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Written and Drawn by Toshihiko Kobayashi
Translated and Adapted by David Ury
Published by Del Rey

In volume one of PASTEL, we met Mugi, a quiet and shy teenager who met the girl of his dreams at the beach. Yuu was kind, pretty, and stole his heart immediately… and then she vanished. But she soon reappeared, as it turned out her family was close to Mugi’s, and the death of her parents left she and her sister without a home. So they moved in with Mugi. And with Mugi’s father on the road constantly, that meant the pair were going to be under the same roof, with Mugi responsible for her welfare. Hijinx ensued.

When I reviewed that first volume, I basically panned it. The “boy in love with girl living under his roof, but he must constantly pay a price for anything even resembling a lustful moment (and, more, the accidental moments that constantly arise)” is a common one, and it can feel played out quickly. The fanservice quantity is heaping, but the characters generally don’t feel compelling or give you a reason to get invested in their fate. So I was expecting very little out of the next four volumes in the series.

But PASTEL improves. Not rapidly, mind you; it still plays way too much in that genre sandbox. But Kobayashi does take some steps to flesh out the characters, and that goes a long way towards making this a better read. For one, he makes it obviously fairly early on that Yuu has begun developing feelings for Mugi, too. That allows him to branch out with plots that affect her emotionally, too, and that’s important. When they bump into Mugi’s ex while in Tokyo, you can sense the genuine anxiety that Yuu feels about it. And of course, when their school’s biggest player comes calling to try and put the moves on Yuu, Mugi’s pain and discomfort is earned and real. So there’s much to admire about the direction the story goes.

But I can also imagine just how much richer the book might be if Kobayashi wasn’t seemingly trying to get a doctorate in drawing fanservice moments. With a genuine romance, you can grab a cross-gender audience. But PASTEL’s art is going to turn off half the population. There’s also an inherent risk in letting this type of “will they/won’t they” plot run on too long; too many false starts can make the reader lose interest and investment. But at this point, PASTEL has a shot at delivering a satisfying and emotional resolution. Not much more you can ask for than that.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Minoru Toyoda
Translated and Adapted by David and Eriko Walsh
Published by Del Rey

LOVE ROMA draws to a sweet and satisfying conclusion over these three volumes, and I must admit, I find myself surprised at the sense of sadness that creates in me. When the series first began, I really found it quite forgettable; it didn’t feet like Toyoda really had a solid grip on his characters or the direction they were going. But as the series progresses through these books, you can see him grow up as a storyteller and the characters grow with him. Upon conclusion, this turned out to be an excellent manga.

Let’s talk a bit about what really made LOVE ROMA sort of different from the start. Many “romantic” mangas tend to follow characters that long for someone else but don’t know quite how to express it or lack the courage to speak. So the series becomes a quest about the wait; GACHA GACHA, PASTEL, LOVE HINA… the list could go on. But LOVE HINA put the pair together early on, and the book instead became about the growth of Hoshino and Negishi’s actual relationship. Toyoda takes us through their attempts to figure out how much time to spend together, first meetings with the other’s family, the first kiss, outside forces tempting them to stray, and the decision whether or not to consummate their love.

Wisely, Toyoda-san stays disciplined and keeps the farcical elements to a minimum when progressing the pair through these steps, making their experience feel very real. There’s sincerity in the work that you can’t fake; clearly, he sweated out the story beats before putting them on the page, and the results are wonderful. I wish more creators would find the trust in their material that this creator did; relationships don’t have to be the end of the story. LOVE ROMA proves just how much value there is in making them the beginning.

With only five volumes in the series, this is an easily affordable option for someone looking for a complete read. LOVE ROMA goes out on top.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Jin Kobayashi
Translated and Adapted by William Flanagan
Published by Del Rey

When last we left SCHOOL RUMBLE, Tenma loved Karasuma (who was planning to transfer to a different school) and juvenile delinquent Harima loved Tenma… though she thinks he loves someone else and wants to help him learn how to express his feelings. As we head into volumes three and four, the triangle continues and gets stranger, but the series also begins to evolve into something entirely different. It’s instructive to watch.

RUMBLE is Kobayashi’s first manga, and that begins to really show in these two volumes, as he begins to discover what his book really is. The first couple of volumes focused a great deal more on the Karasuma plot, but he is mostly absent and in the background here. As the author admits in his notes, his favorite character is Harima, and he begins to move to the forefront of the series alongside Tenma, and the cast begins to develop and grow around them. More boys and girls get thrown into the mix, and more of the drama comes from their relationships. On the flip side, all of the humor draws from Harima’s horrifically poor attempts to express his heart to Tenma, and he keeps digging himself bigger and bigger holes to get out of. You can’t help but feel sorry for the poor bastard, even if he does most of it to himself.

The change in direction really does the book a lot of good. The original triangle, and the focus it required, made the first two volumes kinda bleah to read. But with the expanded cast and the potential for drama and romance among them, SCHOOL RUMBLE is a letter grade better than it was before. So much of manga focuses on young love that you have to work to make your book stand out, and compelling characters always do the trick. Worth picking up, especially if you start right here with these volumes.

Marc Mason

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