Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Takane & Hana
Hana Nonomura is less than thrilled when her beautiful but slightly flighty older sister Yukari refuses to go to an arranged marriage meeting with the prestigious grandson of the owner of their dad's company. Since Mr. Nonomura isn't interested in losing his job, he slaps a wig on sixteen-year-old Hana and makes her go in Yukari's place. Neither Hana nor Takane Saibara are impressed with each other at first, but when Hana throws her wig in Takane's face, he finds himself wondering if maybe she isn't worth pursuing after all.
At first glance, Takane & Hana looks like any one of a number of vaguely problematic shoujo romances. It features a sixteen-year-old heroine and a twenty-six-year-old hero, an overbearing romantic lead, and a host of power dynamic issues. What makes this different from the rest of the pack, however, is that Takane & Hana is fully aware of its own problems, addressing them from the get-go. Hana knows that Takane is too old for her, and Takane at this point in the story is equally as aware of their age-based unsuitability. Hana's also cognizant of the fact that he's in a position of power over not just her, but her entire family, while Takane recognizes his own questionable motives in both pursuing a relationship with Hana and in his high-handed treatment of her. This gives the volume an edge in terms of content that other similar series just don't have, and while it could be increasingly problematic further along the line, right now it simply feels like something a little different and less uncomfortable than the norm.
Hana and Takane get thrown together in the first place because of both overbearing adults and deceptions. When Takane's grandfather, the head of the Takaba Group, a major political and economic force, sees her older sister Yukari, he decides that he wants her for his grandson. To that end he makes Hana and Yukari's father an offer he's afraid to refuse – bring Yukari to an arranged marriage meeting. Yukari, however, already has a boyfriend, and she's not interested in being forced to go along with Takaba's schemes…so she flippantly tells her father to take Hana instead. This is symptomatic of how Hana is basically a second-class child in her family – as the traditional beauty, Yukari almost always gets her way. (A flashback shows Yukari voting to go to an aquarium while Hana wants to go to an amusement park; it's resolved when their mother says that they went to a lot of amusement parks when Yukari was little, presumably before Hana was born.) Hana's understandably unhappy about the whole thing, and when Takane walks in and immediately insults all the make-up her parents slathered her with to make her look older, she gets angry and yells at him before storming off. As is the norm in this kind of story, this poor treatment the likes of which no one has ever dared to give him instantly fascinates Takane, and he begins to seek Hana out.
The fact that neither of them are entirely comfortable or sure what they're doing is what makes this set up work better than it might otherwise. Hana can't understand why he's interested in a kid like her, and Takane can't quite put his finger on whether or not he's into her romantically or platonically. That he's not the most mature specimen definitely factors into this, although as the book goes on it becomes evident that it's not that he hasn't matured so much as the fact that he hasn't really been given the chance to. He's still very much under Grandpa's thumb, and he's come to quietly resent how he's treated. Hana doesn't handle him with any care whatsoever (unless someone else is picking on him), and that's something he's never experienced. More than wanting to date her he's just interested in spending time with her and being treated like a regular person, but that's not something he can bring himself to tell her. As for Hana, she's not particularly comfortable being shepherded around to all of his usual fancy hang-outs, but she does recognize that there's someone worth getting to know underneath his arrogance.
At this point the story is much more about two very different people becoming friends than it is about romance. Although they do have one kiss, it's because Hana is teasing him for being awkward with her, and it unsettles Takane far more than Hana. She doesn't entirely like him, but she also is beginning to feel protective of him, especially because it becomes obvious to her that he's not had a chance to be a normal guy. That said, she's still very much a high school girl, and she's not a whole lot more mature than he is, so she's more likely to tease him or have a snarky comeback than to be outwardly kind. It's not so much a case of give and take as it is of push and pull, like they're both yanking on a rope trying to prove that somehow they're people worth the other's time, even if they'd die before admitting it.
Yuki Shiwasu comments that Takane isn't the kind of hero she typically writes (or likes), which makes the success of Takane as a character more impressive. He's not a great guy, but we can see that he's at least trying, something Hana recognizes as well. Shiwasu's art is fairly typical of the genre and original magazine but attractive nonetheless, with nice clean character art and characters actually change their clothes and hair from day to day, which feels unusual. The panels can get a bit confusing as to reading order at times, which is more of an issue in earlier chapters.
Takane & Hana won't appeal to all readers of shoujo romance just because of its base premise of a sixteen-year-old girl getting involved with a twenty-six-year-old man. Shiwasu does make it work much better than you might otherwise expect, however, with characters fully aware of their age gap and a relationship that right now is much more about friendship than romance. It's an interesting take on the genre if nothing else.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Characters who are self-aware about their issues, interesting take on power imbalance romance, nice details in art
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