Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Ten Serizawa lives in the mountains in a small town that doesn't have its own high school. Now that she's a first year, that means she either has to move down into the town where the high school is or take a two-hour bus ride both ways each day. Ten starts out thinking that the bus is just fine, but she soon realizes that she's missing out on seeing her friends. With that in mind, she decides to try living at one of the local boarding houses where her best friend lives. It's a co-ed house, though – is Ten about to get more than she bargained for?
The boarding house or high school dorm in manga fills the space occupied by the boarding school in western YA literature: a safe, adult-supervised space where teens can still live parent-free while still spreading their wings and having the sorts of adventure usually reserved for orphans in fiction. Shortcake Cake, by duo Suu Morishita (made up of writer Makiro and artist Nachiyan), takes this particular setting and manages to use it to create a story that, while perhaps not strictly fresh, is still utterly charming and a little bit exciting in the way that only shoujo manga can depict the blooming of True Love.
The story is set in a mountainous region of Japan. Heroine Ten lives in a town two hours up the mountain from the nearest sizable population center, and her town is small enough that the schools only go as far as junior high. Therefore when students enter high school, they either have to take a two-hour bus ride (both ways) into the city or move into one of the many boarding houses that exist for just that purpose. Ten, who doesn't see herself as having many social needs and thinks it's what her mom wants, decides to just stay put and take the bus, but her best friend Ageha opts to move. Almost immediately Ageha commences a campaign to get Ten to move into the boarding house as well, and when she convinces her to stay the night, Ten realizes how much she misses hanging out with Ageha with no time restrictions…and how nice it would be to be able to have her last two hours of sleep in a bed uninterrupted by having to catch the bus. Since the room next door to Ageha's is vacant, Ten asks her parents (who are perfectly happy with the idea) and moves into the big(ish) city.
Of course, Ageha isn't the only person living in the boarding house – there's another girl from a different high school and three high school boys as well, along with the hip young housemother. Ten's a little uncomfortable sharing a house with boys, but only because she's never done it before; guys don't hold any particular interest for her at this point, much to the amusement of her friends. This, of course, is shoujo romance code for at least two of the boys to be both ridiculously hot and interested in Ten – Riku, who attends another high school, and Chiaki, the oblivious heartthrob of Ten's school. Ten is immediately drawn to Chiaki, not because of his looks, but because he helps her when she spends the night and because she's fascinated by his appetite for books. She's much less comfortable with Riku, who's a bit of a ladies' man. Riku's very handsy and isn't afraid to grab a girl's hand or sling an arm around her shoulders, something Ten is emphatically not okay with. Rather than simply stiffen up or politely point out that he's making her uncomfortable, Ten is blunt with Riku, telling him that she doesn't like what he's doing and would he please knock it off. This throws Riku for a loop – he can't recall ever having had that vehement a reaction before, and while he's not sure he likes it, he definitely appreciates Ten's honesty in saying it.
As you can likely guess, this leads to Riku developing a crush on Ten, something he's very keen to deny to himself. Just why this is is something that has only begun to develop within the story – we know that he had a bad break-up in middle school and that he decided to flirt without dating at that point, and we also know that he's living in the boarding house despite his family living in town, unlike all of the other students, who would otherwise be commuters. Almost more so than Chiaki's obsessive reading, Riku's got some very complicated issues informing who he is, and while we have seen his type of character before, Shortcake Cake uses a combination of family angst and internal fretting to inform his development in an interesting way.
For her part, Ten isn't so much oblivious to the fact that two very popular and attractive boys are potentially crushing on her as she is relatively nonplussed. She likes Chiaki more, but she's not sure that it's in a romantic way, and she seems honestly unsure about her feelings for Riku at this point, although she seems to think he's a good person in general. This is different from her being unaware in the way that Ageha and her other school friends think she is, because she's simply not letting the boys' emotions affect her rather than not understanding that they have them. That of course is likely to change as the series goes on – this is only volume one, after all – but Ten feels like a more level-headed heroine than we typically get in such stories.
The artwork in the volume is pleasant to look at, and pages read fluidly. There is a tendency to show just eyes under bangs glancing at someone that can be confusing, as in these scenes toned or black hair isn't always consistent with the characters' general designs and you can't always tell whose eyes they are, but otherwise this is very easy to read. There isn't much in the way of backgrounds, but it is still easy to place where characters are in a given scene.
Shortcake Cake's first volume is a charmer. Making good use of genre mainstays while still feeling like it can stand on its own, this looks like a good addition to the catalogue of translated shoujo romances.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Ten can stand up for herself and feels more self-aware than expected, Riku stands to have an interesting backstory, attractive art
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