Here is an interesting change of pace. This is a pretty popular manga written by Yamamori Mika that recently ended last December. It has been a few months since I reviewed a manga series. . . simply because I was not interested. But since I started reading this one again, I thought about its story and how different it was from other shoujos I have read before. I will give a general synopsis for the sake of understanding the depths of the plot and characters.
The story begins much like any other teenage romance. Our heroine Suzume moves to Tokyo from the countryside to live with her uncle while her parents are overseas. She is not terribly upset by this but a little nervous. Of course, Tokyo is unnerving and she gets lost and passes out on a bench from hunger. She meets some weirdo, who turns out to be her uncle’s friend Shishio. Once he carries her home, she goes to school the next day to find he is her homeroom teacher.
I have seen this set up before. Her teacher Shishio is twenty-four or twenty-five so their age gap is only nine years. That slips in the incredible “forbidden relationship” trope into the story. Of course, she does not fall in love with him immediately. It is gradual as he continues to do things for her, make her laugh, push her to find good friends ect. It does not help that he is tall, handsome, and has adult habits like smoking.
But it can never be as simple as them falling in love and reveling in their forbidden romance midst stars and sparkly dollies. There is the addition of a third character: her classmate Mamura, the first friend she made at her new school. He is the direct contrast to Shishio’s open, friendly personality and dark features. Incredibly withdrawn, ESPECIALLY around girls, he becomes her friend out of force… at first.
But as it happens, she is not as bad as he thought. Before long, annoyance turned to recognition and finally to affection. This was for good reason. Because of her forceful personality he opened himself to new people and grew little by little away from his social problems. These problems were rooted in his mother’s tragic affair and abandonment of him, his father and younger brother. Eventually, when Suzume asks him why he had kissed her on the cheek, thinking he was messing around with her, he tells her, a little hurt, as it says below.
But as it happens, he knows of her feelings for their teacher. Though he makes subtle moves of his own, it is never forced. Rather, he carefully watches over her to make sure she does not get hurt. For example, within twenty or so chapters of the story, Suzume confesses to Shishio only to be rejected (not because he did not feel the same). One of the most poignant scenes from the series happens then. Mamura, waiting for a friend, notices her coming back from her confession. She tells him what happened and breaks down. Despite his insecurities, he hugs her and tells her his true feelings. As shown below. He expressed a mixture of love and concern because he knew her affection for their teacher will only bring her unhappiness.
But being a young teenage girl in love for the first time, she does not accept Mamura’s feelings. Gradually, she and her teacher become closer and eventually they do become a couple of sorts. But ONLY in secret. She is left alone often, and cannot become close to him in a healthy setting. She often has to lie to her uncle about where she is going, once even being stuck in a hotel overnight with Shishio during a winter storm (do not worry. Nothing happens).
Mamura confronts Shishio several times about his inability to make Suzume happy and his immature behavior. He even once forcefully asked how Shishio could lead her on knowing full well the consequences of having that kind of relationship with his student. Interestingly, Mamura never pushes himself on Suzume at those times she is inadvertently forsaken or misunderstood by Shishio. Rather, he calmly places himself in a position of comfort until she feels happier.
But as it happens, Shishio does have deep feelings for Suzume and is merely unable to fully support her because of his position as a teacher. But even he recognizes how much he has hurt her because of their relationship. Then the inevitable happens. Her uncle finds out about her relationship with Shishio. Her uncle tells him bluntly the harm he is causing her and how irresponsible he is being. Consequently, Shishio breaks off their relationship and lies to Suzume, telling her he does not love her and that her feelings were not real. (Looking over this a second time, there I some cheesy scenes in this. Better fun some crackers!)
One thing I am sure of is that her feelings were not capricious. Her heart break was real and as such she left to visit her mom at her old home. One should never be ashamed of their love. But rejection is a difficult path. Luckily, Suzume does not revel long in her sadness. Her friends visit, along with Mamura who tells her she needs to come back. Determined to move behind her feelings of grief she agrees and tells her other friends what happened.
This is where the story becomes truly interesting. As Suzume becomes closer to Mamura she finds herself changing. He invites her to his birthday celebration with his family at a place he knows she will enjoy. He does this knowing she has been having a difficult time. When they begin their second year in high school, things change even more. Being incredibly popular with high strung first years, Mamura is stalked constantly before, during and after school. Being the only available girl “friend”, her friends suggest they pretend to date to get rid of his stalkers. At first he refuses until he notices Suzume talking to Shishio by accident in the school.
They pretend for a while to date, then when all his fans are gone he tells her to come with him somewhere before they go home. Without realizing it, he takes to the aquarium as a thank you where she had her first date with Shishio. At first she tells him she cannot go in because it is too hard. Then he forces her, telling her that she cannot continue living her life avoiding every place she ever went to, every song she heard, and every food she ever ate with him. Begrudgingly she agrees and realizes after he leaves her for a while that he had completely forgotten Shishio while with him.
This realization makes her frustrated, especially after he apologizes to her for making her come there. When she asks him why he does all those things for her he finally tells her it is because he loves her. Shocked, she does not know how to answer him. At first, she leaves and after comparing her two experiences with Shishio and Mamura believes she cannot be with him because her experiences with both are completely different.
But she realizes that they did not need to be the same. More than anything, because of how much he has done for her she wants to face in his direction and bring him happiness. He agrees to date, knowing full well that not all her feelings are facing towards him. Something happens then that I find enchanting. The more she tries to make him happy and forgets herself the happier she becomes. Their relationship is different. When he holds her hand she reflected,
Sensei’s hands and Mamura’s hands are completely different. The way they hold my hand and their temperature as well is completely different. Sensei always held my hand tightly. But Mamura he held my hand like he was protecting something fragile.
