We Were There 14

Yuuki Obata – Viz – 2012 – 15+ volumes

Oh, this series. I still haven’t really gotten over the fact I hate Yano. Regardless of his circumstances (and he explains in this volume that they were more dire than simply not being able to leave Yamamoto by herself), he’s still a complete jerk, and this whole thing where he has to suffer for… something is really annoying.

And yet, I keep coming back to We Were There. It’s very good, even still, and this has been the best volume in a long time. Nana and Yano talk a lot here, and there are things settled between them. There was some closure, and better yet, some direction for the future. While I love and adore the fact the characters grew up and we’re still following their lives, I was having trouble wading through the past few volumes of self-pity and indecision. Drama and melancholy are the dominant traits of this series, but there just aren’t many series that can pull it off as heartbreakingly realistic as We Were There.

Nana and Takeuchi also have more than a couple talks in this volume. Nana is right, in some sense, in that she’s doing the same thing to Takeuchi that Yano is doing to her. But Nana is less of a jerk about it, and can at least admit to Takeuchi’s face that he isn’t the one for her. Takeuchi is nothing if not patient, however, and there’s more to it than that. More than the much-needed conversations with Yano, it’s these delicate and very heartbreaking moments with Takeuchi that made this volume a good read. Takeuchi doesn’t even have that many appearances, or even much dialogue. But he’s still the star of this volume for me, and I feel terrible for him. And really, Nana, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.

We only get one volume of this a year now, and my interest was waning after the past few mopey, directionless volumes. The story was working its way slowly to this, though, and the wait was worth it. It’s great stuff, much deeper than most of what you’ll find in shoujo manga. It’s probably a bit too depressing for some, but it’s good stuff. Even after all these years.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 12

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2011 – 15+ volumes

One more book I skipped reviewing. Somewhere, there’s a volume of Knights of the Zodiac, too, and when I find it, I’ll write that one up. I also lost a copy of Seiho Boys’ High School 6, if you happen to run across it somewhere, but I already reviewed it here. Obviously I’m doing some sorting and cataloging over my winter holiday.

Anyway. This series makes it very hard to sympathize with The Other Woman. I’m not exactly sure how that works, though. The story is told from Nanami’s point of view, so we’ve been right there with her as she fell in love and went through all the teenage drama with Yano, and when he made all the promises and disappeared. And we’ve been with her into her adult years as she waited and looked and tried to get over it but couldn’t. So it’s easy to get angry at any other woman that might desire to date Yano.

On the other hand… if Yano doesn’t chose Nanami… isn’t that his choice? It’s less of a shoujo manga that way, and granted, The Other Woman isn’t written to be sympathetic. But she tried just as hard. And she succeeded. My brain is telling me that it doesn’t really matter, but that’s just not how shoujo manga works. It also doesn’t help that Yano is a complete jerk about everything. He always has been, though.

The big thing here is that the story catches up to Yano, and we find out what he’s been up to and how his life has gone once he left Nanami. His reasons are terrible, and it’s really easy to just hate his guts. He doesn’t seem that happy. Nobody does. This is where the shoujo manga logic kicks in again, because someone should be happy here. Not even The Other Woman seems all that pleased with herself. She just succeeded, is all.

Bah. Yano, you jerk. I don’t even know why I care anymore. Well, I do know why I care. This is unparalleled soap opera drama. That the characters have aged and are now doing this crap as adults is a huge bonus, since these stories never follow characters into adulthood, with adult problems like this. This is another reason why We Were There is worth reading. But I must admit, you have to have an awful high tolerance for melodrama (which I totally do) and also forgive the characters a lot of understandable faults in order to enjoy this.

We Were There 13

Yuuki Obata – Viz – 2011 – 15+ volumes

I like this series, and I’m happy to see that it’s continued after its hiatus in Japan. But this volume… I was thinking that there wasn’t too much story left to tell, either Nanami would or wouldn’t find Yano. But this volume makes it seem like Nanami and Yano are going to go through all this emotional stuff all over again. We Were There is one of the best at emotional stuff, to be sure. No series captures drama with quite the same degree of melancholy, cutting accuracy. You really feel just how depressed all these characters are. The supporting characters’ concern oozes off the page. And you can taste Yano’s lies in your own mouth.

