Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hori and Miyamura are officially going out now, which makes things a little weird at school. When Miyamura hears people wondering why Hori would go out with someone who looks like him, he takes it upon himself to change his hair, setting off another kind of unexpected reaction. Meanwhile, Hori's parents are totally comfortable with having Miyamura around all the time, which he's not sure how to handle. Are they really going out, or are they still basically just friends?
Of all of the many wonderful things about Hero and Daisuke Hagiwara's romance manga Horimiya, one of the best is its lack of melodrama. There are no huge dramatic reveals, no histrionics, no panels oozing with overly tense anticipation. Instead there's just Hori and Miyamura trying to navigate their relationship as normally as possible, coping with friends, family, and their own insecurities. If you're used to reading the more common over-the-top romances where absolutely everything is a big deal and even the smallest hand gesture gets pages upon pages of fretting, this is a breath of fresh air, but also a reminder that love isn't always surrounded by fireworks with an operatic soundtrack. Sometimes real life is a big enough deal all on its own.
At the end of volume four, Hori and Miyamura began dating with little-to-no fanfare; he told her he liked her, she said she liked him too, and voilà! Dating. It wasn't until they were spotted leaving her house together one morning that people at school found out, and then the response was right out of Miyamura's nightmares – the loudest voices were wondering why a hot girl like Kyouko Hori would date a guy like him. While he didn't say anything, his discomfort was clear, and one day he cut his hair at home. This is very typical of Miyamura, who also pierced his own ears as a byproduct of his unhappy middle school life and got tattoos without thinking about what that would mean to other people in a culture where body art is largely reserved for yakuza. To Miyamura, a change in the way he looks is a way of giving himself power, even if that power is strictly in his own mind – it's like wearing one special piece of clothing when you have to give a presentation to get you through it. As usual, he doesn't think through the consequences. Now his ear piercings are very visible (and get him in some mild trouble), and by making himself more “fit” for Hori, he's become more attractive to others. This means that he doesn't get to hide in the background anymore, and although he does want people to know that Hori belongs with him, it's still clear that he's not terribly comfortable being so visible. Everything about Miyamura screams that he's not at ease in the world, but also that he's willing to try for Hori's sake.
This volume is much more about Miyamura than Hori, who largely remains unchanged. That's because their relationship isn't much different from when they were just friends – all that's really new is Kyouko's father, who came home in the last book and took a shine to Miyamura, attempting to make her boyfriend feel even more like part of the family. You'd expect this to backfire spectacularly, but in keeping with its low-key approach to the story, Horimiya doesn't make it any more awkward than it has to be. Hori's not thrilled with her father in general, and he does make Miyamura uncomfortable with his openness, but he's less a block to their happiness and more a catalyst to make them realize that they haven't done much beyond the norm. Hori does mention this at one point, when the two are left alone in her living room, and it seems that Miyamura is too cautious to want to startle her. They do have their first kiss early in the book, and both of them think deeply about it without showing any real outward reaction. Again, there's no bells and whistles (or in the case of romance manga, sparkles and bubbles), but we do get the deep sense that it changes things for them – they do want a physical component to their relationship, but they aren't quite sure how to go about it.
Despite all of this, Horimiya's fifth volume isn't an awkward one, nor is it devoid of forward momentum. A rival for Hori comes in and forces Miyamura to take a stand, and when he has to go away for five days and forgets his cell charger, Hori comes to realize just how big a place he occupies in her life. Still, this is an organic realization that she never really vocalizes – instead we see her counting down on her fingers how long she has to wait for him to come home, a private moment that she keeps from everyone else. Perhaps this series might best be described as a private romance, based on the quiet feelings of the characters and communicated more in gestures than major actions. Because of that, it's imperative that the art is able to show us what the characters don't tell, and in large part it does accomplish this. The direction of someone's slight lean, facial expressions, and posture when sitting all do an excellent job giving us these little details, so if the backgrounds are sparse and several of the side characters look more alike than not, it can be forgiven.
If you've had it up to here with melodrama, Horimiya continues to be the series you need. As the two slowly grow closer, considering the ways in which they want to get closer still, the light touch and tangible emotions make this a winning read. Miyamura's new look takes some getting used to, and a few characters have really worn out their usefulness, but in terms of both sweet and thoughtful romance, it doesn't get much better than this.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Story moves quietly based on the characters' feelings, melodrama-free romance, good body language and facial expressions
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