Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow
GN 5 & 6
The aquarium's open house was a resounding success, but Koyuki has mixed feelings about Konatsu being able to handle things on her own. Does that mean that she doesn't need Koyuki? Does anyone? As decisions about her future loom, Koyuki copes with seemingly contradictory feelings about being able to do things on her own and not wanting to be able (or allowed) to be successful. Will anyone miss her when she's gone? Should they? Then later Konatsu sees Koyuki trying to branch out and widen her social circle (and skills) ahead of her upcoming third year of high school, which makes Konatsu realize that the only person she's not lonely with is Koyuki.
The fifth volume of A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow is almost entirely devoid of Konatsu's presence. For a series that's built on the growing relationship between two girls, that's a risky move to make, and it says something, perhaps, about Makoto Hagino's skill that it not only works, it excels at moving Koyuki's personal journey forward. That's because of the emotional issues Koyuki has been grappling with from volume one: she's simultaneously terrified by the pressure others place on her and in desperate need of it to give her a sense of belonging.
One of the strongest pieces of the volume is the quiet flashback to a younger Koyuki. We see her as a happy, outgoing child playing in the snow with her father, a fairly normal elementary schooler, and then by middle school we see her begin to isolate herself as she becomes aware of how others are starting to see – and talk about – her. By high school she's completely withdrawn, afraid to come out of her safe shell (or hole, if we go back to “The Salamander,” the short story referenced in earlier volumes) and feeling trapped by the words, perceptions, and expectations of others. This is the Koyuki Konatsu met in volume one, and while she's been growing more comfortable, that's precarious enough that even a very little thing can send her right back into her safe isolation.
But the thing is, that isolation isn't as appealing now that she's become close to Konatsu. And that's part of the contradiction she struggles with when a large thing threatens her fragile equilibrium. As a high school second-year (roughly analogous to a junior in American high schools), she's got to start thinking about her future, whether that's education or something else. Koyuki knows that she wants to go to college, and she knows that she wants to study marine biology. But the best universities for that are in Tokyo, and that's something she's not sure she wants. Moving to Tokyo would mean leaving her family and friends behind and striking out on her own, and for all that Koyuki keeps to herself, she's very reliant on her family for support. She's also afraid that if she moves out and that far away she won't be missed – and maybe will even be forgotten. Despite the whispers and comments of others pressuring her to be perfect, a piece of Koyuki still seem to feel that she's not worth it and no one special, and that's all tied up in her fears about college.
All of this certainly lends an air of relatability to volume five, one that touches on a different set of anxieties than Konatsu-focused storylines feature. In some ways that's why Konatsu needs to be absent from Koyuki's introspective chapters – so many of Koyuki's issues and anxieties are wrapped up in her introverted nature and (learned) timidity that Konatsu's presence can overwhelm them very easily. If Koyuki is going to deal with her issues, she can't be with someone she's so close to or maybe developing romantic feelings for.
That's where Kaede comes in. Konatsu's perky friend in the home ec club has mostly been shown interacting strictly with Konatsu, even when Koyuki is also present, so she's the perfect person for Koyuki to feel safe turning to, because she's familiar without being close. She's also someone who has been there every step of the way, albeit in Koyuki's background; the two have been at the same schools forever, although in different grades. Kaede's safe without being overwhelming, which is actually kind of funny when you take her outgoing personality into account. But she's emotionally well-positioned to understand Koyuki's issues despite appearances – she's the youngest sibling in a large family and all of her brothers and sisters have moved up and on, not even coming home regularly for holidays. That means that Kaede is all too familiar with the feelings of abandonment Koyuki fears, but also living proof that even if (when) she moves on to college, no one is going to forget her.
Volume six is the flip side of this storyline. As Kaede helps Koyuki to come out of her shell, Konatsu is beginning to realize – or perhaps is forced to realize – how much her move to the countryside and her father's transfer overseas has truly affected her. Seeing Koyuki actively attempt to become a more comfortable person in social settings is almost a physical blow to Konatsu. In part this may be because she wants to keep her to herself, but it feels more like a band-aid being ripped off of a wound that Konatsu has desperately been trying to keep closed. That wound bleeds loneliness and vulnerability, two things that she's been working to convince herself that she does not feel. She's been seeing herself as the “strong” partner in her relationship with Koyuki, and suddenly she has to face up to the fact that she's just as vulnerable as Koyuki – she just presents it differently. She's actively attempting to be the so-called strong one in order to fool herself and her father (and her aunt, with whom she's living) that she's okay on her own, but when she sees the person who is her emotional support apparently not needing her anymore, she has to accept that maybe things have been harder for her than she wants to admit – and that she only has a year left with Koyuki anyway. That's really brought home in the final pages of volume six, when a new student wants to join the Aquarium Club and Konatsu finds herself reluctant to let him.
Kaede's larger role in these volumes inject a burst of energy into the story. Kaede is one of those people who is basically never still – even in the unmoving drawings of the manga she gives off a feeling of barely contained energy. When she and Koyuki (and Fuyuki, Koyuki's younger brother who has a major crush on Kaede) bump into each other, she radiates energy and movement, making the entire Honami family feel better. That's more important for Koyuki, who desperately needed a confidante and a distraction, but it reaches her mother too, who is concerned about her introverted daughter. This is slightly more of a mixed bag, for me at least, because Koyuki's mom comes very close to crossing a pushiness line when she jumps into the girls' pillow fight. Fuyuki seems to have a much better understanding of both his sister and Konatsu, making him a highlight of both of these volumes as we see him begin to grow into his own and try to help in his own way.
Whether you see A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow as a romantic story or not, it does a lovely job of exploring not just the relationship between its two leads but does the same for each of them as individuals as well. Volume five is the better of the two, but both cover serious emotional territory and push the story and the characters forward in ways they need to be pushed, even if they aren't entirely convinced of it. It's slow, but it needs to be as the two girls each work on the difficult process of growing up into the people they want to be.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Good development for Koyuki, Konatsu, and Kaede. Koyuki's issues feel relatable and real and Konatsu and Fuyuki reveal more of themselves.
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