Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Kase-san and Yamada volume 2 - Manga Review

   OMG OMG OMG, it's finally here. After initially ordering it sometime last year and then having my order canceled since the publishing was apparently delayed, the second volume of the sequel series/ 7th volume of the series (both are on the cover, somewhat thankfully actually), I finally have "Kase-san and Yamada vol. 2" in my hands! But after two volumes of this new series, I am a bit...worried? Somehow it is...different? No, that's not quite right. But I'm beginning to think that maybe Hiromi Takashima-sensei is drifting from what made the original 5 volumes so good...or is she? (dun dun DUNNNNN)
    Because it's been so long, I think two things are in order: 1) a quick summary of the series, and 2) a quick summary of how much I adore this series. 
    So 1) The first five books tell the story of high-schooler Yamada Yui, the cute, somewhat shy, flower loving girl that Kase Tomoka, the beautiful, athletic, princely high-school girl, reciprocally and adorably falls in love with. (Okay, so I know that my sentences are inordinately long and complex, that's what I get for taking a while off blogging/it's just what I do).  The first five "Kase-san and..." books tell the story of their meet-cute, new friendship, and eventual shy/adorable/but-not-chaste (good, they are actually high-schoolers, and high-schoolers are not chaste. I am really okay with shoujo/yuri manga actually depicting that teens have hormones. Although I do love the stolen glances, blushing, will-they-won't-they purity of other series...I digress) romance. With "Kase-san and Yamanda" volume 1, we see the two head off to their respective colleges and (flips through quickly because it was literally published in 2020) Kase gets jealous of Yamada going out with a new friend to a group-date, and Yamada begins getting jealous of Kase's new roommate. Basically, we get some of their cute flirtateousness, some princeliness, some cuteness, and some of both of them coming down from their emotional peaks to confess just how truly, maddeningly, in-love they are with each other. But that's not all we get in that volume (more to come).
    And 2) I love the first five "Kase-san and..." books. They are light, but emotional, the characters have some varied dimensions to them for such a light romantic comedy of a series - especially Kase who tries to project this princely quality but is actually hopelessly in love, a bit more girly than we'd expect, not really put together, and quite a softy. They are earnest books, they spend time with the two characters together, being cute and earnest together. It's just so...nice (and I mean that in a very good way).
    And therein lies the problem that started in "Kase-san and Yamada" vol. 1 and seems to continue with "Kase-san and Yamada" vol. 2. Volume 2 has much the same feel as volume 1. The characters spend little time actually together, less time communicating effectively, more time feeling jealous, and the general feeling of light niceness of the first series (5 volumes) isn't quite there anymore.
    In volume 2, Kase is roped into working at Inoue's family's summer beach-front hangout. By various means, all the series' characters end up staying in the same inn. What this volume continues are the hints that maybe Kase-san's roommate will become a central character, and perhaps even romantic competition for Kase's affections [although, a) we know Kase is oblivious to everything and b) Kase is hopeless for Yamada, so I'm not actually worried]. But with that and a few other things, Yamada spends a fair amount of time sulking rather than talking to Kase. Kase also continues to be quite busy and I get the sense that she's not really prioritizing time with Yamada, her girl-friend. We learn their universities are about 50 minutes apart by train, and even though Yamada has a job, she always makes time for Kase. But Kase has regular practice, track meets, travel, and now takes this summer job away from Yamada. Dummy.
    Before I get to any analysis, I would be remiss without mentioning that this volume also has some definite lovey-dovey moments between the two. My favorite is a small moment in the first chapter, at the fireworks festival, where Kase notices the nape of Yamada's neck in her yukata. It's such a slight small thing, a single panel, nothing spoken, no follow-up, but it's moments like that that crystalize the various parts of Kase's character and remind us of just how in love (and in lust) she is for Yamada. That's important. It's important that we always see this as a reciprocal relationship amongst equals. On it's surface, it would be easy to read this series as the homely but cute, shy and unassuming, shoujo heroine (Yamada) in a one-sided love with the out of her league, gorgeous, sporty Kase. But that's not it at all. Because Kase is just a dork, who is sort of a mess, and who is just as desperately in love with Yamada as Yamada is. These are two very nice, very kind, young women who genuinely like each other. And that's what made the first five volumes so good.
