By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Shogakukan. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.
Having started to successfully negotiate life the way that he does games, Tomozaki now runs up against more treacherous waters. Inviting a group out for a lunch accidentally turns into a shopping trip (MUCH harder for someone like him), and he has to ask his library friend out to see a movie, something that would be adorably cute but unfortunately gets derailed by the main plot. The main plot being Mimimi, the overenthusiastic and hyper classmate of his, running for Student Council President… against Hinami. As we discover that Mimimi has a long history of coming in second to Hinami, and see just how far above everyone else Hinami really is, Tomozaki decides that he wants to help Mimimi take her down by winning the election. But is he really good enough to do that now? And isn’t this just ignoring the larger issues that Mimimi has? More to the point, is being the best at everything really something you can criticize? All this, and it’s only the second volume.
We’d seen a hint of Mimimi’s hidden depths in the first volume, but the second one goes into far more detail. (My suspicion is that each girl on the cover art will be the focus of the book in question, so expect library girl to take center stage next time.) It can be hard to constantly find yourself hitting an insurmountable wall, and even harder when it’s a person. There’s a core of self-loathing to Mimimi’s behavior here, as she can’t see a way past what she’s doing without feeling angry with herself. The “what’s the second highest mountain in Japan?” question was a good way to demonstrate it to Tomozaki – with everyone watching Hinami at number one, who’s going to look at the next best? But, as we hear towards the end, Hinami has felt that anger and frustration as well – in fact, it’s what led to this entire situation. As Tomozaki says towards the end of the book, nobody did anything wrong here.
There’s also a lot of good stuff here about student council elections in Japanese schools, and how you have to balance what kids want vs. what teachers will let you talk about. The reader is absolutely meant to root for Mimimi and Tomozaki here. That said, the reader also suspects the result will be as inevitable as Hinami says it is. (I’m still not sure how the author wants us to feel about Hinami – getting a very “Medaka Kurokami” vibe about her.) And then there’s Tomozaki, who does make some good steps forward here (I really liked his buying the hair wax), but needs to stop framing everything as “this is what normies do” and putting himself outside that box. Also struck by a naïveté I was not expecting from him – even I knew what Mimimi did to Tama, but he’s baffled by it the entire book.
So, to sum up: I enjoyed the plot, I liked the characters, the writing felt smooth and readable (very good translation here), and it doesn’t feel quite as much like a self-help guide compared to the first. Overall, it was excellent. Cannot wait for the next book.