Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When Ten hears Riku talking to Chiaki on the bus, it occurs to her that he might actually like her – so she asks him. Although Riku's kind of cagey about his answer – and seems to be unbothered by her swift rejection should it be true – it's clear that there's a lot more going on emotionally behind his smile. Meanwhile Chiaki may be starting to like Ten as well, although he's not necessarily aware of it, something which will be forced to the foreground when a mysterious young man suddenly asks Ten out. And as for Ten? Where does she stand on all this? That's something she's still trying to figure out herself…
Like many shoujo romances of its ilk, Shortcake Cake has wasted no time in assembling suitors for its heroine Ten's affections. In the first volume we met both Riku and Chiaki, who also live at Ten's boarding house, and now in the second we also meet Rei, who has some sort of connection to Riku. Technically Rei was introduced in volume one as well, but it's really here that things begin to move forward with his character: he's apparently another rival for Ten.
Not that Ten, or anyone else, truly believes that. Rei's relationship to Riku, which is revealed at the end of the volume, makes it much more likely that he's only pursuing Ten in order to upset the other boy. In his eyes, Riku is head-over-heels for Ten, and by “stealing” her away, he'll be scoring a victory over him. This is directly contradictory to what Riku himself says, of course – not that he doesn't like Ten, but rather that it's just a passing crush, and that Ten's summary rejection of him after his semi-confession on the bus cured him of any romantic feelings he had for her. In his quieter moments, however, we readers can see that things aren't so simply, and that's something that Chiaki notices as well. Although Chiaki seems to be being set up as the “true route” (so to speak) for Ten, his quiet, reserved nature puts him in a position to be able to observe his friends and housemates in a way that they don't entirely realize. He almost instantly decides (or discerns) that Riku's making light of what may be very serious emotions, although he can't figure out what would make him do that.
On the surface, we could say that Riku's downplaying his crush on Ten simply to make her feel better around him. Her swift questioning as to whether he liked her and her equally quick response, a firm no, both indicate to him that he doesn't have a chance, so he's just cutting his losses. His internal monologue, however, and his new tendency to flop on his bed immediately after talking to her, instead seem to suggest that he's protecting himself. Not only does downplaying his feelings make it easier for Ten, it also makes it possible to keep hanging around her; if she thinks he's no longer crushing on her, she won't reject his company. Given that we already know that Riku's from the town the boarding house is in – as opposed to all of the other residents who live in remote rural villages – we can already assume that he's got a troubled relationship with his family. Having another person he likes become inaccessible to him may be an emotional blow he isn't prepared to handle.
Ten, meanwhile, is busy trying to sort things out. With Rei's entry on the scene, she's suddenly found herself the subject of both Chiaki's and Riku's protective gestures, something she's really not sure she's happy about or comfortable with. In part that's because she's still thinking about Riku's confession (or rather, his response to her pointed question), but it's also because she's sorting out her feelings for Chiaki as she tries to make her way on her own. While Ten isn't precisely retiring, she's also not someone who really enjoys putting herself out there, and her natural reaction appears to be the blurt-and-overthink method. She also seems to be trying to figure out whether or not she's actually interested in pursuing any sort of romance, and if so, with whom. By the end of the volume, she does look to have figured out who, if anyone, she likes, but she's not the sort of heroine who's going to just allow herself to be swept away by romantic words and actions.
Ten herself really is what's setting this romance apart from its fellows. She's neither as outspoken and abrasive as the edgier genre heroines nor is she a doormat just waiting for the prince to ride up on his white horse. Ten's a little bit awkward (but not in adorably awkward territory) and a little outspoken (but not aggressively so), and comes off as much more an everyday girl than many other heroines who use that as their selling point. While this does make her a little less dynamic than other shoujo romance heroines, it also gives her more relatability without making her a blank slate for reader fantasies. That's very appealing in a genre filled with quirky, romance-dreaming, tomboyish protagonists, and gives Shortcake Cake a quiet way to stand out.
With this second volume, Shortcake Cake feels like it's mostly finished with the set up. Whether the story proceeds down a more standard romance route or not, this book establishes it as a calm but engrossing tale with a heroine who isn't in a hurry to make any sort of splash but also isn't wilting in a corner. Shoujo fans are probably already reading it, but if you're looking for something calm but still with emotional stakes, this is a series to pick up.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Ten stands out as a more relatable heroine in a field of quirkiness, story gives time to everyone's emotions without overdoing it
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