Natsuru Nanao, a 6th grader who lives alone with his mother, strikes up an unlikely friendship with the reserved and driven Rio Suzumura. Natsuru plays hookey from soccer camp that summer, and instead of telling the truth to his mother, he spends all his time with Rio and her kid brother at their rickety house, where a dark secret threatens to upend their fragile happiness.
Spoiler – there are none!
Review – I say to myself: hey this looks cool! It can’t be tragic! EXCEPT IT IS.
More sensibly, if you’re a fan of Hosoda (THE BOY AND THE BEAST) or Shinkai (CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES) or even Takahata from Ghibli (ONLY YESTERDAY) you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this one volume manga.
11 year old Natsuru is ostracized by the girls after rejecting the advances of the class princess. He’s cool with it though as long as he has soccer. Unfortunately a new soccer coach and the rising pressures of graduating elementary school for middle school make it difficult for him to understand why everything suddenly has to change.
Rio meanwhile is trying to protect her younger brother Yuuta while waiting for their father to return from crab fishing. She’s desperate to keep their situation secret so the authorities don’t come, but the stress of her secrets are making it difficult for her to survive.
Summer break becomes an important milestone for the two as they struggle to cope with what it means to grow up.
There’s a certain amount of realism to this manga that struck me. Both kids are in situations where adults have let them down for different reasons. For Natsuru, the new head coach–some big shot who is affiliated with the JFA and is a professional–is constantly on his back about his skills before ultimately telling him “well your birthday puts you at a serious disadvantage you know”. For Rio, her father basically abandoned them and left her to handle everything with no way to communicate at all (and when you find out WHY god I never wanted to punch a fictional character so much). The fact that they come together and create their own family for summer break is heartwarming and sad at the same time.
It illustrates the resilence of kids (which is often overlooked) as well as their ability to adapt their circumstances to fit what they need. Natsuru needed someone who didn’t make demands he felt pressured to live up to. Rio needed to know she wasn’t alone, that what she was doing was the right choice. Of course neither of them understood just what they really needed until it was almost too late.
In some ways those unfamiliar with Japanese culture may find their respective situations unusual. How can three kids live on their own without anyone noticing for weeks? How can a parent not realize her kid isn’t where she thought he was for weeks? However from what I understand and have read, while its not common for it to happen, its also not so wildly unusual either. School children, especially in Rio and Natsuru’s age, are given more responsibility and trust. For two resourceful and responsible kids like them, it wouldn’t have been hard to play that system to their benefit, especially without school being an issue.
This is a sweet innocent tale that ends on a hopeful, but sadly realistic note (think 5 CENTIMETERS PER SECOND). Having never read this manga-ka before I think I’ll seek out more. With plenty of tissues ready.
Want to Know More?
Published by: Vertical comics
Release: April 19, 2016
Add it to Goodreads
Find Out More: Preview | Veritical Twitter