Sawako is invited to hang out with friends for the first time in her life. She eats ramen with Yano and Yoshida at Ryu's family's ramen place. When Yano realizes that Sawako probably has a crush on Kazehaya, she encourages Sawako to call Kazehaya and invite him to join them. Then, when he arrives, Yano messes with him a bit. It's an overall cute, fun gathering.
Next, the school is gearing up for its sports festival. Kazehaya has been assigned to be part of the sports festival committee, which means he'll be spending a lot of time with Kurumi, a girl who appears cute and nice on the surface but who seems to be manipulating others into pairing her and Kazehaya up. When she notices that Kazehaya likes Sawako, she declares herself one of Sawako's friends, with the intention of manipulating Sawako into giving up on Kazehaya and helping her end up with him instead.
Other than the whole Kurumi situation, things are going well in Sawako's life (and Sawako, by the way, doesn't even realize that Kurumi is trouble waiting to happen). Yano and Yoshida are trying to get Sawako to be more relaxed with her fellow students. They start by encouraging her to call her friends by their first names. Yano is Ayane, Yoshida is Chizu, and then there's Tomo and Ekko. Yano, who I will call Ayane from now on, continues to try to encourage the budding romance between Kazehaya and Sawako. She tells Sawako to try calling Kazehaya by his first name, Shota. Of course, Sawako tries, but she can't manage it. Kazehaya also can't manage to call Sawako by her first name (he calls her Kuronuma), which later causes Sawako to become upset, because he seems to be able to refer to Kurumi by her first name.
Okay, first, I have to admit that I was not able to stick to my personal rule of only reading the next volume after I'd written a post about the volume I just finished reading. I recently finished volume 6 and probably would have read more if I owned volume 7. The good news is that this means I already know how all the Kurumi stuff ends. The bad news is that it's going to take a little extra willpower on my part to write posts about volumes 4 to 6.
This volume didn't pack the emotional punch for me that the second volume did, but I still enjoyed it a lot, just for different reasons. It was, overall, incredibly cute. I loved Kazehaya's surprise and slight worry when Sawako called him on Ryu's phone and told him she was hanging out at Ryu's house. I loved getting to watch Ayane mess with Kazehaya, rubbing his face in the fact that she and Chizu could be as close to Sawako as they wanted and later trying to get him to call Sawako by her first name. And Kazehaya inventing a need to stop by a convenience store in order to have an excuse to walk Sawako home...so cute! One of the things that keeps me coming back to shoujo romance is how incredibly adorable a lot of the relationships are, and this one is no exception.
The constant presence of manipulative, two-faced Kurumi could have made the second half of this volume very tense...if Sawako hadn't been so oblivious as to not even notice that Kurumi wasn't who she pretended to be, and if Kazehaya hadn't been so completely unaffected by Kurumi. Kurumi does manage to make Sawako a little jealous, but, because Sawako is such a nice person who sees only the good in others, all this did was lead to more sweet moments. Sawako notices how good Kurumi and Kazehaya look together, so she thinks about what she might be able to do to look cuter herself (or, according to her, more “fluffy”). She frets a bit about Kazehaya's apparent ability to call Kurumi by her first name when he is only able to refer to her as Kuronuma – Sawako has no idea that that he only calls her Kuronuma because he's too embarrassed to call her, his crush, by her first name.
Despite her best efforts to interfere with Sawako and Kazehaya's budding romance, Kurumi is primarily only able to act as a source of humor in this volume. It's like Sawako has a niceness shield – all of Kurumi's attempts to make Sawako feel bad, give up on Kazehaya, and help Kurumi get Kazehaya just bounce off that shield. When Kurumi tries to manipulate Sawako into reassuring her that she and Kazehaya really are close, Sawako misses Kurumi's hints and just accepts it when Kurumi says she and Kazehaya are just regular friends. After an entire conversation spent trying to crush Sawako's confidence where Kazehaya is concerned, Sawako instead comes away from the experience feeling even better than before. It's great fun, watching Kurumi's herculean efforts to keep smiling pleasantly in the face of her annoyance and frustration with Sawako.
The second volume may have had me in tears, but this one had me smiling and laughing. This is a great series, and I can't wait to reread the next volume (and I can't wait until volume 7 is finally shipped to me).
A few author sidebars and a page of cultural notes.
Once again, my read-alikes/watch-alikes list is a lazy cut-and-paste job.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- The Wallflower (manga) by Tomoko Hayakawa - This manga has also been adapted into an anime, but I haven't seen it and don't know how similar it is to the manga. The main character of this series, Sunako, is similar to Sawako in that she looks like Sadako and has a tendency to frighten people just by existing. Four handsome guys are told they can live in Sunako's aunt's mansion for free, the only catch being that they have to turn Sunako into a "lady." Gradually, the guys learn that, when she's not crippled by her fear of beauty or wallowing in her love for horror movies and all things creepy, she's actually beautiful and really awesome. Although this series has some romantic elements, do not read this if you'd primarily like another romantic series - you'll only end up disappointed, as Hayakawa goes so far with the romance and no further for volume after volume after volume. What this series is best at is humor.
- Big Windup! (anime TV series) - Every time someone treated Sawako like another human being and she chose to view that as evidence that the person was incredibly nice, I was reminded of Mihashi, one of the main characters in this series. Mihashi loves baseball, particularly pitching, but his terrible experiences in middle school destroyed his self-confidence. Although he was determined to quit baseball once he entered high school, to his joy and horror he found himself added to the team instead. Now, for the team to excel, everyone, particularly Mihashi and Abe, his catcher, must learn to work together. If you'd like another series with an incredibly sweet, shy main character whose self-confidence could use a boost, you might want to try this.
- High School Debut (manga) by Kazune Kawahara - Haruna, a cheerful tomboy, has never had a boyfriend. Now that she's in high school, she's determined to change things. Unfortunately, she has absolutely no idea how to become more feminine and attract a boy's interest. When she meets handsome and popular Yoh, she gets him to agree to teach her about dating and what boys like. The only condition: Haruna must not fall in love with Yoh - and of course she and Yoh both fail miserably at this condition. This is another sweet romantic school story featuring a likable heroine who tries way too hard. One of the things I love about this series is that Haruna doesn't end up with Yoh because she changes herself, but rather because Yoh gets to know her and likes her for who she is.
- Azumanga Daioh (manga) by Kiyohiko Azuma; Azumanga Daioh (anime TV series) - This humorous slice-of-life series focuses on a bunch of quirky high school girls and their eccentric teachers. I added it to this list primarily because of one of the characters, a cool-looking girl who secretly loves cute animals, even though almost all animals hate her.
- Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - After Tohru Honda's mother died, she went to live with her grandfather, but, rather than get in anyone's way while his house was being remodeled, she opted to live in a tent in the woods. When Yuki Sohma, the most popular boy at school, and Shigure Sohma find out about her, they offer to let her stay at their place. Tohru soon learns that the Sohma family has been hiding a big secret: when certain members of the family become weak or are hugged by a member of the opposite sex, they turn into one of the animals in the Chinese zodiac. Those who'd like another series featuring an incredibly nice heroine might want to try this.