Thursday, January 7, 2016

Otaku's Best of 2015

Following are my best picks for manga, books, anime and dramas and movies I read or watched in 2015. I honestly didn't watch too much anime this year and of what I did watch there were only a few series worth mentioning. On the other hand, I watched a lot of dramas and movies, so that section is going to be a bit larger this year as there were several worth mentioning. While I live in hope that I will one day give extended reviews of the titles listed below, history tells me I probably will not do this for the majority of them. I like to start off my year with a realistic outlook on my resolutions.

For the few people who actually read my blog, do you have any recommendations for me to watch or read in 2016? I'm always on the lookout for a new favorite.

My Best Manga Reads of 2015

Love Com
Love Com by Aya Nakahara: I actually tried reading this series a few years ago and didn't get past the first volume. However, after watching the Lovely Complex movie this year I decided to give it another chance and I'm glad that I did. It's funny, quirky, and a little romantic. I loved watching Risa's and Otoni's relationship slowly develop from friendship to something more. I also felt the author realistically portrayed the awkwardness of first love and unrequited love between friends. I will say the first two volumes hover around a 3/5 stars rating, but if you stick with the series it's a solid 4/5 stars. 
Kyou no Kira-kun
Kyou no Kira-kun by Rin Mikimoto: So I'm currently only in volume five of this series, but only because I live in America and it hasn't been officially translated into English. I'm basically relying on fan translated online scans which I'm eternally grateful for. This is such a cute and bizarre series. It's one of those rare finds that's both strange and beautiful. It follows the lives of a reformed (kind of) asshole, a social outcast, and her talking parrot. There are other characters, but these are really the only three I'm interested in. I love the story; it's melodramatic in the best possible way.  
Orange by Ichigo Takano: This was an instant favorite! Granted, I still haven't finished the series, but it would have to take some incredibly bad writing in the later volumes to ruin this series for me (something I doubt the author is capable of doing). The premise of this series is fresh and the story crafting is beautiful and spans a range of genres from science fiction, mystery, romance, to drama. There are two interwoven stories, separated by ten years, being told simultaneously. There is a lot of emotion in the series as the author explores some heavy issues like suicide and the impact it has on those left behind. It's impossible not to feel with these characters trying to make sense of their loss by attempting the impossible. 
Chocolat by Ji-Sang Shin: This is technically a manhwa, but I didn't want to make another category so I'm including it in this section. I've yet to read a manhwa where I didn't feel confused at some point with the dialog or the continuity of the story. And while this series is no exception, I thoroughly enjoyed every volume in it regardless of any confusion I might have experienced while reading it. It basically follows the lives of a new k-pop group and a fangirl who joins their fandom to get close to another k-pop group whom she actually cares about. A ridiculously over the top and unbelievable premise, with the expected melodrama, but I loved the series anyway. 

My Best Book Reads of 2015

Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: The protagonist of this book has such an honest and authentic voice that it easily absorbs the reader into the narrative. The internal dialog of Junior is a mix of crude humor, genuine emotion, and angst coupled with profound thoughtfulness that is undeniably the voice of a teenage boy. I also liked how the artwork in the book enhanced the story. I alternated between laughter and tears while reading this.  
Kindred Kindred by Octavia Butler: I would recommend this to everyone! It's unique premise is what first drew me to the book, but the characters are what really made me love the book. It was incredibly easy to connect with them and get lost in their lives. I worried, feared, hated, and loved with them. And Dana is one of the most believable characters I've come across. She has a voice that resonates with me on several levels. I plan on reading more books by this author; Butler's a new favorite. 
Dead Heat
Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs: I love the Alpha and Omega series and this installment did not disappoint. The antagonist in this book is a special kind of creepy that beckoned me to continue reading. The world building in Briggs' series does an amazing job of incorporating real life with the darker side of fantasy. Loved the book, love the series. I highly recommend both. 
Take Me On
Take Me On by Katie McGarry: I think at least one of her books has made it on to my favorites list since I began blogging. This series is just phenomenal. I'm always surprised by how much I enjoy each character McGarry introduces in her series. Each new character's story becomes my new favorite eclipsing the book before it. 
Giver The Giver by Lois Lowry: Considering it's brevity this is one powerful book. There is an "Aha!" moment that is kind of amazing and an ambiguous ending that left me eager for the next in the series. This is a quick read well worth the small amount of time you'll spend reading it. 

