by Carlo Santos,

Love Roma

GN 5

Love Roma GN 5
Hajime Hoshino and Yumiko Negishi have been going out for a while now, but like any couple, they're still striving to understand each other. Maybe a trip to the amusement park will help, or writing letters to each other. However, things get awkward when Hoshino takes a sudden interest in adult videos and keeps asking Negishi about sex. As high school comes to a close, will they consummate their love? And what lies in wait for them after graduation?

Love Roma is almost too cute. And not the big-eyed, maid-outfit, cat-ear-wearing kind of cute, but in its absolute forthrightness about the ideals of love. If it were any more sweet and heartwarming, we'd be waving our arms singing Kumbayah at a group therapy session. And so it is that the final volume sees our winsome couple fumbling and floating their way towards graduation day, sharing all those ups and downs that teenagers have. With lo-fi art and straight-up dialogue, this series is the most honest of all romances, proudly saying things that most folks find too embarrassing coming out of their own mouths. For that same reason, however, it doesn't suit every taste, lacking the flair and mad plot twists of other love stories. No worries, though: that laid-back attitude is the kind that suits Love Roma just fine.

Now, the cover of this volume might look like an exciting plot development, but the final chapters are hardly what you would call a soaring, climactic arc. Instead, like everything else that's come before, they're an ebb and flow of idyllic scenes and character sketches. The usual fare of school-age romance is covered here—the amusement park, the school festival, the discussion of "adult" things—but filtered as always through the lenses of Hoshino and Negishi's quirky relationship. Who knew that Hoshino could emerge as a groundbreaking character just by voicing every little thought that goes through his head? It's always fun to see his musings on love, but when his train of thought turns towards sex, well, the series takes a very, very interesting turn.

Hoshino and Negishi are high school seniors, and it's no surprise to see that they'd be curious about doing it. However, this shift towards "mature" content seems like a betrayal of the "pure love" atmosphere that pervades the rest of the work. But like everything else in the series, the subject is handled gracefully and without sensationalism, along with just a touch of humor ("It hurts, you bastard!"). So give Toyoda credit for handling this love story with expert hands all the way to the end—from confession to first kiss to whatever the future brings. Some chapters in this volume are weaker than others, mostly when side characters show up and dilute the story (the fireworks show and the school festival), but the last chapter in the book is, at least, the one that reflects everything fans adore about the series: Hoshino and Negishi together, enjoying what time they have, knowing that they are in love. Really, could you ask anything more out of high school sweethearts?

The visual style of the series is a perfect match for the story: simple and to the point. Some might find it too simple, though, with buggy dot eyes, thick lines and blocky forms that are the antithesis of common "manga style" or "anime style." Despite being an acquired taste, however, Toyoda's sense of design still shines through: distinctive characters, a strong command of shape and form, and when he wills it, some breathtaking contrasts of light and shade. This aesthetic also plays into the rectangular layouts, which bring out the story in a straightforward but dynamic manner. Because of the simplified look, it may be hard to imagine the characters as 17 and 18 years old—or that this world is even real—but that stylized distance from reality is what strengthens the focus on abstract notions of love.

Straightforward dialogue is the final ingredient in making this story complete; it just wouldn't be Love Roma without Hoshino's disarming honesty and Negishi's quick temper. The principal couple plays off each other with back-and-forth bon mots, and the supporting cast gets into it too—look at Hoshino's family trying to decipher his girlfriend's letters. Again, however, the dialogue is something of an acquired taste that seems even more stilted than the average Japanese translation. Even if it doesn't quite flow, at least give it points for readability, and the cultural glossary plus copious author notes add an extra dimension to understanding the series. With strong print quality and solid packaging, this will make a nice bookshelf set with the other four volumes.

So here we stand, at childhood's end, looking at a relationship that's weathered the odds to become a unique example of pure love. Well, maybe not so pure in the end, but still steeped in optimism and kindness. The story is almost too simple, and the art practically grade-school, but this simplicity reflects a fresh attitude that's gone missing in a world of love polygons and improbable double-crosses. How many other romantic series are you going to read this year where the main characters actually make an effort to overcome their faults and understand each other? That's right, this might be the only one left of its kind. So relish the lingering sweetness of Love Roma as it comes to a close and wish our happy couple all the best in their future.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B

+ Likable characters and a pure, honest love story unlike anything else in romantic manga.
An odd shift towards mature content near the end. Simple art style and dialogue are an acquired taste.

Story & Art: Minoru Toyoda

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Love Roma (manga)

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Love Roma (GN 5)

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