Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Love in Focus
Mako learned photography at her grandfather's knee, and when he died, it became more than just something she loved – it became a way for her to stay connected to him. Lonely with her parents working all the time, Mako decides to take her childhood friend Kei up on his suggestion that she move from Sapporo to Hakodate to go to the same high school he does, which boasts an excellent photography club. Mako's excited to live in the boarding house with Kei and go to the same school as him, but she's not expecting to find an inspiring subject in housemate Amemura. The only problem? He hates having his picture taken. Is this over before it's even begun?
Love in Focus is both the second series from Yoko Nogiri and her second English-language release – Kodansha previously licensed That Wolf Boy is Mine!, a sweet four-volume story about animal yokai. Love in Focus does share a romance genre with Nogiri's other series, but other than that it's fairly different, with a real-world setting and characters and a heroine who is much less aware of her surroundings.
That almost immediately raises an issue that is something of a turn-off, although obviously everyone's mileage will vary. Protagonist Mako is a photographer, and she's very much accustomed to just snapping pictures of whatever catches her eye. Since she's primarily been a landscape and animals person, that's never really been an issue for her – in fact, she's won at least one major award for her work. When the story begins, Mako has just moved from Sapporo to Hakodate (still in Hokkaido) in order to live in a boarding house and go to her friend Kei's school, which has a very good photography club with a professional photographer as the teacher. She's doing this partially because Kei suggested it, and the two of them have always been close, but also because she's been at loose ends since her grandfather's death a short time ago. Grandpa's the one who taught Mako (and Kei) to take pictures, as well as being Mako's primary caregiver growing up since her parents both work, and the house is too sad and empty without him. A fresh start is what she needs, and that seems to include finding her first human subject for her pictures. The problem? The young man in question, her new housemate Amemura, very strenuously objects to her taking pictures of him…and she can't seem to help herself.
As this defines Amemura's and Mako's initial relationship, that makes things at least a little uncomfortable. Mako is not quite a too-stupid-to-live heroine, but she is remarkably dense when it comes to interacting with others, which means that although she tries, she doesn't really understand why what she's doing is wrong. The issue does get resolved midway through the volume, but it damages the potential set-up of Amemura as one of the two, or possibly three, rivals for Mako's affections, as it feels at least a little forced. Given that potential love interest number three, Lucas, doesn't arrive until the end of the book and that Kei clearly sees Amemura as the major hurdle to his winning Mako for himself, it makes for a somewhat shaky start to the romance plot.
That aside, however, this is a perfectly enjoyable, relatively standard shoujo romance. We readers (and virtually everyone else in the book) can see that Kei has been harboring feelings for Mako since childhood, and that he had at least some ulterior motives in suggesting she move to his boarding house and school. Mako is totally oblivious to this, which Kei seems to accept – he knows her well enough to realize that it's going to take time to convey his feelings to her. He was not, however, counting on Amemura, or indeed any rival at all – in fact, judging by the reactions of the photography club, Kei's been not-so-subtly letting people know that his crush was coming for this school year. (Kei is a year older than Mako and Amemura.) He's therefore a bit blindsided by Mako's sudden interest in the other boy, like it's an eventuality he sort of knew was possible but he hadn't really thought about. That Mako has zero clue about any of this right now is fine, as her focus truly is on her photography, but Nogiri will need to be careful about how long she remains oblivious if the story is going to work.
I do think that will turn out to be the case, both given Nogiri's previous series and the fact that we do begin to learn about why Amemura has such objections to be photographed. His reasons are plausible and also tied up in his physical appearance in ways that we don't often see attributed to male characters, which is a nice change of pace. Both he and Kei have clear reasons for being attracted to Mako's personality, mostly caught up in the fact that she's willing to accept people for who they are, not who she wants or thinks them to be. This is her chief attraction as a character, which makes up for some of the issues in the first couple of chapters – Mako has an honestly good heart and wants to understand people. She doesn't necessarily go about it in the most sensitive way, but the fact that she means no harm makes it better than it might have been.
Love in Focus' first volume has a rocky first half, but when it smooths itself out, it feels like the start of a gooey romance with potential. Nogiri's art is easy on the eyes with a blend of fine lines, well-used tone, and detailed backgrounds, and if she doesn't draw Omochi the dog particularly well, that's easily overlooked. This isn't quite as good as that other boarding house shoujo title currently being published (Shortcake Cake), but it is a nice, light read that seems like it will get better from here.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Pleasant art, Mako has a good heart, Kei and Amemura are sympathetic
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