All the same, we’ve been over all this before. Has the story really circled back around to become about whether Yano loves Nanami enough to be with her? Are we really still dealing with Yamamoto? And I hate that Yano seems to deny himself because he’s surrounded by clingy women he can’t say no to. He’s basically just put his mother, Yamamoto, and her sister Nana all in the same camp, and denies himself because he can’t say no. They’re not strong enough to live without him. Really?

I’m not sure how I feel about the marriage proposal, and how much of the volume was devoted to Nanami. She made many good decisions along the way, and I like that there was no right answer to her problem. Yes, Takeuchi has been there for her all this time. Yes, she shouldn’t marry him if she can’t forget Yano. Yes, she should just forget Yano since he made such a point of dropping off the face of the Earth. She put serious thought into this problem, and whether or not she should let her chance to see Yano pass since he clearly doesn’t want to see her. But this was basically what went on through the entire book. I hated seeing it stretched out over so many pages and situations.

But I can’t overstate how well it’s written. It may be circling itself, and it may be dragging its feet and filling 200 pages with stuff that can be condensed in 50, but I can’t stop reading it. It still really knows how to tug your heartstrings, and that’s what I like best about reading shoujo manga. I can’t give up on Nanami and Yano until they get together as adults. And I still really like the fact this graduated from high school romance into adulthood. It may be circling, but now that Nanami and Yano have full control of their lives, once they’ve made up their minds there won’t be any outside forces to take them apart. I’m in it for the long haul, now.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 11

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

I read this and Sand Chronicles on the same night, because I wanted to see which one I liked better.  It’s hard.  It’s really hard.  Sand Chronicles is more about Ann’s personal problems and her journey through adolescence, problems in early adulthood, and the torch she carries for Daigo and how that and the death of her mother have affected her life.  We Were There is more… well, easy to relate to, at least for me.  The characters are very melodramatic, but their feelings are all sincere, and all the over-the-top things they say seem to reflect the nature of being in love in your teens.

Both series flash forward to show that the heroine is being held back (at least in her love life, it doesn’t really seem to affect Takahashi in this series) by the boy they dated in high school.  In the case of We Were There, Takahashi hasn’t been looking and seems relatively content at her job, whereas Ann had been looking, had been shot down very badly at least once, and wasn’t in a good place in her life.

The personal journey in Sand Chronicles wound up being excellent in the end, despite my misgivings about the see-saw nature of Ann’s feelings during some of the middle volumes.  We Were There is making up for the positive feelings of Takahashi by making Motoharu’s life as lousy as possible.  He’s in a new town, and very sad because not only is he away from his girlfriend, but his mother is fighting cancer.  He dotes on Takahashi, but doesn’t tell her about his mother’s cancer or about the fact he needs to work two part-time jobs while going to school to support his household,  He doesn’t want Takahashi to worry, because she is his last bastion of happiness, and not even the persistent girl at school can crack his devotion to her.  As things with his mother deteriorate and his real father’s wife shows up to try and claim him, things get increasingly terrible, then the absolute worst thing in the world happens.

The series doesn’t comment much on it, aside from giving a reason he simply gave up his old life the way he did.  I assume we’ll see Yano’s thoughts, as he seems ready to reappear in the present in the next volume, but even after this downer of a flashback, in the present, Takahashi is doing well.  She’s happy, if a little overworked, and things between her and Yano’s former best friend are doing well, too.  Two things are set to happen next volume, both involve men and Takahashi, and both have been in the making for at least two volumes now, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the pieces in the happy present fall out.

One thing:  After Motoharu’s mom begins cracking up mentally, he has a phone conversation with Takahashi on his birthday.  While talking, they play an imagination game together, and it was so cheesy and over the top beautiful that it made me tear up a little bit and want to call my currently absent roommate very badly at, like, one in the morning.

So the verdict is basically that Sand Chronicles and We Were There are very different series, despite having similar and very sincere characters, drama-heavy, light on humor, aimed at a slightly older audience (I don’t care what magazine they ran in, they are), and told in the form of a flashback.  They’re both very good, but Ann and Takahashi are too different to compare, and that’s what makes the series dissimilar.  That also speaks to how well the characters are written in both series.

