Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
After the Rain
As Akira tries her hardest to forge a relationship (preferably romantic) with her boss, both she and Kondo find themselves facing their changing realities. Akira's (former?) best friend Haruka feels as if Akira has set up a barrier between them following her surgery, while Kondo faces the fact that he may in fact have allowed jealousy over his college friend's literary success to separate the two. Will making their own relationship work help Kondo and Akira to fix other aspects of their lives?
Some of the most powerful, significant moments in the second omnibus of Jun Mayuzuki's After the Rain (containing volumes three and four of the series) are those without words. While Mayuzuki's art is at times stylized to the point where Akira looks a little misshapen, or at least like she's been through a taffy pull, Mayuzuki gets great poignancy and heft out of scenes where she never speaks but instead allows her feelings to carry her story. These are used throughout the omnibus, but the most powerful are when Akira is trying to sort out her emotions about both Kondo, the forty-five-year-old she's infatuated with, and Haruka, her best friend.
At this point in Akira's life, “best friend” feels less like an accurate descriptor of her relationship with Haruka and more like an easy fallback, a term she's been using for so long that she can't think of Haruka in any other words, even though it may no longer be the truth. For Akira, this appears to be something that she simply allowed to happen as she drifted through her life following the injury that forced her to quit running. She doesn't appear to have any strong emotions either way, although she is almost tangentially aware that she's allowed herself to stop actively seeking Haruka out. Haruka, on the other hand, is truly hurt by what she sees as Akira's desertion, and this gap in their feelings speaks to the major misunderstanding about the event that started it: Akira's injury. Although Haruka intellectually understands that the loss of her track prowess had a major impact on Akira, she isn't emotionally mature enough yet to fully appreciate the way that it cut Akira off from what was the center of her life. Akira, on the other hand, is so depressed by the fact that she can't run anymore that she simply distances herself from all things related to that hurt – and that, for better or for worse, includes Haruka.
This break in the major relationship of her life also helps to explain why she's so drawn to Kondo. Essentially he's a safe person for her to have a crush on. Not only does he represent a father figure she's largely lacking – and I do think it is significant that while we finally meet Akira's dad in this book, we never see his face – but he's also someone who is clearly hurting as well. It isn't as obvious as Akira's pain, perhaps, but it is clearly there nonetheless. The fact that he's a divorced father may also strengthen Akira's attachment, because she can see him as having been similarly torn, or abandoned, by his family situation as she is by hers. She can also be reasonably certain that he's never going to allow her to fully forge ahead in creating a romance with him, and although she's defensive of her feelings (leading to another blow to her friendship with Haruka), a piece of her does seem to understand that friendship is all he's likely to allow.
What's important is the way that their lives parallel each other, something that becomes very evident in this book. As Akira is half-heartedly trying to sort things out with Haruka, Kondo discovers a book by his old college friend, a man he founded a literary magazine with back in school. Both Kondo and his friend had grand literary ambitions, but as it turned out, only the friend found success, while Kondo lives what he evidently sees as a sort of half-life. Although it never is said outright, Kondo allowed his own angst (his early marriage, subsequent divorce, and self-proclaimed abandonment of his friend) to get in the way of his writing ambitions. In essence, he threw away his goals as relics of childhood, getting bogged down in what his life became without trying to give a chance to what it could have been. While that's not a perfect parallel for where Akira is currently, she's certainly in danger of heading down that same road of simply going through the motions, as the somewhat deliberate crumbling of her friendship with Haruka attests.
So where are things moving with regards to Akira and Kondo's relationship? Kondo clearly draws inspiration from Akira, not only in terms of changing his outlook on life, but possibly in reviving his writing career – he comments to his friend that he didn't thing his high school girl character rang true, so it seems reasonable to think that Akira may inspire Kondo to write again. Meanwhile Akira can see how Kondo turns things around, assuming he does. It's a big if, and right now most of the forward movement is coming from Kondo, not Akira. But she's so much younger than him that it makes sense – not in terms of their potential relationship, but rather in that she simply doesn't have the life experience to recognize what's going on in her own life. That's part of the appeal of After the Rain, however: two similar people at very different stages in their lives who are able to show us that, as actress Billie Burke said, “Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese.” People are people, and maybe the title can be read as implying that we can see that After the Rain has washed the superficial differences away.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Highly effective use of wordless pages, good parallels between Akira and Kondo's lives
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