by Carlo Santos,


GN 8

Pastel GN 8
Mugi Tadano is living under the same roof as the girl of his dreams, Yuu Tsukisaki—but he still can't bring himself to tell her he loves her. When a friend comes by and drops off her kid for babysitting, Yuu's motherly instincts kick in and Mugi starts to see her in a new way. However, his focus on Yuu gets sidetracked when the most popular girl at school asks Mugi out on a date right before she graduates. Then who should show up at Mugi's door but Yuu's little sister Tsukasa, who's been studying in America and is now on break. Tsukasa's got a dozen schemes to make Mugi confess his feelings for Yuu, each one more embarrassing than the last—and when she disguises herself as her own sister, it just messes with Mugi's head (and heart) even more.

If nice guys finish last, why does Mugi Tadano continue to be surrounded by impossibly hot girls? That may be the most enduring mystery of Pastel—and the one that keeps the series running. The second story arc, which began last volume, has clearly settled into a comfortable groove where our hero has plenty of opportunities for romantic advancement, but never closes the deal. Yet it's not as painfully bad as the average harem title, as Mugi does have his heart specifically set on one girl, and his breast-groping pratfalls are sometimes accompanied by surprising moments of sweetness. In truth, the more serious problem is that—like many romance series—this one is spinning its wheels in place until a major development comes along.

Here's a little tip: adding new characters does not count as a major development, especially if they're meaningless one-off characters like in the first half of the book. The babysitting chapter is an irritating forced attempt at sentimentality—aww, look at the cute widdle kid! Mugi even drops that groan-worthy phrase, "It's almost like we're a family," for which he deserves to be strangled because he might want to think about actually scoring with Yuu before having kids with her. The other one-shot character, high school hottie Megumi, ushers in a storyline that looks just as irritating at first glance—why does this plain guy get all the girls, anyway?—but finishes up in a sweet, heartwarming way that is easily the high point of this volume. Yes, it does use all those time-worn devices like love at first sight and childhood memories, but the message is wonderfully honest: Be nice to people, because it does pay off in the end. That's the kind of stuff that makes Pastel worth reading.

And then there's the regular junk that you just kind of sit through, which in this case would be the return of boisterous little sister Tsukasa. As soon as she finds out Mugi's true intentions towards Yuu, the story degrades into 90 pages of the same thing over and over: ridiculous, juvenile schemes designed to make Mugi confess his feelings. Tsukasa's sexy cosplay party is the most egregious offender, with its visual pandering (hur hur, Yuu in a maid outfit! You like?) that fails to be funny or cute. There's a bit more entertainment value in the prolonged joke where Tsukasa dresses up as Yuu in order to "train" Mugi for the real thing, with a bit of heart-to-heart conversation on the side, but the ending to that episode is head-slappingly predictable. God forbid if we should have to sit through even more of Tsukasa's schemes in Volume 9.

Despite the fluctuating story quality, there is one thing that's constant about the series, and that's the fanservice. Somehow, every chapter opens with one of Mugi's naughty fantasies about Yuu, but by this point it's gotten pretty stale: even the bathtime scenes, with their conveniently placed puffs of steam, don't look particularly sensual or exciting. It's like these scenes are in there just to fill a quota, and all the good cheesecake poses were taken already. What's even worse is when it happens mid-chapter and seems completely out of place. Kobayashi's autopilot-artist mode also extends to the G-rated material, where every single character—main, supporting, or one-shot—is drawn with the same doe eyes and swishy hair and average build. At least the city backgrounds, rare as they are, are still a joy to look at. Page layouts often consist of small, compressed panels, mostly to accommodate the frequent dialogue and quick-moving story, but the strict rectangular arrangement makes things easy to follow. Not surprisingly, the layouts spread out more during those slow moments of romantic contemplation, so the pacing achieves a good balance there.

The writing in this series is about as down-to-earth as it gets, successfully avoiding the extremes of dryness or pretentiousness. It's a convincing rendition of how teenage kids talk, whether they're teasing each other or musing on the particulars of love—proof that the experiences of Japanese youth translate just fine into English. Occasional cultural references are preserved as well, with a glossary in the back to explain details like the Japanese school year and why Tsukasa bringing American porn into the country is such a big deal. Sound effects are also left intact, with small, unintrusive translations next to each.

Pastel's idealistic, male-oriented portrayal of young love continues unabated this volume, and while it may not be high quality, it does deliver the same kind of material consistently. In this series, one can always expect the usual tales of an average nice guy getting way more attention and eye-candy than he deserves from a parade of beautiful young women. From time to time, it does find the occasional wellspring of emotional depth—the Megumi chapter is one such story, where platonic love outshines any sort of fanservice or slapstick comedy. However, the rest of this volume contains strictly average material, as Mugi tries to find the guts to tell Yuu he loves her and fails over and over again, in a variety of ways. With only one year of schooling left, Mugi had better find that courage soon—if only to get the storyline moving already.

Production Info:
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : C+

+ One surprising chapter that starts out normal but achieves a sweet, heartwarming ending.
Typical love-comedy fare for boys everywhere else, and even the fanservice has gotten boring.

Story & Art: Toshihiko Kobayashi

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Pastel (manga)

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