Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
After the Rain
Seventeen-year-old Akira Tachibana used to be the star of her high school's track team, but a serious ankle injury forced her to stop running. Now she works at Garden, a family restaurant, where she's developed a crush on her boss – a forty-five-year-old man. Akira can't bring herself to keep quiet about her feelings, but her boss doesn't know how to react to her confession. As the two stumble forward based on Akira's infatuation, one secure and one anything but, those around them start to take notice – for better or worse.
There's something deliberately uncomfortable about After the Rain's apparent central premise – that a seventeen-year-old girl is not only crushing on a forty-five-year-old man, but that she's persistent about acting on it, and he's not quite secure enough to turn her away. Despite that, Jun Mayuzuki's series doesn't feel as if it's setting up to be a May-December romance, but rather that it's going to use Akira's feelings for her boss at work to tell a deeper story about ambitions lost or thwarted. If the idea of a high school girl pursuing a middle-aged man is uncomfortable for you, the second half of this two-volume omnibus edition may still prove unpalatable, but the deliberate way Mayuzuki is playing out the characters' issues would seem to indicate that there's a lot more at stake her than just a romance narrative.
The story, which was adapted into a twelve-episode anime in 2018, follows high school second year Akira Tachibana. Akira was the star sprinter of her school's track team before a serious injury to her ankle, which resulted in surgery. The placement of the scar on her leg (about which she's very self-conscious) seems to indicate an Achilles' tendon rupture, although she's also had X-rays, which could imply that there was a bad break as well. (Having had a similar injury and surgery informs my suppositions here.) Akira's still in the long-term healing stage, meaning that she has to be careful not to aggravate the recovering area, something she appears to either resent having to do or simply isn't very good at. This greatly adds to the believability of Akira's actions in the story – she's someone used to being active and participating in strenuous practice on a daily basis, so being forced to stop both of those things leaves her at loose ends. She's almost resentful of her own body in that sense, and in desperate need of a distraction for her emotional energy.
She finds that in Kondo, her manager at work. Shortly after being forced to leave the team, Akira wanders into Garden, the family restaurant Kondo manages. Seeing her distress, the man (who has a young son himself) offers her a free coffee and performs a bit of slight-of-hand to give her creamer. Akira is instantly enraptured by the kindness of this stranger, and her feelings for him lead her to get a job at Garden herself and to focus all of her pent-up emotional energy on him. (It's also worth noting that she appears to be the child of a single mother, and Kondo may additionally be attractive as a father figure.) Akira herself is completely unaware of how her feelings may be transferring from track to Kondo, and there's a heavy implication that this is her first real crush. What's interesting is that she has a classmate, Yoshizawa, who has a similar crush on her and even goes so far as getting a job at Garden in order to be near her in a direct parallel of what Akira has done. Since we largely see the story through Akira's eyes, most scenes with Yoshizawa have her dismissing him out of hand or barely noticing him, which, incidentally, is what we would expect Kondo to do with her.
That Kondo does not is where things may get uncomfortable for readers. He never, however, seems to be truly pursuing a relationship with her; rather he's been beaten down so far by life that Akira's attraction to him makes him realize that it's been a very long time since anyone showed any kind of interest in him. Most of the staff at Garden doesn't respect him (although they appear to mostly respect his authority, or at least, as much as they strictly have to), he lives in an apartment that speaks of despair, and he can't even always remember when he's supposed to have care of his son. Kondo is well and truly stuck in his life, and Akira's announcement that she likes him – and her refusal to take no for an answer – forces him to acknowledge that. At this point that comes mostly in the form of thinking about the last time he dated someone or had a similar experience to what's happening with Akira (if it wasn't in high school, that's how his memories appear to have painted it, although that can also be read as trying to see himself as her age), and we can also see him becoming painfully aware of how he appears to the outside world. He rarely, if ever, acknowledges the way the staff looks down on him at work, but he's all too clear on how he looks when out with Akira, which may in turn make him reevaluate other aspects of his life.
While romance, likely brief, is still possible, at its heart these first two volumes of After the Rain seem instead to tell a story about two people trying to heal from emotional injuries they aren't even aware that they have. Sometimes that's uncomfortable, as with Akira's single-minded pursuit of Kondo or her college-age coworker fantasizing about getting her drunk and sleeping with her, and sometimes it's sad. But ultimately this omnibus is starting a story that feels like all of those things will lead to the characters learning more about themselves and finding a way to be happier or healthier, and that's going to be a story worth giving a chance.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Nuanced reasons behind characters' actions, nice parallels between Akira and Yoshizawa, lots of color pages and lovely art
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