Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Despite his raging teenage hormones, Mugi is still too shy to express his feelings for beautiful housemate Yuu. However, that doesn't stop him from buying Yuu an expensive gift or working nonstop at the school festival to impress her. One night, Mugi and Yuu find themselves stranded at a roadside restaurant, which ends up being a stroke of luck—the restaurant owner agrees to take on Mugi as an apprentice cook. Later on, a flighty girl named Aoi stops by the restaurant and seems unusually affectionate with just about everyone. Can Mugi fend off Aoi's advances so that Yuu doesn't get the wrong idea? And even at home, things aren't running smoothly—the family dog gets sick, and Yuu discovers that she needs to go on a diet!
Okay, so it actually is getting better after all, but Pastel still manages to cycle back to its essential theme of boobs. Aoi, the new girl, is quick to complain about hers being too small, while wondering how Yuu's managed to get so big. And Mugi, of course, can't stop thinking about ... you know. Of course, it should be no surprise that a series about teenage love has such a predominantly teenage mentality. Look past the heart-throbbing daydreams of lust, however, and flashes of real emotion begin to appear. A reflection on one's future career. An ode to the family pet. Thoughts about the relationships between others, whether we choose to live alone or with the comfort of loved ones. As this volume shows, youth can be a source of both incredible stupidity and incredible insight.
First, the stupidity. The early chapters in this volume don't inspire much hope, being well-worn nuggets of the romantic comedy genre: Mugi buys Yuu a pricey hat and goes on a part-time job rampage; the school festival chapter after that is completely devoid of innovation save for the "Mugi's Kitchen" celebrity-chef concept. The closing chapters are similarly shallow, although a little more heartfelt—when Yuu's dog Mametarou falls ill, it gives us a chance to look at the special bond between owner and pet, and the diet chapter is a perfectly executed sitcom situation, one that manages to get away from the fixation on undressing and panty-flashing for once.
In between this popcorn storytelling, however, is an arc that provides fresh insights into our characters—by introducing a new one. "Oh great, another girl for Mugi to drool over," might be your exasperated reaction when Aoi first shows up, but once the story moves past her exhibitionist, kissing-and-hugging ways, it turns out that her presence has a deeper meaning. Aoi's free-spirited nature and unrequited feelings towards the restaurant owner are not just arbitrary traits, but ways for Mugi to consider his own relationship with Yuu. And in between those romantic issues, Mugi also reflects on his future as a cook while working at the restaurant and domestic life when Aoi stays at the house. Both sides have something to learn about the differences between a carefree, loner lifestyle and one of comfort and friendship. The end of this arc is easily one of the most touching moments in the series so far, and who would have thought that Mugi would experience character growth in three directions—career, love, and life—in a single volume?
Although the story shows signs of improvement, the artwork remains firmly in the realm of mediocre. It may have once dazzled with frequent displays of cheesecake, as Volume 1 did with its many beach scenes, but without the constant overload of barely-dressed girls, Toshihiko Kobayashi's weaknesses quickly come to light. Character designs don't come much more cut-and-dried than Mugi, who appears to be about 10 years old, and the introduction of Aoi reveals that Kobayashi can really only draw one girl, no matter how attractive. Even the usual displays of fanservice have lost their spark; there isn't much excitement to be had from the generic poses and viewing angles. Fortunately, the seaside town backgrounds still have the power to impress, and the rectangular, many-paneled layouts keep the story pace running smoothly.
Also helping to keep things smooth is the straightforward dialogue, translated with a minimum of embellishment—Mugi and friends speak in a youthful but relaxed tone, with honorifics as necessary. Sound effects are left in Japanese as well, with (occasionally too-literal) translations placed nearby. A glossary in the back provides context for the niceties of Japanese culture, mostly food and customs, although the story is easily understood even without referring to these. On the production side, Del Rey has turned out another solid printing and binding job, although sadly there are no glossy color pages in this volume like there were in the first installment.
Pastel is hardly a great series, and some would debate whether it even deserves to be called good, but it's certainly improved from the female flesh parade that it once was. These improvements aren't exactly dramatic, but they've been emerging slowly as we get to know the characters better. In a way, that's exactly how life is—things rarely happen in sudden bursts, but often change over time. It looks like Mugi is changing too, getting a better hang of his life plans and his relationships. If there's one constant in his life, it's that he has the damned good luck of being constantly surrounded by hot girls ... even if they are all drawn alike. To a 15-year-old boy, boobs are still a big deal, of course, but maybe—just maybe—he's also slowly growing up.
Overall : B-
Story : B
Art : C
+ Develops the characters in various ways with a well-planned middle arc.
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