By Kennoji and Fly. Released in Japan as “Chikan Saresou ni Natteiru S-kyuu Bishoujo wo Tasuketara Tonari no Seki no Osananajimi datta” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sergio Avila.
There is a very famous meme in regards to the visual novel/anime franchise Fate/Stay Night regarding Shirou’s obliviousness towards any and all romantic affection from other girls, which has Rin showing him diagrams of sex ending with “Jam it in”, to which Shirou’s response is “..you lost me.” Of course, the real reason beyond Shirou’s lack of emotional sensitivity stems from his traumatic past. Ryou’s past is not quite as traumatic as Shirou’s… despite the cliffhanger to this book… but he is another character whose obliviousness has more depth to it than the standard anime harem lead. That said… it’s been three books, and the solution to all of this seems to have been “add more girl” each time. I’m hoping that Ai Himejima may be the final straw, mostly as she brings something to the table that the other non-Hina girls don’t have: she is also a childhood fr9iend. And, apparently, was also in love with Ryou.
The book starts almost the same way the first one did, with Ryou rescuing a girl from a groper on the train, and almost getting in trouble for it himself. Said girl turns out to be Ai (aka Himeji), who is transferring to their school… in June, an odd time to transfer schools. It is, however, just in time to be part of the annual school trip, which involves lots of shrine visits and cultural education. Himeji is eager to reconnect with Ryou, and also reconnects with Hina, though she’s less thrilled about this. (Ryou finds himself thinking “they must be very good friends” in response to their constant arguing over him… again, this book requires a lot of patience.) Is Himeji going to steal Ryou away from Hina? Why did she transfer in the first place? And can Ryou please stop hating himself?
The main reason that Himeji is interesting is what she brings to the table: she was in elementary school with Ryou and Hina as well, and (as the cliffhanger points out) may have been far more involved with Ryou than he remembers. This series relies heavily on the transient quality of childhood memories, especially when you have a lot of upheaval in your life in between, and I wonder (but doubt, frankly) if this will cause Ryou to actually push back a bit. We also get a sense that Ryou and Hina need each other, if only as without him around she might end up in a lot of trouble. The scene where she tries to give directions to a “lost tourist” and is almost taken off to a dark alley somewhere is chilling, and fits oddly in the midst of this relatively fluffy book. Oh yes, and we get Ryou’s brother giving him condoms – again. She knows someone needs a constant ass-kicking if he’s going to get anywhere.
This is not really an essential high school romcom, but I’m curious as to how things will shake out. It’s not in the genre of “sugary sweet and conflictless” – the love quadrangle won’t let it be – but it’s the next level down.