By Kazuki Amamiya and Gin. Released in Japan as “Haibara-kun no Tsuyokute Seishun New Game” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Esther Sun.
After the first volume of this series was more Com than Rom, this second volume flips it. Natsuki is a guy who is in love with another girl and trying, with stuttering, shaky steps, to get to the point he can do something about it. But he’s got another girl who’s confessed to him and is coming on strong, a third girl who I suspect is waiting for a future volume to get her spotlight, and his childhood friend, who is definitely Love Interest #4, even if neither of them are ready to admit it yet. It’s been a while since we’ve had a book series that’s solely about “which girl will he pick?”. The genre these days has shifted to “sweet adorable romance between a couple who get together right away”. Unfortunately for Natsuki, that’s not the genre he’s in, and this series is unlikely to have polyamory be the answer, so he’s going to have to break someone’s heart. And he’s not ready to do that.
Natsuki is still attempting to get together with the girl he likes, Hikari. And his childhood friend Miori is still trying to get together with his hot friend Reita. the solution is obvious – a double date, with careful subterfuge to make it look like they’re just all going to the movies as a group. It actually doesn’t go that badly, though progress stalls when Miori runs into her upperclassmen from the basketball team, and it becomes apparent that they are Not Getting Along ™. That said, Natsuki’s bigger problem is Sakura, who still has a massive crush on him, and is very cute and likeable in her own right. He’d probably be quite happy if he just decided to date her. But he can’t make that decision… though he CAN agree to accept her invitation to go to a festival together. Boy, this book really consists entirely of Not Dates.
The author talks in the afterword about how, despite all the drama surrounding the book, everything is pretty easily fixed, and I quite liked that as well. This is a series about typical teens with typical problems, and it doesn’t need a dramatic climax, it just needs to have people talk about what’s really bothering them. This is difficult with Miori, who likes to present a front of “I’m fine and don’t need any help”, and because Natsuki has known her a long time, he just accepts that – it takes Sakura asking him to help the team to galvanize him. (By the way, what the hell was the coach doing in all of this? Worst coach ever.) As for Natsuki’s love problems, well, that’s not a function of him going back in time, and he knows it. He’s wrestling with things a lot of kids do at that age. Miori suggests just giving up and dating Sakura, but this IS where the book functions as a light novel – our hero will not give up on his first love so easily. And this leads to sadness, but so far it’s an ambiguous sadness.
The next volume in this series came out only three months ago in Japan, so we may have to wait for more. Till then, if you’re nostalgic for romcoms where you’re not sure who Winning Girl is going to be, this is a good choice.