My Best Anime Finds of 2015

My Love Story!
My Love Story!: It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of High School Debut, so when I heard Kawahara had written a new series and that it was getting its own anime I HAD to watch it. It still kills me that High School Debut never got an anime, so there was no way I was missing out on this. This is such a cute love story with a sort of a Beauty and the Beast vibe, only the "Beast" (aka Takeo) doesn't start out as a dick. He was always pretty awesome, but because he's not traditionally handsome, but instead a sort of large awkward and intense gorilla like person, he's looked down upon. Not only is this a cute romance, it's also a pretty cool bromance. It's just as much about Takeo's and Sunagawa's friendship as it it about Takeo's and Yamato's romance. I loved the anime and plan to read the manga as I'm sure it's equally as amazing. No bias at all, I swear!
Soul Eater Not! Soul Eater NOT!: Okay, so this Soul Eater spin off series has a lot more fan service in it than the original Soul Eater series, but if you can get past all of that it's a fun watch. I liked the idea of seeing the events of the original series told from the perspective of the underdogs and it was cool seeing some of the original characters again. While I would have preferred less fan service I still enjoyed the series. I hate that the only way Funimation will pick up a series is if it's hardcore shonen or has a lot of fan service, but that's another topic all together.
Anohana Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day: I absolutely LOVED this anime! There is so much pain and guilt in this series, but there is also that much love, forgiveness, and friendship. This has one of the cooler premises in this line up and a twist in the first episode that will surprise you. The ending is perfect. I might have ugly cried my way through the last two episodes. It's just that good.
Durarara!! Durarara!!: I didn't realize when I first started watching this that it was written by the same author as Baccano! However, by the first episode it was kind of obvious. Both series have the sort of disjointed nonlinear storytelling where you'll see events from one point of view and then in the next episode see the same events or related events from another point of view. I love this type of story crafting. It's complexity keeps the story fresh and interesting. I also love the fast pace of the storytelling and the intensity and playfulness of the characters.

