Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Those Summer Days
Nine years have passed since Tamaki graduated from high school, but she's still haunted by something that happened in her second year. When she meets up with five of her friends from that time at their high school reunion, she learns that they, too, harbor regrets. Maybe that's why, after a night of drinking, all of them find themselves ten years in the past, their twenty-seven-year-old consciousnesses living in their seventeen-year-old bodies. Are they here to put their regrets to bed? Should they let the tragedies of the past play out again? That's something that they'll have to figure out…and quickly.
Nostalgia can be a trap. Sometimes it just convinces you that things were better when you were a kid, other times it prevents you from moving forward or being happy. In Those Summer Days, shoujo/josei mangaka Chika's English-language debut, the protagonists of the story have to decide how to handle a sudden chance to relive the summer of their second year in high school, a time when the seventh member of their friend group, Taru, suffered an as-yet-undisclosed accident.
If this sounds a bit like Ichigo Takano's Orange, that's actually a pretty fair comparison. The difference here is that while in Orange the characters were focused on one specific tragic event, in Those Summer Days, there's a lot more going on. Yes, people want to save Taru, specifically Takumi, but he also wants a chance to tell Tamaki how he feels about her. Likewise quiet Moe wants to change herself so that she's a more confident adult in ten years, while Taichi wants to prevent his debilitating knee injury that cut short his soccer career. On the opposite side is Yuka, who has a son ten years in the future who she's desperate to get back to. She's insistent that no one do anything to change what happened.
At first it's easy to see Yuka as selfish, especially since at least two of the others are trying to save Taru's life. But in her eyes, Yuka's doing the same thing: to her, any future that doesn't result in her son being born is one where he has effectively been killed. To Yuka, Taru's tragedy is a foregone conclusion, something she's dealt with and relegated to her past. Her son is her life now, and she can't imagine living without him. In some ways we could see her as the only person who has successfully moved on from high school – sure, her life isn't perfect as a divorced single mom, but she's also actively living it and looking forward. The others could be said to be stuck, still drowning in the what-ifs of their junior year.
This sets the characters up for more conflict than cooperation, and that makes the story fairly tense. Add to all of this the dual facts that they're trying to hide what's happened (and maybe will happen) from Taru and the mysterious text messages they're all getting, reminding them of past sins. There's a dark mystery element to both of these aspects of the story, mostly in the fact that the text messages are trying to foment suspicion among the core group of six. Why the sender wants to do this isn't clear, but it's likely wrapped up in Taru's character, who is clearly more than he seems.
One very real consideration that none of the characters seem to have thought of is that Taru is also a time traveler. There's a very strong implication that he didn't actually die in the accident Tamaki, Taichi, and Takumi are all anticipating and that, like the hero of another time travel manga, he's simply been in a coma for ten years. What if he's somehow behind their transportation to the past? He may see the others as culpable in his accident and is working to change his fate while actively driving the rest of them apart. Add in the fact that he and Takumi are (and were) in competition for Tamaki's affections and that thus far Tamaki is the only one who hasn't received a personalized mean text and this is starting to feel like a real possibility. As Moe learns, there's something a little scary about Taru, and it's beginning to look like that's not just a side of him even his best friend didn't know, but the result of something else.
Chika manages a nice balance between time-travel drama, mystery, and romance, blending the three into a smooth narrative hybrid. There are a few panels where it feels like an abrupt shift has been made from one topic or character to the next, but the books are both easy, fast reads. It's a good thing this series is complete in five volumes, because the suspense is very strong here but wouldn't necessarily survive being strung out for too long. The art is fairly typical of its genre, but the characters are all easily distinguishable and age believably in both directions.
Those Summer Days is, in some ways, a bit like a combination of Orange and Erased, but it also withstands the comparisons to hold its own. It's an intriguing time travel story about second chances and whether or not they ought to be taken as the characters try to figure out if they're a gift…or a trap.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Good suspense and mystery elements, characters all have their own clear motives, reads quickly
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