Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Chiaki and Riku have both realized that they like Ten – and that the other boy likes her as well. Chiaki at first still tells Riku that he's rooting for him, but as it becomes clear that Riku thinks he missed his chance and won't make another move, Chiaki begins to think that maybe he ought to try to win Ten. The problem? Ten seems to have fallen for Riku, and Chiaki still wants to maintain his relationship with his friend. Will the course of anyone's love ever run smooth?
One of the chief strengths, and delights, of Suu Morishita's Shortcake Cake is the fact that it manages to both follow and subvert shoujo romance traditions. The story is following one unassuming high school girl with two attractive high school boy options for love, and they are all living together in a boarding house free of parental oversight. But here at the halfway point (the full series is eleven volumes) the angst is still kept to a believable minimum with everyone quietly working through their feelings and thinking about how other people might feel, melodrama is remarkably absent, and there's a slow burn of not just the romance, but also of the character development.
Previous volumes have largely centered all of this around Ten, and while she's still very much present in these two books, Chiaki is the one who really takes the main stage. It hasn't been easy for him to realize that he likes Ten romantically, although their attempt to fend off Rei by pretending to be a couple has definitely helped him on that front. Now that he's realizing both his own emotions and the fact that Ten has slowly fallen for Riku, however, Chiaki is ready to step up his game – even though he previously told Riku that he'd be rooting for him.
In another series, this would create an unbearable strain of Riku and Chiaki's friendship, and there is a mild version of that trying very hard to rear its head here. But Chiaki doesn't really see why liking the same girl needs to ruin his relationship with the other boy, somewhat to Riku's bewilderment. In part this is because Riku has stated that he feels that he had his chance and was turned down and so sees no competition for Chiaki, but the other factor in his reaction is that he doesn't actually think he and Chiaki are friends in the first place. He doesn't understand why the other boy keeps wanting to do things with him, why he brings him a souvenir from the class trip, or even why he keeps talking to him about stuff. What Chiaki sees as maintaining a friendship while still crushing on the same girl Riku sees as totally baffling behavior, and ultimately that seems to say more about Riku than it does about Chiaki.
This makes for an interesting narrative device that flows through both volumes. While we do get Riku's inner monologue in amounts comparable to Ten's, leaving Chiaki with the bulk of it, mostly what we can put together about his emotional state is drawn from what he doesn't expand on. Even though Chiaki tells him that Ten has developed a (conscious) crush on him, Riku insists on maintaining that her early rebuff of his advances, which Ten believed to be a joke at the time, was his one chance with her and that he needs to just give up now. While he surprises himself with his actions, such as when he kissed her on the forehead at the end of volume three, he sees that as a failure to move on on his part rather than evidence that maybe he could try again to make Ten understand that he's serious. This, combined with his bafflement at Chiaki's insistence that they're friends and enjoyment in spending time with him, speaks to a very low opinion of himself and a feeling that he perhaps doesn't deserve to have good friends or a serious girlfriend. How this ties in with his relationship with his family – remembering that Riku, unlike most of the other residents of the boarding house, lives in town – isn't yet clear, but it doesn't seem like much of a leap to say that the two are likely related.
While he may simply feel not good enough for Ten (and Chiaki), Ten is unsure of what's going on. She does figure out that she has a crush on Riku with Chiaki's help, but then she's not sure what to make of that or how to act. Amusingly enough, she and Chiaki do many of the same things with and for Riku, such as buying him a souvenir, and it doesn't seem as if she's comfortable taking things any farther. It almost feels as if she developed feelings for Riku rather than Chiaki because Riku moved faster – his low-key flirting and the forehead kiss all came before Chiaki really made any moves of his own. Looked at from the outside, Chiaki does seem like the better choice, and a piece of Ten may feel that way as well. But Riku fascinates her, and right now that's enough.
Despite all of these vaguely complicated feelings and people operating against their own interests for whatever reason, the story maintains a drama-free feel that's refreshing. It's not that there isn't tension, but rather that the tension is handled in such a way as to make it feel natural rather than angsty and amped up. There's no life-or-death emotional turmoil, no bitter tears or recriminations, just three teenagers trying to figure out how to navigate their emotions and relationships in the best possible ways, and that's a real strength of the series. It won't please fans of more stereotypical super high tension melodramas, but for a well-constructed, low-key breather, this is a good choice.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Largely devoid of melodrama, soft art, interesting low-key character development
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