My Best Drama & Movie Finds of 2015

Say I Love You Say I Love You: This is without a doubt one of the best manga series adaptations. While it changes some things around, which is expected due to format constraints, it remains true to the spirit of the series and the overall story arc. The acting is on point; Mei and Yamato were brought to life by the actors who played them, as if they stepped out of the manga pages and into our reality. I also love the soundtrack, especially One Direction's "Happily." The song and movie are forever linked in my mind. My only complaint is that the movie has been released on DVD and Blu-Ray, but without official English subtitles so I still don't own a copy.
Bokura Ga Ita Bokura Ga Ita Part I & II: I pretty much love every adaptation of We Were There that's been done and the live action adaptation is no exception. It's such a beautiful adaptation of the series and I'm so happy they broke the story into two movies as it's a love story that spans about ten years. The music in both of the movies is poignantly perfect for the emotion of the series as well. I highly recommend both movies. 
Love Com Love Com: This is hands down one of the funniest movies I watched this year. It's a perfect fit for the manga series as the over the top acting fits perfectly with the tone of the manga series. It also has one of my favorite scenes in a movie; the part where Otoni let's Risa down while on their class trip. It's a perfect blend of awkwardness and heartache. I also love how Maity is always introduced with a weird pose and a rainbow. Hilarious!
Shut Up Flower Boy Band Shut Up Flower Boy Band: I love movies that follow the lives of bands and this did not disappoint. It's so full of angst and ridiculous plot points that include a sort of homicide that I just had to keep watching. It also doesn't hurt that it's full of eye see what I did there. But no really, it's a fun movie with some fun music that will get stuck in your head.
Strobe Edge Strobe Edge: This is an amazing adaptation of the manga series. I'm torn between Say I Love You or Strobe Edge for my favorite Japanese live action adaptation. They are both just so good. I love the way the movie was filmed with a sort of quick flash back to explain the history between Ninako and Ren. Speaking of Ninako and Ren, the actors did an excellent job bringing them to life. They felt authentic. However, I didn't care for how Ando was portrayed...a little too much of the creep that doesn't really match his character from the manga. Regardless, I LOVED the movie!
Ao Haru Ride Ao Haru Ride: While I preferred the live action adaptation of Strobe Edge better, this is still a good adaptation of one of Sakisaka's works. There were a lot of changes from the manga series, but I think it still kept true to the spirit of the series. Also, I think the actors who play Futaba and Kou did a good job portraying the characters. What I especially like about this movie is how it was just as much about the characters' friendships with each other as it was a romance between Futaba and Kou which is what I like best about the anime and manga series. I actually found I preferred the live action over the manga series, but I like the anime over both.
Sensory Couple Sensory Couple: This has such a quirky premise that I couldn't help but watch it. And to be honest I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started it, but I was sucked into the series pretty quickly. I loved the romance between the two main characters and adored the sort of amnesia aspect of it all and the absurd coincidence that the two main protagonists and the antagonist all have sensory issues and have a interconnected past. Also, the "villain" has the BEST library. Seriously, I kind of didn't care that he was a crazy serial killer; I was willing to overlook this for a shot at his library. Also, he's pretty hot which doesn't know until he kills you. It's a sort of murder mystery thriller with some epic cuteness thrown in.
Devil Beside You The Devil Beside You: You have to go into this Taiwanese drama with the understanding that it's going to be kind of ridiculous to truly appreciate it. There are multiple attempts of murder, fight scenes, and a truly horrific Christmas tree decorating contest where arguably the worst tree won. Also, a Christmas tree is set on fire at the end of the series to convey love somehow. Seriously, it's kind of epic in its absurdity. Also, the chemistry between Mike He and Rainie Yang is realistic to point where I kind of ship them in real life. (I usually refrain from shipping people in real life because it's weird and kind of creepy, but it's hard not to want them to be an actual couple.)
Why Why Love Why Why Love: After watching The Devil Beside You, I had to watch everything Mike He and Rainie Yang were in together which unfortunately is not much. I actually liked Why Why Love better than The Devil Beside You, because I thought Rainie Yang's character was much stronger in this series. In The Devil Beside You she's a bit of a damsel, wherein Why Why Love she's a bad ass who puts up with very little crap from either of the protagonists. Also, I love the music in both series; Rainie Yang's voice is both playful and melancholic.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Title: Jellicoe Road (On the Jellicoe Road)
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publication Date: 2006

In this lyrical, absorbing, award-winning novel, nothing is as it seems, and every clue leads to more questions.

At age eleven, Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother. At fourteen, she ran away from boarding school, only to be tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now seventeen, Taylor's the reluctant leader of her school's underground community, whose annual territory war with the Townies and visiting Cadets has just begun. This year, though, the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, and Taylor can't avoid his intense gaze for long. To make matters worse, Hannah, the one adult Taylor trusts, has disappeared. But if Taylor can piece together the clues Hannah left behind, the truth she uncovers might not just settle her past, but also change her future.

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Spoiler free review...because it’s too good to be spoiled.

So if you have a lot of book friends, you’re no stranger to book pushing. How they’ll recommend this book or that book and then keep nagging you until you read said book. Usually, I ignore these requests, but when the book pusher is one of your best friends you really have no choice, but to eventually read it. (I can’t tell you the amount of nagging I was subjected to beforehand...months and months worth.)

This is one time that I was grateful for the nagging. Overjoyed really. I’m not quite sure how to put all my feelings into words to adequately describe the effect this book had on me. This book will change your life and will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page. In fact you’ll find yourself re-reading this book...several times and each time you’ll discover something more and you’ll feel something new and different. (I’ve read it four times already and plan on a fifth reading in the next month or so.)

The writing in Jellicoe Road is absolutely beautiful and profound. From the first two lines, I was hooked: “My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die. I counted.” This passage won’t be ignored and dares you to stop reading. This is one of those books where I’ve literally underlined passages on every other page. The writing speaks to me on every level.

I feel like I went through every range of emotion while reading this book. Primarily because this book has so much emotion in it, without being melodramatic. You feel with the characters and for the characters.