Sand Chronicles is over, but We Were There still has a couple volumes to go to catch up with Japan, and then we must wait for more to come out.  Still, its worth the wait, because drama-heavy shoujo (borderline josei, at this point) is hard to come by, and We Were There has been consistently good, if melodramatic, all the way through.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 10

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

As much as I love this series, I think I will dread reading every new volume after the things we learned in the last one.  This volume starts what is at least a 2-volume flashback telling Yano’s story while he was in high school.  I know it doesn’t go anywhere I want it to.  I keep thinking that the information we received in the last volume won’t be what I think it is, but… yeah.  The end of this volume leaves very little room for doubt.

To be fair, I like the technique, in retrospect.  We are learning Yano’s side of the story firsthand, so we can see just how badly things went for him in Tokyo.  We aren’t tainted by Nanami’s feelings or anything like that… we are just seeing things how they happen.  I also like the way Sengenji is being handled, too.  She’s sympathetic, and nothing she does is particularly underhand or even mean-spirited, it’s just how any normal, nice high school girl with a crush would act.  It’s hard to hate her in Yano’s version of the story, as you inevitably would if we were learning things from Nana’s side.

The dread I felt in reading this, knowing it was going into a slow crash-and-burn, was nothing compared to what was happening to Yano.  The bad feelings just stacked up as his mother began having money problems, he began working whenever he wasn’t at school and letting his studies slide, and then something terrible happened to his mother.  Even the good things he tries to call to himself, like Lalami, just aren’t working for him.

How depressing.  On one hand, I think the next volume will be more uplifting because Sengenji will be there for him.  On the other hand, the Sengenji issue could have been avoided if he would only open up to Nanami more.  Yano isn’t exactly a sympathetic character.  At all.  Actually, yes, there’s even more Yamamoto abuse in this volume, although I just… hate her role.  I hate how both she and Yano act, and Yano finally makes things clear between them.

Depressing, but still an excellent read.  Probably still at the very top of my good, non-trashy shoujo stack, although I have to admit the downers in every volume do wear on you after awhile.  That’s just what it does, though.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 9

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

I was reading Venus in Love, then suddenly realized it was the exact opposite in every way of We Were There.  Both are awesome series, but they have two completely different approaches to romance.  I’ll talk more about that in the Venus in Love review, but I had to read both together just for the shoujo shock value alone.

We Were There continues to squeeze out every tear you wish to cry for poor Nana and her forsaken love.  We Were There’s approach to romance is via tragedy, striking a very realistic chord by touching on every sad emotion one experiences in high school romances and beyond, and then going to great lengths to explain why they are sad and why we feel this way.  It’s incredibly touching and subtle even with its pages of explanations, and it is one of the best series for touching on real emotions.  Yano and Nana are real people with real problems, and it’s easy to relate to them.  I think in a lot of cases, this manga made me tear up not because I was feeling for the characters, but because I was thinking about something that had happened to me.

I’ll admit that happened in this volume.  There was a single page where Takeuchi is trying to explain to Nana why she should let go after all these years.  He understands that she wants to be true, but nothing that she said or felt back in high school was a lie.  Nobody made any mistakes in their relationships, or their feelings.  But time has moved on, and that changes things without changing the truth of them.  I’m tearing up a little bit now thinking about that, and it has nothing to do with the series.

A lot of the other emotional explanations are give or take.  Some time is spent talking about how one feels lonely only after one finds their other half, because then without it they realize what it is to be lonely, if that makes sense.  There’s also some discussion about Yano’s confidence in being able to keep a long-distance relationship, and why, towards the end of the volume.

The story itself has moved on from high school and completely skipped college, winding up in Nana’s adult life now that she’s graduating and getting a job.  As we learned at the end of last volume, Yano vanishes without a trace, but Nana remains faithful without a word all through the years.  It killed me to see her waiting and torturing herself, especially with the emotional support of Takeuchi by her all that time and feeling that she couldn’t lean on him for fear of cheating on Yano.  People keep telling her Yano is probably dead and that she should move on, but I could relate to her keeping her promise.  I liked seeing that, especially since there are so many shoujo heroines who are very fickle.  She made a decision, and has decided to stand by it.

