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.
We have reached the point in this series where Tomozaki is starting to get good at playing Hinami’s “game” of life, and for the most part he sails through her directives in this book. In fact, the first two thirds of this book are a great deal of relaxing fun, especially after the confrontation between our two leads in the last volume. Most of this chunk of the book revolves around the sports festival, where the boys and girls in the class will be competing. The role of girls’ captain is somewhat thankless, and is at first foisted off on one of the quiet wallflowers in the class, then by Izumi. The true stumbling block, though, is Erika Konno, the Queen Bee of the class, who does not want to try hard or care unless she has to. So Tomozaki’s task is to get Konno interested in the sports festival. And now that he’s become something of a social animal, he can even ask others for help as well.
Izumi gets a lot to do in this book, as she’s involved in every single plot and subplot. She and Nakamura make their relationship clearer, and they’re now going out. She’s also the one who’s most invested in another issue – due to Nakamura and his mother fighting, he’s not coming to school, and it’s taking a worryingly long time for them to make up. This was probably the funniest part of the book, as Hinami is very reluctant to get involved in this – until Atafami is brought up as the reason for the fight, when she suddenly changes her tune. As with previous books, Hinami is at her best as a character when we see her mask cracking, which it does several times here. The sports festival also goes well, and provides Tomozaki a chance to bond with the other boys in the class AND have a laughable anti-sports manga moment. Everything’s great, and the game is fun. What could go wrong?
…well, life is not a game you can stop playing when it ceases to be fun is the lesson we learn in the last third of the book, when Erika Konno moves from apathetic Queen Bee to nasty bully, picking on the shy girl in the class because, well, for the same reason that bullies always pick on the quiet kid. The book then gets really good again (the author is excellent at making the last fifth of so of each book really sing) when Tama-chan gets involved. She hasn’t been a big part of the series so far, and most of what we know about her is that she’s very serious and straightforward. That ends up being both a strength and a weakness when she confronts Konno, and we get an excellent look at how this sort of bullying can affect the mood of a classroom, and why the sympathy of a group is rarely with the bullied. We also see the previous crack in Hinami’s armor get larger – just as she was willing to get involved when Atafami was being dissed, here she’s ready to go to bat for her friend. That said, Tomozaki is not the only one growing and learning in this series.
The book ends with the problem unresolved, and given Tama-chan is on the next cover, I expect we’ll get a lot more of it. It’s a good way to end a great book in the series, one willing to deal with problems both small and large, and with an excellent view of classroom dynamics and mood. Forget “read this if you find Oregairu too depressing”, just read this, period.