The main protagonist in this novel, Taylor Markham, isn’t immediately likeable (and some readers may never like her). At times I found myself repulsed by her actions and yet strangely sympathetic to them. While I didn’t always agree with her, I understood her. She’s a complex character with complex emotions, or in other words she’s human. She’s someone who I can imagine in real life.

Like her characters, the plot of this book is complex and can seem confusing and disorienting through the first several chapters as there are essentially two stories being told. I’m going to tell you what I’ve told every person I’ve since recommended this book to. Keep with it. There will be a moment when the flow will start to make sense and where everything begins to come together. The gradual piecing together of the stories is a work of art. You will have that “aha!” moment and you will have visceral reaction to it. It will be both beautiful and heartrending at once. I have come full circle as I am now the book pusher telling you to “READ THIS BOOK!”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Bride of the Water God by Mi-Kyung Yun

Title: Bride of the Water God
Author: Mi-Kyung Yun (Habaek-eui Shinbu)
Volumes: 22 (ongoing)
Volumes (English): 14 (ongoing)

When Soah's impoverished, desperate village decides to sacrifice her to the Water God Habaek to end a long drought, they believe that drowning one beautiful girl will save their entire community and bring much-needed rain. Not only is Soah surprised to be rescued by the Water God - instead of killed - she never imagined she'd be a welcomed guest in Habaek's magical kingdom, where an exciting new life awaits her! Most surprising, however, is the Water God himself... and how very different he is from the monster Soah imagined.

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No final thoughts with this one either. Another short post.

While the story line is convoluted and often time confusing, Bride of the Water God is the prettiest manhwa I've ever read. The artwork is downright gorgeous, especially the full color panels. I'll be honest though, I'm not really reading this series for the story, but for the artwork. In fact I'm about 13 volumes in and I'm not quite sure what's going on. The story really doesn't hold my interest.

I like the concept of this series, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I like the magic in the story, especially the magic that leaves Habaek a child during daylight and an adult during the evening. I even like Soah, the human love interest, although I think she's a bit helpless at times. The whole human god love story, while not unique, is an interesting idea. However, all that being said, the story is ridiculously complicated and unclear. I'm not sure if this is a translation issue, bad writing, or a me being stupid issue. It could be a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, I find it hard to relate to a lot of the characters and I find the events to be a bit erratic. Also, the motivation for a lot of the characters seems unclear to me. I mean I understand the emotion behind many of their actions, but I'm not always clear why they feel the way they do.

I will say some of this is becoming clearer as the story progresses, and I think the later volumes are actually better than the early ones, but I still find this series to be a struggle to read and at times rather boring. However, the artwork is incredible. Honestly with some of the panels you don't really need words, the pictures themselves have enough emotion that you can get the gist of what's going on. I do feel that 13 volumes in, I should have stronger feelings for the series which is probably why I haven't picked it up in awhile. I'm just not all that invested. If you're looking for an okay story with beautiful artwork, this is it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sand Chronicles

Title: Sand Chronicles (Sunadokei)
Author: Hinako Ashihara 
Volumes: 10 (completed)
Volumes (English): 10 (completed)

After her parents divorce, Ann Uekusa and her mother move from Tokyo to rural Shimane. Used to the anonymity of city living, Ann can't get used to the almost overbearing kindness of the people in her mother's hometown. But when personal tragedy strikes, Ann discovers how much she needs that kindness.

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As usual there are spoilers. Skip to the final wrap up if you wish to avoid them.

Sand Chronicles, beautiful and poignant at times, explores dark themes such as depression and suicide, while reveling in the innocence of first loves and breakups. This series follows the lives of Ann and Daigo, as well as a few of their friends, over about a twenty year time span. It's unusual for most shojo to make it out of high school, so I'm always interested in a series when half the story takes place after graduation.

In some ways this is a typical shojo, love triangle included, but it manages to break out of the same tired tropes in a few significant ways. To begin with, this series is just as much about Ann's struggle with depression and overcoming her mother's suicide as it is about her romance with Daigo. Like real life, and mental illness, it doesn't have an easy ending. Ann's love for Daigo doesn't cure her and while they do end up together, her struggle with depression is an ongoing issue, a daily one, that will be with her for the rest of her life. I liked that love didn't magically act as a cure all. Just like the scars from her failed suicide attempt, her mental illness isn't going away either. While she has better control over it, it'll always be a part of her.