A small hint makes us realize what actually did happen to Yano, and a flashback starts towards the end of the volume that should lead to the answer.

I’m not entirely sure I want to read the next part.  It’s sure to be incredibly devastating, especially since I’ve grown to love Nana so much.  But I’ll read it as soon as I lay my hands on it, because this is literally one of the best shoujo manga I’ve ever read.  It’s incredibly depressing, but touching and real in ways that other series are not.  I cannot recommend it enough.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 8

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2010 – 13+ volumes

Hm.  The series takes a turn at the end of this volume and sets itself on another track.  This happens on the last two pages, so I’m not sure what that means for future volumes.  I am both happy and sad.  It definitely needed a change of pace so that it didn’t fall into the same sort of rut I dislike about Sand Chronicles, but I think I will miss the happy times that began in this volume.

The plot twist here was a little disappointing, only because it’s the sort of thing serious romances use as a major dramatic twist all the time.  This twist always goes the same way, except there was a definite… er, well, they told you that this one doesn’t have a happy ending like they normally do, which is We Were There to a T.  There’s not much happy about this series.  It takes all the usual romance plot devices and makes them ten times sadder by making them far more subtle and easy to relate to.

But again, this volume is a happy one.  Motoharu and Nana work their way out of a rut, and with college hanging over their heads and a major decision for Motoharu to make, they get to act all lovey-dovey and go on a nice trip together for the first time… ever.  When they play nice together, it is very sweet, and I am no longer wondering about the sincerity of what they say, because they both seem to genuinely love each other, without a doubt.  Removing the doubt from the series is good, but it’ll make it hurt that much worse when something terrible happens down the line.  I predict blindness or something, though that’s obviously not the case on that last page.

But there’s still nothing quite as touching and sincere as the drama in We Were There.  It can be a serious downer, even when we get a happy volume like this, but it really is a wonderful read, and it looks like it’ll be keeping itself interesting for at least a few more volumes.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 7

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2009 – 13+ volumes

I am ridiculously fond of this series.  I got this volume a week or so ago, and was sad that time has prevented me from reading it until now (I know I’ve read other things this week, but I’ve got strange rituals that rank some of those above this in terms of priority).  Again, it’s probably my favorite shoujo manga from this year, and it does so many things right, the main thing being that it captures real emotion and awkwardness in a relationship better than any other manga I’ve read.

It’s also extremely dramatic and bittersweet, and there’s always a sense that something bad will happen immediately.  It often does, and it’s always the end of the world for these characters.  I can see a lot of people being put off by this, because there is very rarely anything happy that interrupts all this drama.  All the same, it’s pretty good stuff.

It starts falling into Sand Chronicles traps in this volume, though.  Promises are made, characters say they are getting better, will try hard to keep the other person’s feelings in mind, and then just fail spectacularly for no reason.  There are a couple minor misunderstandings at work, but the misunderstandings aren’t the problem, and thankfully most characters get over them fairly quickly.  The real problem here was that Nana refused to listen to Yano, or talk to him, or even give him the time of day to try and apologize and make right what he’d done, which was that big a deal (but, of course, meant the world to Nana).  I liked that several characters made the point that Nana was simply doing it out of… whatever, and unless she let Yano talk to her and admit she was at least partially in the wrong, Yano would stop trying to make up to her.

This was, keep in mind, a volume after the characters pledged their renewed and undying love for each other and promised they’d do whatever they could to make wrongs right.  Sigh.

I’ll come back for more.  Again and again.  Because I am ridiculously addicted.  Despite the heavy drama and repetition of the same stuff, it’s an amazing series and I love reading it.

