Title: Yoake Mae (Before Dawn)
Author: NAKAMA Atsuki
Ribon Mascot Comics Cookie, 2008
I decided to talk about this manga today because, of the books I have read recently, this one really stood out in my mind. It also stood out on the shelf when I first saw it in the bookstore. The dark colors, the contrast between the black and white… it looks almost like a goth story — quite a difference from all the cutesy pastel stuff shelved all around it. This book is published under the Ribon Mascot Comics – Cookie label, so it was shelved with all the other Ribon comics. Those are usually geared towards very young readers. However, this series ran in Cookie magazine, the same magazine that the popular manga Nana runs in, and is also more suitable to a slightly older audience than a regular Ribon series. This one shot volume contains three stories. The main story takes up the first three chapters of the book, while the other two stories are just one chapter each at the end. While the art in here is just average, the main story itself is fairly unique. Well, it does resemble a couple other series I talk about, Half and Half, and Ai no Shintairiku, but I think this handles things with a bit more realism.
The story begins with a boy and a girl facing each other in a school hallway. The boy has a look of distaste on his face, and is asking the girl what she is talking about. The scene looks a lot like a love confession that is being rejected. We immediately get a flashback so we can see the events that have lead up to this scene, and by the end of it, we realize that things aren’t quite what they seem.
The girl from the opening scene, Kei-chan, seems to be a quiet, dependable sort of person. She is sitting with her childhood friend (and cousin) Aki-chan in Aki’s bedrrom, eating snacks and reading. Aki-chan is going on and on about how much she is in love with this really cute boy, Fujimura-kun. Kei listens to Aki’s lovestruck blabbering with great patience, and what looks like a sense of familiarity. (I get the feeling that Aki may be the type that falls in love a lot) Aki begs Kei to help her — Kei is friends with Fujimura!
Kei is not exactly enthusiastic about helping out Aki-chan. But she IS friends with him. After hearing Aki sing his praises so much, Kei now finds herself looking at Fujimura differently, and wondering what is so great about him. As she begins to observe him more closely, she begins to see things she likes. He is more popular than she realized, is friendly, and considerate. Yeah, before you know it, Kei is falling for Fujimura too. This has Kei freaking out a bit, and feeling weird and uncomfortable around Fujimura. She can’t betray Aki like this, and she can’t let Fujimura know how she feels.
Soon Kei is avoiding both Aki and Fujimura. Fujimura is pretty confused by Kei’s behavior, and Aki is bewildered too. She worries that Kei hates Fujimura, which would be bad, because Aki plans to confess to him very soon! This news makes Kei feel awful. There is a pressure building up. She can’t stand the thought of Aki and Fujimura. Meanwhile. Fujimura is getting pretty angry at being snubbed by Kei. Finally, tensions reach breaking point, and Kei cannot control herself — she confesses her love to Fujimura.
Which brings us to the scene from the beginning. Except this time we can suddenly see why Fujimura has such an unexpected reaction to the confession. “What are you talking about?” he says, with an unpleasant look. Why so unpleasant? Well, there is a sudden shift in perspective, and now we can see this scene as it really happens. Kei is not the cute type of girl we have seen throughout the whole story. In fact, the way we have seen her has really been the way Kei sees herself in her heart and mind. But that is not how she looks on the outside. Why do things have to be this way?
The next two chapters follow Kei’s post-high school life as she tries come to terms with her own identity and find acceptance from people around her. Aki is supportive (amazingly enough, considering the horrible scene in high school) but life is not easy for Kei. Her family doesn’t quite understand her, and there are some past traumatic experiences that give us some insight as to how long Kei has felt this way. Can Kei find peace within herself?
The next story is rather bittersweet. It follows the relationship of a girl named Narumi and her boyfriend Naoya. Narumi liked Nao for a long time, and when he finally asked her out, it was like a dream. They have been together for three months, and Narumi is extremely happy. Their relationship is fun and cute and very close. That is, until one day, Naoya runs into his ex girlfriend…
The last story is a bit lighter in tone. Shimako is a 17 year-old girl who doesn’t have a boyfriend. It’s not exactly for lack of interested parties, but things just don’t really work. For example, the last guy who confessed to her is the guy her best friend likes. In fact, that happens a lot – guys her friends like end up confessing to her, so she can’t go out with them and also loses her friends in the process. But then one day, while at the train station, a strange boy approaches her and tells her that he always sees her there, and that he has fallen in love with her. This presents Shimako with an opportunity — she can have this guy as her boyfriend, and that way other guys (in particular the last guy who confessed to her) will stay away. But can she really use this boy like this? He is cute and kind. Why does he like Shimako, anyway?
I like books that have stories with unexpected twists or surprising endings. Yes, I love series that are sparkly and fluffy sugary cute, with happy endings and rainbows and unicorns everywhere. But every once in a while, it is nice to find a book where things may not work out how you expect them to, and where romance is not always the main focus.