Another atypical thing about this series isn't that Ann tries to move on after she breaks up from Daigo, but that she actually has sex with someone other than the hero. While she ends up dating Fuji, the love rival (which is right out of your average shojo), something less common happens in that she has sex with him. It doesn't last because it's quite apparent to Fuji that Ann is not over her feelings for Daigo. She essentially uses him for sex to get over said feelings, which again isn't the norm in a shojo. It all felt real, like how an actual human being might try to get over a bad breakup. She's a flawed heroine, something lacking in typical shojo. (Or more accurately, her flaws are different from the usual flaws of shojo heroines.) She's not perfect, but her mistakes and awful life decisions don't make her less. If anything I found myself able to relate to her more fully because of these poor life choices.

Even after Fuji and Ann break up, she doesn't immediately end up with Daigo, again breaking the mold. In fact there's a real sense that they may not actually end up together as the story progresses. (Something I worried endlessly about.) She almost settles and marries another man, a complete jackass, but after she confronts him for being a jackass he breaks off their engagement.

Ann sees this broken engagement as just another failure in a long series of failures that add up to her life. In the last couple of volumes she sort of takes stock of all she's lost in her life and tries to pinpoint where everything went wrong. Her introspection at first leads her towards suicide that only as she lay dying does she realize death isn't what she wants. (Of course at this point she's bleeding to death.) Luckily for her, Daigo finds her and gets her the medical attention she needs. This moment is sort of the catalyst that brings the young lovers back into each others lives. I'm not sure if Ann hadn't hit rock bottom if they would have been able to get back together.

I will say that I felt Daigo and Ann getting back together seemed a bit rushed. I would have preferred to have another volume delving more into the time between Ann's failed suicide attempt and their marriage. I would have liked to see how they were able to work through the events of the past together to get to their future. It also would have been nice to see Daigo and Ann dealing with her depression as a couple.

I liked both Daigo and Fuji. I wanted her to end up with Daigo, but I also hurt for Fuji. It's like when your best friend is dating a really great guy, but he's more into the relationship than she is. You know that he's not her one, and while she's trying to force it because she's tired of loving an ex, he has no idea. You can't help but hurt for the guy because you know that once your friend stops forcing feelings that aren't there, he's going to be crushed. That's how I felt about Fuji. I liked him, but I knew he wasn't for Ann. And of course you hurt for your friend because they're not only causing another person pain, and beating themselves up about it, they're also hurting themselves. This basically sums up how I felt about the Fuji/Ann relationship.They were destined for pain.

I have mixed feelings about Shiika, Ann's best friend and later love rival. I felt for her home situation, but the way she chose to act angered me. It didn't bother me that she fell in love with Daigo. It's her manipulating and sabotaging Ann and Daigo's relationship that pissed me off. Ann was her best friend. It's one thing to fall in love with your best friends guy and maybe years after said friend and guy break up (and your friend has moved on) you end up with him. (Love and timing can be weird.) It's another thing to go out of your way to break them up and undermine your friend's confidence and sense of self worth. Especially when you know your friend is fragile to begin with. I place more value in friendship than any other kind of "ship" so it's hard for me to like a character who betrays a friend. They have to earn my trust back, something Shiika was never able to do.

I loved every volume in this series except for the one that acted as a sort of prequel. It focused on Ann's mother as a teenager. Something I really wasn't interested in. I couldn't find it in me to really care about her. I know it's because she essentially bails on her daughter and while I know her suicide was due to her own mental illness, it still irked me. (I actually thought that maybe Ann's suicide attempt and her feelings at the time of her attempt probably mirrored her mother's experience, only there was no one to come to her mother's aid, but I digress.) It was hard for me to care about Ann's mother as a teenager when I knew the devastation her future act was going to cause for characters I came to love.

One of my favorite episodes in the series is in the last (or second to last?) volume when Daigo meets up with his old elementary class to open a time capsule that was buried when he was a child. I liked the idea that you could sort of meet your younger self again. That who you were never completely dies. The scene is further made perfect when Daigo reenacts the time capsule with his elementary students. It's a sort of bittersweet moment. I absolutely loved this little episode and wanted more like this.

