Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
An entire year separates the release of these two volumes of Yuhta Nishio's low-key tale of love and DJing. That's an issue if you don't remember the events of volume one, but more so if it means we're in for another year's wait for volume three, because while the story doesn't move at a rapid pace, by the end of the second book it has built to a point where knowing what happens next has become, if not imperative, then something close to it.
Part of the appeal of the story is that it's a yuri series staring adult women. Kei is thirty while Emi is twenty-four, and they act like it. Kei may have to maintain her day job at an interior design firm while DJing and checking out the club scenes at night, but she actively works to be able to handle both. Emi's in the sort of Millennial floating period just after college – she knows she needs to be a responsible adult, and she did have a decent job, but she quit the latter and can't quite achieve the former. She's mostly drifting through life trying to get a handle on things: she goes to clubs on occasion because her friend likes them, so she thinks she needs to try, she's living with her boyfriend because it's easier than not, and she's desultorily looking for a new job. It's a familiar period of life, and we can see that part of what attracts her to Kei is that Kei isn't also in it – she's got something she loves doing and is able to manage doing it through personal responsibility. Emi doesn't see Kei as a mother or big sister figure, but she does look up to her and actively wants to be taken under Kei's wing.
That Kei won't just let Emi linger there is another aspect that makes both their relationship and the story work. Kei does pull Emi into her group of club entertainers as a VJ, but if Emi has an idea or a plan, she doesn't hold Emi's hand the whole way. In volume two we see this more explicitly, as she pushes Emi to speak to people who could help the group in the future and encourages her to act more on her own. Emi's uncomfortable, but she does it, and we can see her growing in her sense of purpose so that by the end of volume two she's made some major decisions and finally managed to be more honest with the people around her. This isn't to say that their relationship is perfect – they are still human, after all – but it is largely free of the dramatic antics present in many romance-based narratives.
And this really does feel like a story based on the romantic relationship between Kei and Emi, even if it does have the plot of Kei's attempts to make her DJ group something she can do fulltime. Each step forward for the entertainment plot is based on what's happening in the romance plot. In some cases this is obvious (Emi's addition to the group as a VJ) while in others it's more symbolic, such as in volume two when Emi and Kei go to tour the venue. But the two plots are inextricably intertwined, which makes it easy for Nishio to work on both simultaneously without sacrificing the integrity of either. It also may make the story interesting to people who might not want to read about club DJs or the romance between two women; Nishio largely manages to make both feel grounded without forcing either issue.
Things do heat up in volume two, both in terms of Kei's group and the sexual content. Volume one barely shows kissing; volume two ends on a full-out sex scene, albeit not an explicit one. Similarly volume one introduces the idea of what Kei and her friends do while volume two gets more into the details of it – how to set up an event and all of the potential headaches that go along with it. Again, much of this mirrors Emi moving out of the floating space of her life and into a more stable period, because to make things work with both the VJing and in her relationship with Kei she has to face some things about herself that she didn't want to before.
Nishio's art occupies an interesting space between cute and intricate. The background details are largely fleshed out in terms of streets, rooms, etc., and most of the characters have soft, cute faces. No one looks underage, however, and attention is paid to the fact that every character, male and female, has their own particular sense of style. In a lot of ways the entire series, both art and story, feels a bit like Inio Asano Lite – it touches on a lot of similar themes and stylistics, but it's a gentler story with a slightly different appeal.
If you're a fan of the club behind-the-scenes or are looking for a new yuri title that's not entirely focused on the romance or doesn't feature schoolgirls, After Hours is worth your time. Deceptively paced and often relatable, it's a story about discoveries – and what you have to do to make those discoveries into your life.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Interesting adult characters, story blends its two plotlines well
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