Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hana & Hina After School
Hana works after school (even though she's not supposed to) at a character goods shop. She's seen tall and elegant Hina come in to buy things a few times, but she's completely surprised when the other girl responds to a help wanted ad at the store. Now Hana and Hina are co-workers and slowly becoming friends, but Hina's starting to realize that she wants more than just friendship from their relationship. As Hana also begins to slowly understand her own feelings, will these two girls be able to make their relationship work?
It truly is hard to top Milk Morinaga when it comes to sweet yuri romance, and Hana & Hina After School is another excellent example of why. Combining yearning, friendship, and social concerns with art that is both cute and sensual, the first two volumes of this series hit the right notes in any romance subgenre and are sure to make Morinaga's fans happy.
The romance this time is between high school second year Hana and high school first year Hinako, better known as Hina. Despite being the elder of the two, Hana is small and adorable in her looks, but in a nice change of pace, this doesn't really bother her. While she admires Hina's more elegant aesthetic, as well as the fact that she's worked as a semi-professional model, Hana doesn't spend much time comparing herself to the other girl; in fact, her build and cuteness allow her to wear the kind of frilly Gothic Lolita dresses that she likes best. This is what initially attracts Hina to her – Hina is a fan of all things small and cute, and she admits from almost the start that she finds Hana attractive. More than the fact that she's developing feelings for Hana, what troubles Hina is the worry that her budding romantic feelings will scare Hana off – while she recognizes that she's attracted to girls (she repeatedly turns down offers to find her a boyfriend and had a girlfriend in middle school), she's more concerned that this is a personal oddity that will scare off “normal” girls she likes.
This is essentially the root of Hina's problems – she really cares about what other people think. She keeps her love of the cute under wraps, afraid to use character goods at school or in public because she thinks they will ruin the image people have of her as a cool, mature beauty, even if that's not a look she's actively trying to cultivate. Hina comes off as being fairly insecure, which at this point may simply be who she is as a person. It does seem possible that some of this can be traced back to the former girlfriend, whom we see briefly in volume two. Hina is very reticent to talk about her, leaving Hana to piece together what she can from gossip and internet searches. What Hina is willing to share makes it sound as if this other girl was the orchestrator of her social interactions and her modeling career, which would certainly indicate that their separation, whether it was simply due to a move or had more serious emotional implications, would take a toll on her state of mind. Regardless, by the end of volume two, Hina is beginning to come to terms with both her feelings for Hana and the possibility that they might not be as off-putting as she thinks they are.
This coincides nicely with Hana's own realization that she may be falling for her younger co-worker. Not having come to any realizations about her sexuality previous to meeting Hina, this is a very different journey for Hana, which is part of what makes these two volumes so interesting. By having one character be out (at least to herself) while the other is still in the middle of discovering who she is attracted to, Morinaga sets the relationship up to be all the more satisfying when the girls' different personal hurdles are overcome. The unfortunate side of this is that it opens the door for Hana to experience a lot of jealousy of the vaguely irritating variety, with her breaking her own rules about not talking at school (so as not to reveal their unsanctioned part-time jobs), abandoning her best friend to go essentially stake her claim on Hina, and other similar things that make her a bit of a walking cliché. While her motives are perfectly understandable, her jealousy drags on just a little too long and doesn't result in her coming to any realizations about her feelings that is quite firm enough to make it worthwhile. That the moment comes on the final page of volume two with a beautiful line of monologue doesn't quite make up for the slight lag in the book's middle chapters.
Despite this, Hana & Hina After School's first two volumes are generally a really enjoyable time. The girls are different enough to be clearly separate characters with their own defining features beyond the physical, and it is clear that, looks aside, Hana really is the more mature of the two, able to for the most part put her worries aside and maintain their friendship when push comes to shove. The juxtaposition of Hina's public persona and who she really is helps to give us a better idea of her inner self, and as always, Morinaga's art manages to combine cuteness, sensuality, and strangely delicate hands to form an attractive book. It's clear that Seven Seas' translation was refined somewhat between volumes one and two, with awkward phrases like “character merch” being replaced with the more book-appropriate “character goods,” and actually I think that's ultimately a good thing, even if it does lead to a bit of disconnect if you read the two books back-to-back. Milk Morinaga remains one of the reigning queens of sweet lesbian love stories in manga, and this series' first two books are no exception.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Girls are distinctive as their own characters, art mixes cuteness and sensual moments well
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