Final Thoughts

Sand Chronicles is one of the more realistic shojo series I've read. It distinguishes itself from other shojo, by the complex themes it explores like suicide, depression, and self hate, as well as the realistic portrayals of its characters, There are no perfect characters in this series and the way they act to certain situations felt authentic. While I feel like there are some rushed aspects to the story, overall it has good pacing. People who like We Were There, Say I Love You, or Strobe Edge would probably enjoy this series.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We Were There by Yuki Obata

Title: We Were There (Bokura ga Ita)
Author: Yuki Obata
Volumes: 16 (completed)
Volumes (English): 16 (completed)

Nanami Takahashi falls for Motoharu Yano, the most popular, carefree boy in class. For Nanami, it's first love, but Yano is still grieving the death of his girlfriend who died the year before.

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This post is nothing, but spoilers. Scroll to the bottom for final thoughts if you want to avoid them.

We Were There has an emotional complexity that isn’t always present in manga, while exploring some of the darker aspects of relationships. The series follows Nanami "Nana" Takhashi as a high schooler and into early adulthood. In fact the first thing that drew me to this series was the long time span between the protagonists first meeting and them finally ending up together.

Takhashi is an average teenage girl who falls in love with her charismatic classmate Motoharu "Moto" Yano. His apparent carefree and confident manner draws Takhashi to him and it's not until she gets to know him better that she realizes he's still grieving for his dead girlfriend and isn't as confident or carefree as his appearance suggests.

Of course Yano can't admit he's grieving, due to his overwhelming anger towards his dead girlfriend, Nana Yamamoto. (You may have noticed there are two Nanas in this series, so from here on out I'll be referring to Yano's dead girlfriend as Nana and his living one as Takhashi.) On the surface his anger seems to stem from the way his girlfriend died, she died in a car crash while riding around with her abusive ex-boyfriend. At times, he's quite callous when he talks about Nana, but later when he has a sort of breakdown begging her to not be dead, you realize that his unfeeling behavior towards her memory was a sort of self preservation. His ego couldn't deal with the betrayal and abandonment of her death.

These feelings are compounded by his mom committing suicide shortly after he moves away from Takhashi during his last year of highschool. It's another woman he loves choosing to leave him. This episode is his breaking point and he pretty much abandons Takhashi and everyone in his past life. This abandonment in turn kind of causes a break in Takhashi who never gets over it. It's like her life stopped at the moment he leaves her on the train station and in a way his does too. His disappearance shadows every aspect of her life. One of the saddest things about the series is seeing the emotional damage inflicted on both Yano and Takhashi. Because of this, neither one is able to fully move on.

There are two secondary characters worth mentioning in the series, Masafumi "Take" Takeuchi, Yano's best friend and later Takhashi's confidant and love interest, and Yuri Yamamoto, Nana's sister and Yano's stalker. Take is the steadfast and loyal friend that any sensible person would fall in love with, but this is shojo so of course he's not going to end up with the girl. While there is some competition between Yano and Take, it's not until Yano abandons Takhashi that Take truly pursues her. I liked Take and would have liked to see Takhashi and him end up together.
At one point in the series, he has a revelation that it's better for him to be with Takhashi, not because he loves her more, but that his love won't hurt her, unlike Yano whose love is always coupled with heartache and pain. He truly wanted what was best for Takhashi, and while it might be a bit arrogant to think he's what's best for her, his motives were good. I mean when you see someone you love, pining for someone who has abandoned them and you know you can love them best, why wouldn't you try your best to win their heart?

I felt for Take and I knew he'd get the short of the stick when all was said and done. He probably had the clearest vision of all the characters in the series. At one point in the series when Take discovers that Yano has been living with Yuri (who we'll visit later in this post) during his missing years and Yano's response to his finding out is "If you were on a boat with 2 people and that boat were to sink, who would you save? The one you like more? The one who's prettier? Or the one who's nicer? I would save the one who can't swim. Nana [Takhashi] is strong. She can swim on her own. Yamamoto needs my help." Take fires back saying something about Takhashi drowning and Yano being too obtuse to see it. Yano is obviously taken aback by this information and I think it's what motivates Yano to reevaluate some of the life decisions he's made. It's a scene that stuck with me. I also think that if this scene hadn't happened, that Yano would have continued living in the emotional void he'd created for himself. He never would have made his way back to Takhashi because I don't think he would have realized the damage he'd done there.

