten and Riku are dating and go to visit her family over the Christmas Holiday. On New Years, Ten is leaving for home again, but gets off the bus and returns to the boarding house where she finds Riku alone. The two spend a wonderful night together celebrating the new year. But finally, Rei has popped back up in the story, and his minder (butler?) Shiraoka offers to let Ten know about Rei and Riku's connection. I won't spoil any details, because THAT's the part of this volume you need to read.

First, I've liked the characters in this series, but they've also been pretty generic. Ten went from being a bit more interesting in the opening volume to just a randomly nice girl ever since. Chiaki went from being a potential love interest with a loner temperament to being a silly softy for his friendship with Riku. And Riku, despite early signs of a dark past, has basically been the model boyfriend. There hasn't been anything interesting or compelling about them or anything other than perfectly nice stuff in the development of Ten and Riku's relationship. It was getting a bit boring.

But with Rei back in the picture, volume 8 begins to open up Riku's past, secrets, and inner turmoil. That promises to make him a richer character, and hopefully by working with Riku through all that, it will make Ten more interesting as well. I'm all for sweet romance, but it's been a bit too generic so far. I'm really hoping that with more complex back stories and emotional weight, that this series will begin to pop more.

I do want to take a moment to focus on the scene where Shiraoka offers to tell Ten about the relationship between Riku and Rei. It reminded me of the scene in Maria Watches Over Us from the fourth season where Yumi wants to know about Touko's past and asks Kashiwagi about it. Kashiwagi asks her to think about whether she wants to hear it from him or learn it from Touko herself. He makes clear that it might be an invasion of Touko to hear it from someone else, but that he's willing if Yumi wants to go that route. It was a profound conversation and an impactful moment. Yumi ultimately decides to wait until Touko naturally opens up to her (leading of course to the amazing final episode). So I was a bit disappointed that Ten took Shiraoka up on his offer and learned about Riku from him. I know it moves the story along, but I would have much rather Ten and Riku deepen their relationship to the point where he naturally opened up, rather than Ten learning it from someone else. The parallel moments but ultimately different choices made between Yumi and Ten was interesting to compare.

Also, I want to give props to Suu Morishita-sensei for the way she wrote the New Year's scenes with Ten and Riku. Of particular note, they made out. And not only did they make out, but Riku actually told Ten that he'd like to do it with her (spoiler alert - they don't). So often in high-school romance manga, the leads are totally shy and prude and nervous, etc... but my recollection of high-school (and I was definitely the shy one) was that once you get a taste of making out, it's pretty much all you want to do. So I'm glad whenever a manga treats its teen characters realistically, that teens do have sex drives, and they do actually make out. They do not date for a year in high school with only a single kiss (god, that trope has to die). So it's nice to see teens being sexual beings without the scene being sexualized in any way.

The art in the series is pretty strong. There is good use of large patches of dark black and some nice screen tone usage. I do have trouble telling some characters apart, especially when hair colors are not kept consistent. It's above average shoujo art, but not necessarily anything that will stick with you either. Very well done but not necessarily exciting.

All in all, this volume at least portends to a deeper dive into the psyches of its characters as the series progresses. Here's hoping that the characters become more interesting as a result. As it stands, Shortcake Cake volume 8 gets a 6.25/10.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 6 - most of this volume is just nice random dating stuff, but the second half finally starts revealing Riku's backstory and that's more interesting.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 6 - they've been kind of bland and one-dimensional so far, especially after a stronger start in volume 1. But it's nice to finally be getting Riku's past revealed.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 6 - above average, but nothing too special either.
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 7 - the romance is definitely well written, you feel and resonate with Ten's feelings for Riku. I'm not so sure I'm going to buy into the level of drama in Riku's past, but at least it will be interesting.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 6.25/10 (I'm experimenting with 1/4 increments which I didn't use to use)

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0 - nothing that made me understand myself or others better.
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0 - doesn't seem to be the point of this series.
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0 - no, and 8 volumes in, I would have liked to start seeing more of this.
  • Quality art (0-5): 0 - better than average, but doesn't get bonus points.
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): +0

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 0
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
PENALTY POINTS (-sum/2): -0

FINAL SCORE: 6.25/10


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