Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
University student Tsukiko Yahisa hasn't had much time to think of her high school days. But now her friends from her time at Seigetsu Academy, a specialized high school teaching astronomy and space science where she was the sole female student, are beginning to contact her. As she reflects upon her days there, romance begins to blossom. Was it always there? Or is it something that is only now beginning to grow in her heart?
Ah, high school, that time of one's life that anime, manga, and other forms of pop culture like to claim nostalgia rights over, painting what was for many a less than lovely experience with the rosy hues of improbable perfection. Starry Sky's first volume takes this rose-colored glasses route in a way that is clearly meant to evoke that coveted sense of nostalgia for heroine Tsukiko Yahisa's vanished school days, and if you can get past some of the more ridiculous story aspects, it actually does it fairly well. Based on the otome game franchise of the same name, Hal Minagawa's adaptation interposes Tsukiko's memories with her current life as a university student, and while the book takes some getting used to – and the first chapter is not as good as the second and third – reverse harem fans or those who have played the game should find themselves enjoying this, even if only on a superficial level.
Our story begins with Tsukiko receiving an email from an old classmate, Yoh Tomoe. Yoh tells her that even though he is back in France, he has been thinking about her and their time at school together. This causes Tsukiko to remember those days and establishes the format that the book will stick to. In the second chapter she gets a phone call from another friend, while the third mixes things up a bit by having that chapter's boy as a current classmate at the same college. Regardless of how she is reminded, however, each encounter triggers a memory of high school that then comprises the majority of the chapter. Small moments take place in the present, denoted by black page edges, which is an interesting reversal of the norm. The present is not always immediately discernible from the past, however, so the sooner you notice the page color, the better off you will be.
In the original games, Tsukiko has twelve potential suitors, including three teachers. This high number is in part due to the fact that she is the first female student to enroll in Seigetsu Academy, a formerly all-boys' school focusing on space sciences and astrology. As you might have guessed, each suitor represents a different sign of the Western zodiac, although that is not, at this point, really dealt with in this incarnation of the franchise. This first volume presents many of those potential love interests but only focuses on three – Yoh, Miyaji, and Tsubasa, each a hero from a different game. While each does have a relatively distinct character design and personality, they do get a bit lost in the overlarge crowd of named characters who parade through the pages, most of whom have hair that falls into their eyes, albeit in different ways. Minagawa does get points for making Miyaji's hair irritating his eyes a plot point, but for the most part the function of these designs is to make the reader yearn to go into the book with a pair of scissors. The sheer number of the males is presumably the result of trying to turn four games with three heroes each into a single series. Minagawa does a credible job of making each chapter's boy stand out, but readers unfamiliar with the games may feel a little overwhelmed.
For all of its contrivances, however, Starry Sky is somehow appealing and enjoyable. While it bucks the reverse harem convention of having only one of the boys actually be in love with the heroine, it still presents an appealing array of types to choose from. Rather than relying on activities to set the scene, Starry Sky puts the pressure on its characters to do the storytelling – a sports festival serves only to showcase one event, the student council's work doesn't usurp plot focus, and the idea of “childhood friends” simply provides an explanation for a continuing friendship. Tsukiko is not quite up to the task, but most of the boys fortunately are. They aren't breaking any new ground, but they cover the old pretty well.
Minagawa's art stays fairly close to the characters' appearances in the games and has a delicacy about it that works towards the overall air of “nostalgia” that Starry Sky seems to strive for. Hands and feet are consistently too small and legs taper off far too abruptly to hold anyone up, but this is minor compared to the fact that no one appears to have more than two facial expressions. On the other hand, panels have a nice flow to them and tone, while heavy, does not feel overused. The translation is mostly up to DMP's usual standard, although a few rogue lines appear to have fallen off the wagon. On the other hand, some lines are unintentionally amusing, such as Tsukiko's comment about Yoh's “translucent red eyes.”
Starry Sky starts off slow and while it does become more enjoyable, it never really achieves as much as other reverse harem tales. With a few too many characters and a slightly awkward format, readers not sold on the genre will likely have a difficult time getting into it. It does manage to achieve the nostalgic air it searches for, but its too-rosy portrayal of the lone girl in a school full of guys makes that seem slightly ridiculous at times. Perhaps the best way to enjoy this book is to simply turn off your brain for a bit and let Tsukiko's slightly insipid memories carry you away.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : C+
+ Interesting set up, some real question as to who Tsukiko will eventually end up with. Pleasant characters.
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