So in a round about way this brings us to Yuri. Yuri is probably the most emotionally complex and fucked up character in the series. She grew up with a mother who always put her more beautiful and popular sister first. Yuri lived in her sister's shadow when Nana was alive and continued to live in her shadow even after Nana's death, believing her mom would have preferred her death instead. She couldn't break free from her sister. Her dad abandoned the family while her sister was still alive, so she didn't have any support there either.

She had formed an unhealthy infatuation for Yano before he even started dating her sister. She kind of saw her sister's death as an opportunity to win Yano. They have sexual relations soon after Nana's death and so begins a truly fucked up one sided love story. Yano feels intense guilt over this incident, not only because he used Nana's sister to get back at her for cheating on him and dying, but also because it was Yuri's first time. This part of his past almost causes Yano and Takhashi to break up in high school and it causes a lot of the future drama he deals with.

Yuri pretty much stalks Yano to the point where Yano alternates between treating her with contempt or callous disregard. Yuri, feeling abandoned and unloved by everyone around her, threatens suicide. I don't think she would have done it. I honestly think she used it as a ploy to manipulate Yano into a relationship and it worked. Yano has a bit of the savior complex. It's like he actively looks for broken people to protect. (Who doesn't have a friend like that?) This kind of gives meaning to his own life and I think made him feel like he was somehow making up for not being able to save his mom or Nana.

Eventually, Yano and Takhashi find their way back to each other. This of course is after Yuri finally admits that the reason her sister was in the car with her ex-boyfriend was to finally and completely break it off with him. (Essentially, Nana was trying to protect Yano who had been beaten up by her ex-boyfriend when they first started dating.) I have never wanted to punch a fictional character so much as I did Yuri when she made this confession. What kind of person watches someone suffer (for years!) and withholds vital information that could ease said suffering? It's such a dick move. I guess I should be glad she bothered to give the information to him at all. Giving him this information severed their hold over each other and allowed Yano to not just forgive Nana, but himself as well. In cutting this tie with Yano, Yuri frees herself from the codependent relationship she initiated and you get the idea that she's not only going to be fine, but she'll thrive on her own.

I'll be honest, I had mixed feelings about Takhashi and Yano ending up together. On the one hand, I was glad that Takhashi and Yano were able to deal with the ghosts in their pasts and move forward in a relationship together, but on the other hand I really liked the idea of Take and Takhashi together. I know Take will be fine and he'll eventually find someone, but I kind of wanted his someone to be Takhashi. Of course, I wouldn't have been able to stand it if Yano and Yuri had maintained their relationship, and Yano was only ever going to leave Yuri for Takhashi. He wouldn't have for anyone else, so I guess it's good they ended up together. I also like the idea that second chances are possible and can be lasting. The last volume in this series is especially good and just powerful.

The writing in this series is beautiful. There are some truly profound observations in the series, reflecting on love, loss, and just plain life. The emotions in this series felt authentic and I found it easy to relate to the characters, even those I wanted to shake. It's interesting, because I didn't hate anyone in the series, not even Yuri. I didn't always like what they did, but I genuinely hoped that they all found happiness in the end. Speaking of the end, I loved the ending to the series. It's basically just Yano and Takhashi going through the routine of being together again doing normal things. It was a well earned normalcy and I know I had a ridiculous smile on my face while reading the ending.

Final Thoughts

I loved this series! Its realism will illicit strong emotions from readers, making it difficult to not feel along with the characters during the series. You'll have moments when you might love and hate a character all at the same time, which I think shows that the author nailed the complexity of the human condition. The writing is amazing and I wish the author would write more and it would be translated into English. Given the opportunity, I would read pretty much anything this author puts out. I think this series would appeal to people who liked Say I Love You, Sand Chronicles, or Ao Haru Ride. All of these series deal with some heavy issues and are a bit edgy compared to other series.

On a side note, I watched the two live action movies of this series and loved them! They're a great adaptation of the manga series, and the music is beautiful. If you get a chance I highly recommend watching the movies.