We Were There 6

Yuki Obata – Viz – 2009 – 13+ volumes

What’s this?  A volume of We Were There that’s actually… positive?  I was totally shocked by the turn the story took in this volume.  The beginning of it was pretty nerve-wracking, with Motoharu and Masafumi fighting with one another for the opportunity to confess their feelings to Nanami first.  This was also touching in its way, because the volume started with Motoharu admitting that there wasn’t anyone who meant more to him than Masafumi, and he would never do anything again that would jeopardize their friendship.  Then he amends that to anything short of winning back Nanami.  But it was still pretty clear that he meant absolutely everything he said.

The reunion between Nanami and Motoharu nearly made me tear up.  As with most such moments in this series, the characters quietly sit and gauge each other’s emotions, and then minimal words pass between them.  Things aren’t better immediately, but it was still so wonderful to see the moment between them.  This scene is actually informed even more later in the volume, when Nanami comes to the realization that the only thing that Motoharu is actually bad at is loving someone, but it’s clear to her that he really and truly does love Nanami.  He tries so very hard to win her over, again and again and again.  It really is very touching, and 100% true-to-life in a way that shoujo manga almost never is.

The quote on the back of the book is well-selected, too.  As cheesy as it sounds, it broke my heart/made me very happy in the context of the story.

Nanami does the smart thing and doesn’t take him back immediately.  She doesn’t trust him when it comes to his deceased girlfriend Nana, and won’t get back together with him until he’s explained just what Nana means to him.  Motoharu doesn’t quite understand what she means, and this part is actually the only part of the series I’ve disliked so far, because I’m not entirely sure what Nanami wants here, either.  Motoharu tries telling her a lot about Nana, but none of it is what she wants, and… it’s not clear what she wants, but I think it’s mostly just a product of her feeling like she can never match the love that Nana and Motoharu shared.  That’s actually pretty clear almost right away, even though Nanami doesn’t realize it until she’s nearly let Motoharu go again.  Her insistence that he share his experiences, and being dissatisfied with what he has to tell her, is frustrating, but also just a natural part of what Nanami and any number of other people in her situation could want.

It could also just be an issue of a girl wanting the boy to share his feelings and the boy not knowing how.  It’s actually a pretty classic version of that, I think, except it’s portrayed in a very sincere way here, and not in the comical way it usually is.

But the volume ends on a very, very positive note.  I’m looking forward to seeing if the mood changes, but even if it doesn’t… you know, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this series is better at portraying relationships and emotion than any other shoujo series I’m reading right now.  Even Nana.  That’s just what it does.  It’s fantastic, and not something any shoujo fan should be missing out on.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

We Were There 5

This book ended on the worst cliffhanger in the history of manga.

That is all.

Not really.

The story ended in a horrible place, and I was initially upset that the last quarter or so of the book was a short story, but thankfully it’s a story about Motoharu and Take and their friendship.  I really appreciated the background on the two of them after the main story in this volume.

So, if it wasn’t immediately apparent by my anguish in these last two reviews, Yano and Nana-chan are going through some rough times.  Take and Yano are fighting over Nana in this volume, and the relationship between the two is handled beautifully.  While it’s always been apparent that Take would try and move in on Nana at some point, he seems to be doing it as a method to spur Yano into action and out of his depression about losing Nana… later in the book, the motives aren’t so clear, though.  Actually, the motives are always clear, but things are very, very serious when the book ends.

The friendship between Motoharu and Take has been in the background of the series since the first volume, but I really, really appreciated the short story that shed light on just how much the two boys mean to each other.  Take says it best at one point when he mentions that he knows Yano better than his own family… and, well, we learn that neither women nor deeply offensive insults really get between the two.  It lets you know just how shaky things are where the story leaves off here.

Also notable is the fact that, while Yano is emotionally at rock bottom, he doesn’t break down and cry.  Most series would have had him in tears long ago, but… not this one.  I kept waiting for it, and it didn’t come.  Of course, in other series, tears would be used as a substitute for actually conveying the emotions (a character cries because he is sad/to let the reader know they are very sad, if that makes sense), whereas here the crushing despair is wafting off every page.

I want Yano and Nana back together stat, even though it somehow always feels bad when they’re together.  That is the magic of We Were There.  Even with all the sadness, the genuine love those two share comes across loud and clear, and I would like nothing more than to see the two of them pull through and be as happy as they always look on the covers of the books.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.


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