Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, May 11th 2014
Telling herself that she doesn't want to put more of a strain on Ando and Ren's friendship, Ninako has refused Ren's feelings. But is that really the reason she turned him down? Could there still be hope for her first love? Also includes a short story about Manabu.
Warning: Minor Spoilers for Volume 9
What is it about a good shoujo manga that can make you forget that you're years past high school (or that high school is inevitably less jolly/full of hot guys than they make it look) and make you utterly invested in the romance? We can tell ourselves that school love stories rarely last, that there's a lot of life beyond high school, but a really well done shoujo romance can make us forget all of that and believe implicitly in its youthful happily ever after. Whether it simply speaks to some Disney lesson learned long ago or is the product of excellent writing is unimportant – what matters is that the right shoujo romance can take you away.
Strobe Edge has been one of those series almost from the get go. Named as one of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens for 2014, alongside such high profile titles as Gene Luen Yang's Boxers and Saints, the wrap up of Ninako's love story is just as enthralling as the lead up to it. In volume nine we saw Ren confess his love to Ninako...and she turned him down. Considering that this was the outcome she had desired since the very first book, her refusal of his feelings was something of a shocker – and it caused Ren to question whether or not he took too long to fall in love with her. Seeing her sitting at his desk made him realize that there may be something else going on, and it is with this confrontation that the final volume begins.
One of Strobe Edge's strengths as a romance has been its near total lack of nonconsensual action. When Red realizes that he has Ninako in an uncomfortable position, he immediately backs off – something that is sadly unusual for shoujo romance heroes. He and Ninako are believably hesitant around each other, and even in his biggest moment of weakness, Ando – the most sexual character in the series – doesn't do anything as horrible as he might have in another story. This keeps the final volume comfortable while still managing to get a romantic thrill out of a mere hug. For these characters, that's as important as The Big Kiss we see in a lot of other romances, and it is clear proof of Io Sakisaka's prowess that she gets just as much out of a more traditionally platonic gesture.
Ninako, Ando, and Ren have all developed smoothly over the course of the ten volumes so that it is only upon really reflecting that you can see the progression they have made. Ren is perhaps the most obvious. He has gone from being somewhat uncomfortable with Ninako (and his own emotions) to dropping fairly blatant hints about those same emotions and being able to tell Ando what his friendship means to him. Ando is the least stable character as we bring the series to a close, still struggling to cope with the emotions brought about by M.A.O's actions in the past and how they have effected the trajectory of his decisions. The ending does find him starting to find his balance, but it is clear that he still has a lot of growing up to do. As for Ninako, she remains the loveable everygirl she started as, having come to terms with being a little afraid of what she wants. She's very believable as a naive teenage girl, and that is one of the series' strengths.
Sakisaka's artwork as remained consistent throughout the series, and volume 10 finds it as competent as ever. Ninako remains the most distinct character visually, with her high forehead, tiny stature, and particularly wide eyes. Ren and Ando are still basic dark haired/light haired pretty boys, but every character is distinct. Sakisaka does a good job with male body language, although her movement in general tends to look stiff. The continued usage of sparkling shards of screen tone still work to remind us that the title refers to the fact that love can be painful as well as beautiful, a sentiment carried out by the endings of the various characters.
Strobe Edge's final volume confirms that this is a winner of a series. It has charm, emotion, and a satisfying ending that still leaves the characters room to grow. The included short story about class clown Manabu is very sweet, and the extra chapter after it rounds out the main story's finale. Overall this is a nice ending to a lovely story, and even it it is sad that there's no more of it, the ending is pretty great.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Sweet till the end, very satisfying. Manabu story is a nice inclusion.
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