Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hotaka and Niki are finally going out, having professed their mutual love. Everything seems to be going really well until their date at a festival causes Niki to remember something from her past. Disturbed and beyond upset, Niki lashes out at Hotaka, breaking up with him without any explanation. A crushed Hotaka decides to take a trip to his late father's mountain house to sort things out, and it's there that he finds the answer that he was never expecting.
I'm fairly sure most of us saw this coming, whether we wanted to or not. The truth about Niki and Hotaka's relationship feels like it might have been the worst kept secret in the history of manga, though in truth that may simply be because it wasn't as well handled as it might have been. Whatever the reason, the awkward truth and Niki's even worse handling of it takes Evergreen and turns it from a sweet romantic series to something much darker, and while the answer in itself doesn't have to ruin the story, the abruptness of its reveal makes it difficult to endorse. It is difficult to discuss this book without mentioning what that reveal is, so be warned that there are spoilers ahead.
When the book opens, things are still moving in a positive direction of Hotaka and Niki after three volumes of pining after each other. Having declared mutual love, they plan to go to a summer festival for their first date. It is while there that Niki comes to the terrible realization that quickly splits them apart: that they are, in fact, half-siblings, sharing their deceased father. She realizes this when she sees Hotaka walking away from her; his back looks exactly like their dad's did when he took her to a festival as a little girl and then had to leave because Hotaka was in the hospital. This memory is traumatic to Niki for several reasons, and she freaks out and runs away, leaving a hurt and bewildered Hotaka in her wake.
In some senses, Niki's response makes perfect sense – she figures out their relationship after they've already kissed, so she's crossed a line physically. Emotionally, she's always hated and resented her unknown brother for taking her father away from her, not just in the sense that he left her to be with him, but also in that he died helping to save Hotaka's life. She often wished that her brother would die, or had died, so that she could have her father back, and now that she actually knows (and likes) Hotaka, those feelings are jumbled and ever more confusing. That the boy she fell for is also the boy whose death she spent a lot of time wishing for is a recipe for an emotional meltdown that would make an adult suffer, and she's a child with fewer coping mechanisms. That she handles it badly feels like the most natural part of the book, as does Hotaka's confusion at her sudden and complete rejection.
It is after this that the story begins to fall apart. Takemiya attempts to fit in a supernatural element of their father trying to encourage them to get along, and Hotaka interprets all the signs he sees as leading him to take care of Niki as a sister. While this is sweet, it is also a very abrupt turnaround, mostly in that he can go from being in love with Niki to seeing her as his blood relation so quickly, as well as the fact that he can then completely devote himself to being her brother. In some ways it almost would have been better to not allow them to reconcile or to go full-out with the incestuous relationship; having Hotaka and Niki so easily resolve their conflict feels far too easy and as if the series was in a rush to wrap up neatly.
More satisfying is the subplot about On-chan and Soga, who have been going head-to-head for most of the series. This volume wraps that up nicely, taking into account who they are and what insecurities they have been hiding, which is particularly effective with Soga. Making sure that the playboy character has underlying emotions and isn't just the “bad boy” is something that not a lot of romances do, so to see Takemiya succeed here is rewarding, even if it doesn't quite take the sting out of the rest of the series' resolution.
Evergreen began as a pleasant romance and maintained that up until midway through this volume. It's always a shame to see a series falter at the end, and while this one wasn't particularly subtle about where it might end up, its handling of the resolution didn't quite work to carry the story to its conclusion. Akira Caskabe's art remains beautiful, particularly when it comes to Niki's hair, but pretty art is only half the story with manga, and in this case, the writing didn't do its part to ensure that the series came to a satisfying conclusion.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : B+
+ Lovely art, On-chan and Soga storyline has a nice resolution. Some believable emotional reactions from Niki and Hotaka's mom.
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