    That's also what is troubling me about these next two. They're almost fighting and misunderstanding each other, and not even spending that much time together, and there's this room-mate who is hinting at intruding on the Kase/Yamada thing, and there's tension in the series where there wasn't before.
    And then it hit me. They aren't high-school girls anymore. Life is changing. It's more complex when you don't live in the same town and go to the same school. Where you are working on figuring out your adult life, and rationing your time, and trying to make new, adult friends (nearly impossible for me, so I feel it when Yamada talks about that in volume 1), while still maintaining your old ones, including your girl friend. Their worlds are getting bigger. And bigger means change.
    And then it hit me even more. It connected me to a mistake I made last year. I'm over 40 now (ughhhh, that is so awful to say). But I've only been out as my true self, publicly as a woman for 2 years, most of which has been spent in the pandemic, and most of which has been spent divorced. When my ex-wife and I started the coming out process nearly 5 years ago, I talked about how I felt like a toddler then (specifically the image of Tinkerbell when she is first born in the first Tinkerbell movie, wearing that pretty white dress is what resonated with me). Sure on the outside I was this 40 year old, who was a parent, who had a career and a wife, etc... but I felt very young. I hadn't lived as a woman openly, I hadn't learned the things girls learn as they grow up with their moms, and aunts, and cousins, and siblings, and friends. I hadn't experienced life as a girl, young woman, and now adult woman. I was feeling new feelings in new ways for the first time every day. And two years on, reading this volume, I still feel so very very young. Maybe like a middle-schooler now.
    And I thought back to that mistake I made last year. I had only been out publicly a little over a year, I had been separated and on the way to divorce for about 8 months. And I met someone. I met someone who not only checked every box on paper, but who is absolutely a lovely and wonderful real person. I very quickly fell for. Fell hard. It was my first time loving someone as me, openly, as a girl/woman. I felt things in ways I hadn't felt before. But also, I was feeling things in ways I hadn't since I was a teen. It was like being an adult but having all that intensity of emotion that only teens can feel. Beautiful, exuberant, intense, uncontrollable, unfiltered, unself-conscious. And then it was over in two short months.
    I got the "it's not you, it's me" speech. But what I didn't understand at the time, and what took a full year of therapy later to really understand, was that it was me. It was me, not understanding what she needed, where she was at in her own journey, how what I was experiencing was putting enormous emotional pressure on her so early in our relationship. I felt jealous about things I had no need to and no business being jealous about. And I told her my feelings, thinking that was a good thing, since I had kept them hidden inside for decades with my ex. And I asked her questions about the future, and I worried that if we didn't have certain conversations early, that I would somehow hurt her or be hurt by her, and so I rushed those parts too. We only knew each other for 2 short months, 7 dates in total I think. But my mind and feelings were racing years ahead, sprinting, heart bounding, but it also brought out new and ugly feelings and worries and anxieties that put so much pressure on her.
    And this volume made me think about that. Where I was a teen in a woman's body, feeling things that weren't necessarily becoming of an adult and weren't what she needed at this point in her life and with all that she was still working through, she had your own needs and thoughts and rhythms and I wasn't there for her. I wasn't adding good things to her life, I was only applying pressure (however unwittingly). But maybe those types and intensities of feelings are exactly right then for Kase and Yamada? They are newly in college, newly experiencing all that rapid growth of freedom at that age, still learning about themselves and each other. Maybe what they are going through in these first two volumes of the sequel series is exactly right. They should be having ugly new feelings, they should be struggling to communicate, they should be unsure of how to handle their complex thoughts (passionate one moment, jealous the next, insecure, and overwhelming). Because they are 18 and 19 and it is messy to figure this stuff out. 
    I might want this story to stay the "little story that could" (to paraphrase another blogger) forever. But part of what made the series so wonderful was the humanity in these characters. They weren't stock. They had fully fleshed out reality behind them. They were people. So I connected to them, and I loved through them. And now, because they are so real, they have to grow and change and have new experiences and feelings. And those will be different than the ones they had in high-school, and so this series, about them now, in college, must also be different. 
    So while "Kase-san and Yamada" volume 2 has many wonderful traits from the original series, it also is exploring new things as the characters grow up. That's uncomfortable but also important and real and asking them to stay the same would be a disservice to them, to their creator, and to what they might become in the future. So here's hoping Kase-san and Yamada keep growing up and growing together and that we get to follow that journey for many many more years to come.


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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