Monday, June 8, 2020

Missed it Monday - Love at Fourteen vol. 8 (Manga Review)

Two teens in warm coats, stand under a barren tree
"Missed it Monday" is the regular column where I review anime/manga that I didn't get to watch/read when they first came out.

Love at Fourteen vol. 8 - 3.5/10 (*see full scoring rubric below)

I think, in many ways, this series may have finally fallen off the cliff. I've had concerns that it was framing one relationship between a student and a teacher a little too positively, but after reading this volume, it seems to me that ALL the relationships are suddenly about adults and kids. And I'm just not cool with that.

In volume 8, the only storyline having to do with our "main" couple (who appear less and less in the volumes as this series has progressed) has Kazuki pretending to be the boyfriend of another girl so that she can prove she has an older boyfriend to her friends. He only does this to help out his friend Kato. And at least Kazuki tells Kanata about it. Making this story worse, the girl Kato is interested in ends up being in elementary school, like a 5th grader or something and he's ostensibly 14. So I'm WAY NOT OKAY when they start dating. Ughhhh. Just when I thought the adult/middle-schooler stories couldn't get worse, they throw in a middle-schooler/elementary-schooler romance. Jeez.

There is a short story about how Kazuki and Kanata struggle to come over and play at each others houses the way they did when they were younger, but that's really their only moments together as our main focus.

We get more with Nagai and Hinohara-sensei. It's more uncomfortable flirting between the two. This time about whether he's taking care not to prevent a cold and she's maybe coming down with one.

We get more of the office lady and whatever his name is (I don't even care enough to open the volume that is sitting right next to me). I just don't see a middle school boy caring romantically about a middle-aged office worker. I just don't.

Then, of course, there's more with Shiki and the school nurse, who she is determined to find the name of. Why they don't know her last name is beyond me, but whatever. The only interesting thing about Shiki's and the school nurse's growing relationship is that it does seem to be at least partially about how they are each lesbians but also how neither has a chance with the girl/woman they love. So it's always unclear if they're just bonding over that or if there is some romance brewing. However, in this volume, there is a very tender scene where Shiki consoles the school nurse after realizing just who it is that the nurse hopelessly loves.

That's it. Our main, age-appropriate couple, get a minor side story about hanging out and nothing else, while we're treated to several adult/child relationships, a maybe-adult/child eventual relationship, and a 14-year-old/5th grader relationship is added to the mix. DO NO 14 year olds LIKE OTHER 14 year olds IN THIS SERIES!!!?!?!?!?!??!??!?!

I just didn't enjoy this volume much because of all that. What started as an incredible look at Kanata and Kazuki's burgeoning relationship in volume 1 has completely lost its focus by this volume. I could have accepted that Kanata and Kazuki's relationship wouldn't be the sole focus if at least most of the others were believable age-appropriate relationships too. But that's not where we're at by volume 8.

The writing is still earnest and sweet, the art is still simple but welcoming, and if that's what you like about this series, then maybe it will work for you still. I was just too distracted by the age differences and implicit power imbalances (plus potential for traumatic harm) to enjoy the stories. The author really doesn't do much to portray the people consistent with their ages, undermining just how big an age difference (and developmental difference) we're talking. IF (big IF) this were a series that dealt with the underlying psychology and the impact of these relationships, then at least that might have served some literary value. But by writing the young characters as more mature than they really are, it obfuscates that harm being done.

Love at Fourteen vol. 8 gets a 3.5/10 because of the new 14-year-old/5th grader relationship plus a really boring, un-insightful rest of the volume. I'm just losing my interest in it. (It was also a hard week for me and I'm sure I'm slightly taking it out on this poor volume). I'm thinking of dropping this series, and so close to the end too.

  • Story interesting (0-10): 5 - Shiki and the school nurse is a little interesting, I'm okay with Kanata and Kazuki realizing they're awkward over each others houses now. I'm not okay with a 14 year old dating a 5th grader. And while I don't like the Nagai/Hinohara-sensei relationship, I can admit I'm always intrigued by it, but it got short-shrift in this volume.
  • Characters interesting (0-10): 5 - very little of interest in this volume. Again, Shiki's empathy towards the school nurse was a high point.
  • Quality prose/writing (0-10): 5 - fine but nothing special
  • Emotionally plausible (0-10): 5 - Kanata, Kazuki, and Shiki all worked, Kato and the 5th grader didn't. And I just don't know what to make of Nagai/Hinohara.
BASIC SCORE (avg.): 5/10

  • Emotional insight/depth (0-5): 0
  • True LGBTQ+ representation (0-5): 0
  • Female agency (0-5): 0
  • Character growth/change (0-5): 0
  • Quality art (0-5): 0
BONUS POINTS (sum/8): 0, nothing to write home about.

  • Homophobic/transphobic (0-5): 0
  • Misogynistic (0-5): 0 (but I wanted to dock it points for Kazuki telling Kanata not to cut her hair, but he did it in a way that made it almost like a proposal, so....)
  • Fan service (0-5): 0
  • Child/adult relationship (0-5): 3 - this gets seriously extra docked, because even though nothing happened between Nagai and Hinohara-sensei, we now have a 14 year old dating a 5th grader. Yuck.
  • Exploitative (0-5): 0
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.

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