Of course she can never simply realize she loves him even more than she did Shishio. That takes some prodding. Shishio decides to tell her that he loves her, contrary to what he said before. At first she will not listen to him. Instead she focuses on supporting Mamura during their school festival, afraid that her feelings for Shishio wil return.
At one instance, she asks Mamura to go home together. Knowing something is wrong, he tells her to tell him what it is and that he always knows when something is troubling her. I find this scene interesting because even though he wants to embrace her, he holds himself back afraid it still is not his place to do so.
Then the unthinkable happens. After Suzume gets injured, Mamura goes to the infirmary to see her and hears Shishio tell her about his feelings again. Even after Suzume joins him for lunch and invites him on a trip with their other friends he prepares himself for the inevitable.
Of course the inevitable happens. Shishio goes to the hospital after a small accident and after learning about it, Suzume tells Mamura. (Nothing like hospital visit to force out romantic feelings! Yay to another trope of manga!) Knowing full well in his mind what will happen, Mamura tells her to go to Shishio because he knows she still loves him. She leaves and meets Shishio in the hospital to discuss her feelings.
This is where I prepared myself for disappointment. In every other story like this one the girl goes back to the old love and leaves the other behind, sorrowful that thy led them on.
But it did not happen. She had changed. In the end, she returns to Mamura and tells him she loves him. The end. Well. . . It is way more romantic than that but you get the idea.
Now, why did I go out of my way to write out this incredibly long synopsis of a romance manga? (Cheesiness and all folks!) Well, the short answer it made me crazy happy. It went above my expectations. But there are more concrete reasons than that.
Firstly, it clearly showed how unhealthy a “forbidden” romance is. In my mind, if you cannot straightfowardly show your family and friends who you are dating because it is unlawful or unstable, you should not be in that relationship. Romance novels and movies lie! Yes, sometimes it works for the best and yes there are relationships that are good but they have to keep it hidden for safety reasons. That is not what I am talking about. In this story, I could not account for one time she was with Shishio and was comfortably happy. Suzume’s uncle’s interception was so important because it set the line between good and detrimental relationships. It is possible to fall in love with the wrong person.
I remember watching the TV show Pretty Little Liars while in college. A similar sort of relationship sparked between one of the girls and her homeroom teacher. No matter what angle I looked at it from, I noticed the negative effect it had on the girl, the teacher, her family and many around her. No matter how romantic they painted it, it had a prevailing sense of wrongness.
Secondly, this story addressed heartbreak well. Not all relationships are right and we will have our heart broken many times. What was important was she willingly wanted to move beyond her sorrow. She did not dwindle forever in a black hole of despair until he came back to her.
Thirdly, I liked Mamura as a character. At times he was immature but I noticed how much he grew as the series progressed. I think it was because Suzume’s happiness was foremost in his mind. How many instances did he go out of his way to help her despite his own feelings and insecurities? Many, many times.
When I first read the series, I shrugged my shoulders and assumed his feelings would not go anywhere, thinking it was a clique forbidden romance story. As it progressed, I supported him more and more and waited anxiously to see if his kindness and sacrifice would be rewarded. Thankfully, it was.
The defining difference between Suzume’s relationships between Shishio and Manura was this: when she was with Shishio her focus was almost entirely on having her feelings recognized. It was incredibly self motivating. With Mamura, she strove instead for his happiness. (Here is how she explained it.)
When I think about sensei, even now it hurts me a lot. But when I think about Mamura my heart always became warmer. If I had properly looked into my heart, the answer would have been easy to find. Even if I am in agonizing pain or even if there is nothing wrong I will unconsciously start running towards you. You being by my side is something that’s completely natural. All this time, I just couldn’t see it. I didn’t know if this was love or not. The me from before didn’t have the confidence to decide. When I cleared my mind of all the hazy and confusing thoughts and looked into my bare heart, more than hurting myself, I found someone I did not wish to hurt at all costs.
Is this story somewhat cheesy from a certain perspective? Yes. But I believe the messages portrayed through this love story are important to consider. Our culture is so steeped in drama, they hardly consider a natural, peaceful and fulfilling relationship to be ideal. I loved following this story and felt reasonably happy at its end.
I recommend this story to shoujo’s manga fans. For myself, I was happy to see a romance based on friendship, kindness, trust and respectability rather than on desire or passion.
Overall Score: 5/5
1. Suzume- Mamura, I love you This time I will bring you happiness. So please take care of me.
2. Mamura- From now on, more than ever, I will cherish you. Please take care of me.
3. Suzume- The person who taught me the joy of making someone happy was you. When the stars fall into darkness, I will quietly shine for you. During happy times, during sad ties. I will always be there for you. Your hand, your smile, your everything. For as many years to come, I will watch from the place closest to you. My existence will become your daytime shooting star.
4. Mamura- Properly. I’ll properly think about this. I’m not really good with these things and I don’t know how to say this well, but it’s my intention to put every effort so that she’ll never cry. Also, you’re probably worried about “those” sorts of things. But you really need worry about it. Anyway, I’ll be honest. I’m a guy so those thoughts are there. But right now only half her feelings are directed towards me. But I feel it’s not too late for her to direct 100% of her feelings towards me. Well, for me it’s more than enough the way it is now. If she’s happy, then I am willing to be dragged along.