By Yuki Yaku and Fly. Released in Japan as “Jaku Chara Tomozaki-kun” by Gagaga Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Winifred Bird.
If you ever wanted to see someone trip on page 1 and spend the next 276 pages falling to the ground, then have I got a book for you. In all fairness, I should have seen this coming. Everything was going far too smoothly for our boy Tomozaki lately. He’s got friends, he’s got a girlfriend, and he’s even teaching his mentor how to not be some sort of Japanese high school girl cyborg, though signs point to that not really working. But one of those things is a very different beast from the others, and as the book goes on the reader starts to notice how Kikuchi just… isn’t in it. She shows up here and there, she and Tomozaki are cute with each other, but she’s not part of the life he’s trying to live right now, she’s a separate entity. And that leads to everything crashing down for the cliffhanger. So it’s a good thing we’re not gonna have another short-story volume next… hrm? What’s that? Volume 8.5? Ah well We must all suffer.
Things start off well, as our new couple go for a New Year’s shrine visit and run into Izumi and Nakamura, and Tomozaki gets to see what an actual long-time couple who are not worried about doing the wrong thing at all times act like. After that, though, it’s back to assignments – for both our protagonists. Tomozaki has to start working towards his next major goal, which is to be the “head” of a clique of friends. As for Hinami, he takes her to an in-person Atafami meet-up, hoping to show her the fun that can be had in gaming and that it does not have to be as analytical as possible. This meet-up is impactful for him as well; first because he ends up meeting a pro gamer who makes Tomozaki wonder if that’s a future he can do himself; and second, because a college-aged girl named Rena starts hitting on him aggressively… something he does not really handle well at all.
I’m going to be honest here: if your mentor is so emotionally broken that you’re trying to get her to have fun as a goal, why are you trusting her with your romantic thermometer at all? Every time he asked Hinami “is this OK” in regards to Kikuchi’s increasing fragility, I wanted to smack him in the face. She is the LAST person he should be asking. Sigh. But that’s Book 9’s problem, I guess, though if this new romance turns out to be only about 2 weeks long, I fear readers may get annoyed. Other than that, though, Tomozaki does pretty well here. He’s gotten better at asking leading questions without suspicion, and is forcing himself to think about his future in ways that aren’t just “college, I guess” like most of his classmates. I really enjoyed the gaming battle with the pro, not because of the endless pages of Atafami description (again, not a gamer), but because it showed off that there’s a different way of thinking you can access when everything you have is on the line.
Let’s hope Tomozaki accesses that when he tries to rescue his relationship next time. Well, next time after the short stories. Till then, this was painful but excellent.