Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Peach Girl: Sae's Story
Sae Kashiwagi may be repeating her senior year of high school, but that hasn't stopped her from hitting the college circuit. She's currently going out with male model Takuma, but he still has eyes for fellow model Ai, resulting in a potentially disastrous love triangle. Meanwhile, Sae's childhood friend Kanji is still trying to win her over, but she just keeps pushing him away. At one point she even pushes him into the path of an oncoming car—and who should be driving but another hot guy! Sae may have finally met her man, even if he does have some odd quirks, and there's still the issue of paying for repairs. Then it's a trip down memory lane with the original Peach Girl cast as Momo and Kiley get into a lovers' quarrel over that most honored of institutions: sex.
There's always a bit of wariness going into any spinoff series—how do we know this isn't just a cheap ploy to cash in on the franchise? Is there any hope of it measuring up to its predecessor? While Sae's Story clearly isn't on the same scale as the original Peach Girl, it's still a decent series in itself, with all the elements of teen soap opera that make such stories an addictive pleasure (and only a "guilty" one if you let yourself feel that way about it). This volume shows all the gears of love in full motion, surpassing the first as it no longer has to go through any awkward setup. The childhood friend still pines, the addled pretty boy still wavers, and our heroine still refuses to take the advice of her good friends. Seems like just the right stage for a rollercoaster teenage drama.
Once you get past the storyline summary on Page 1, it's easy to fall into the streamlined storytelling of this twisty romance. Although shoujo love polygons are often associated with confusing networks of characters and inscrutable motivations, this one is surprisingly economical, working with just a handful of characters and keeping relationships in plain sight. Sae and Ai both like Takuma, Takuma likes both of them, and Kanji's off in the background wishing he had Sae—see, that only took one sentence to explain, didn't it? The twisty part, however, comes when each character must decide who they really want to be with. Suffice to say, Takuma's personality issues lead to some surprising choices, and the introduction of the guy in the car brings new questions into Sae's life.
The series also achieves its appeal thanks to an outspoken and unique lead character. Selfish, manipulative and more promiscuous than a hutch of rabbits, Sae is probably the least likely person to ever be a shoujo heroine, but that's exactly what makes this story's outlook so fresh. With her in the main role and driving the plot forward into all sorts of follies, events that would normally be predictable romantic twists end up looking different from a villain's-eye-view. The only problem is that, well, they are predictable romantic twists, so there's nothing revolutionary at work. (In the end, an irresponsible girl always gets what's coming to her.)
With the storyline now moving at full speed, it's a shame to see it cut short by a fluffy side story that alludes back to the original series. Although cute, it's little more than a fan-pleasing vignette about Momo and Kiley (no points for guessing how it ends), and the smattering of pop psychology at the end about men's attitudes towards sex seems rather pointless.
Streamlining and simplicity may work in favor of the relationships in this series, but not so much in the artwork, which looks a little too sparse. There are some things that do come out right, like the memorable character designs and strong facial expressions, but the overall effect is less than the sum of its parts, especially with the lack of backgrounds and uniformly thin lines. The characters may be full of personality, but art itself is not, relying too much on pre-approved conventions of style. The layouts also fall short; they work well when it comes to pacing (part of what makes the story so addictive), but are locked too much into rectangular patterns that hinder the flow.
Simple, snappy dialogue leads the way in this translation—Sae's acid tongue definitely comes out strong—but the text is also littered with awkward slang, such as the inordinate use of "dude." Sure, this might be the way high school and college kids talk... if they were on some mid- to late-90's American TV show. Sound effects are left alone and untranslated, which might leave neophyte readers in the dark, but not nearly as much as the presence of mealtime phrases like "Itadakimasu" and "Gochisôsama"—if this is a translation we're paying for, certain things ought to be, well, translated. Even a footnote would do. Binding and print quality are pretty sharp on this volume, but don't expect anything in the way of extra content.
The reverse side of Peach Girl, with a scheming villainess in the lead role and a fresh set of characters, offers a unique view of the classic love polygon. This volume isn't perfect—the art is ordinary, the plot points are typical romantic fare—but with such a fascinatingly flawed cast of characters, the story is sure to have plenty of twists. Changes of heart and an ever-shifting pace are the order of the day, and this volume shows just how crazy things can get when love (and lust) is in the air between everyone. It's just as well that Momo and Kiley have been relegated to the background with their stable and healthy relationship, because it's a lot more fun following Sae and her melodramatic boy troubles. It'd almost be a shame if she ever actually picked the right guy.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+
+ A quick-paced, addictive story about the romantic mistakes that people make.
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