One of the reasons why I keep reading manga is that it still has the capacity to surprise me. I found the fifth volume of Strobe Edge exciting to read, because it went in a totally different direction from what I was expecting. I’d always expected that the love triangle between Ren, Mayuka, and Ninako would have to be resolved somehow, but I wasn’t expecting a big change to come from Mayuka this early in the series. Ren is deliberately holding himself back from developing feelings for Ninako due to his sense of duty towards Mayuka. She’s emotional fragile and stressed out with the demands of her modeling career, school, and her parents’ divorce. Ren has a finely honed sense of integrity and wouldn’t do anything to hurt another person, with the expense of actually subverting his own feelings in the process.
I always expect anyone in a shoujo manga with a modeling career to be evil, but Mayuka shows that she’s been slowly picking up on Ren’s distance, coming to terms with her own goals for how she wants to live her life, and she realizes that she’s the one who is going to have to take a big step forward on her own. The change in Ren and Mayuka’s relationship isn’t without pain on both sides, but everything is handled with a degree of emotional maturity and sensitivity that is notable. It is fun to read a shoujo series that explores the shifting relationships between characters with such nuance.
In the meantime Ninako and Ando are in the grips of adorable teenage awkwardness, as she attempts to bury her own feelings for Ren and Ando tries to show her that he’s the better choice for her. Ando’s shifted from the cheerful flirtations personality that he displayed in the first few volumes to showing Ninako just how much he cares about her. There was a fun bonus story in this volume that delved into the past friendship between Ren and Ando, and just where it went wrong. This is the type of bonus story that I really enjoy, as it gives the reader a glimpse of the characters in a slightly different context, and provides more background as the manga moves forward.
There’s emotional turmoil ahead in the sixth volume of Strobe Edge, as Ando’s antagonism towards Ren resurfaces and Ren is dealing with the aftermath of his breakup with Mayuka. The burden of popularity and extreme handsomeness weighs heavily on Ren, as he is girlfriendless for barely a day before the girls at school start circling him. Ninako assumes that Ren is sad, and doesn’t want to do anything to add to his stress. Even with Valentine’s day coming up, she doesn’t want to add to the mountain of chocolate he’s going to be receiving from all the other girls.
There are some fun action scenes as Ren and Ando (mostly Ando) work through some aggression on the basketball court. The antagonistic relationship between them takes a turn towards the hilarious as Ando gets injured and when he wakes up and spots Ren he yells “You’re what I have to wake up to?” If Strobe Edge was only focused on the relationship between Ninako and Ren, it has the potential to get boring fairly fast. But seeing Ren and Ando start to work through their issues feels like an important emotional breakthrough. Ando instructs Ren not to smile, and Ren assumes that it is because his smile is somehow hideous, but really Ando doesn’t like the inadvertent effect a smiling Ren has on all the people in his vicinity. The end of volume six offers the promise of a new beginning at the start of a new school year, with Ren and Ninako being assigned to the same class.
Strobe Edge is a good example of why sometimes it is good to give a manga series a few volumes to develop before giving up on it. I was a bit on the fence about this series after reading only the first volume even though I generally enjoyed it. I wouldn’t have thought from just the first volume that Sakisaka would have built up the interesting relationships between the characters and handled some emotional journeys without relying on some of the standard shoujo plot elements. In some ways Strobe Edge is a less angsty successor to We Were There, as both series explore similar nuanced psychological territory.
Review copy of vol 6 provided by the publisher.