Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sakuya, a high school third-year, lives with her older cousin Kanade in a town by the sea. Sometimes her lack of parents brings her down, as does her notoriety around town as “that girl without parents,” but she finds comfort in her friends Sei and Yuuri, along with stargazing. Then on the day of her eighteenth birthday, a mysterious boy named Chihiro shows up at the house with a present for her. Sakuya becomes obsessed with him and actively tries to seek him out, but is it really a blessing when this conflicted soul transfers into her class?
If there is one unifying feature of Natsuki Takaya's manga, it's that there is always a darkness lurking behind the cheery facades of her characters. In Liselotte and Witch's Forest, Liselotte has been exiled from her homeland; in Fruits Basket, Tohru is desperately looking for a place to belong. Twinkle Stars, Takaya's eleven-volume series from 2007, explores both of these topics in its heroine Sakuya, a high school girl living with her adult male cousin by the sea. We're not entirely sure why he has custody of her, and it's clear that whatever the reason is, it's kept largely under wraps from the town as well as the readers. Kanade is seen as a slacker and general bum, and the townsfolk look at his sheltering of Sakuya with extreme prejudice. The existence of something upsetting, if not outright traumatic, behind the fact that Sakuya lives with him is evident, which seems to inform a lot of both Sakuya's and Chihiro's actions.
Sakuya herself is a model Takaya heroine – sweet and simple but with deep inner scars. She's prone to obsession and socially awkward, both of which help to explain her instant fascination with Chihiro when she meets him. Her two best friends Yuuri and Sei generally keep her, if not in check precisely, then at least safe from the torments of her peers and her own issues. Once again there's a definite sense that Sakuya's middle school (and possibly early high school) years were marked by bullying and other dark things, which makes her friends' careful monitoring make sense. There's also the fact that Yuuri clearly has a major crush on her to take into consideration, and it isn't entirely clear if Sei also has romantic feelings for Sakuya or if she's just especially protective. Regardless, Sakuya is oblivious to all of this, choosing to focus instead on the stars, Chihiro, and keeping her own negative emotions at bay.
The feeling that we're missing a lot of backstory is both a help and a hindrance to this omnibus volume, which contains the first two books in the series. On the one hand, it's a persistent mystery; wanting to discover why Chihiro is so two-faced and what's behind Sakuya's family situation can really drive your reading. On the other, it's somewhat annoying not to have all of the pertinent information to understand the hero and heroine of the book, and there are only so many sad wistful faces and mysterious flashbacks that you can take before it begins to grate. Not being privy to much more information about either of them by volume two than we were in volume one indicates that this may not be a series for easily frustrated readers, or for those who worry what the bomb will be when it's eventually dropped.
At this point, Twinkle Stars feels like a cross between an angsty young adult novel and a mystery story. It's certainly a combination that has the potential to work well if it pans out. It unfortunately allows for the trope of the jerk male love interest, which feels like the appropriate label for Chihiro right now. Being much less sympathetic than Sakuya, he hides his emotional baggage behind a bright smile and a sharp tongue. He goes from being kind and loving to utterly cold in the blink of an eye, and the only thing that really saves the character is how obviously this comes across as a calculated image. In the moments when he's wonderful, such as when he saves Sakuya from being bullied by the assembly in the omnibus' strongest scene, he's the hero Sakuya both needs and deserves. But then he follows it up with general jerkiness, which detracts from both the character and Sakuya's love for him as a plot device, at least if you're tired of the old trope where the good girl saves the troubled boy with her love.
That's where a lot of the story's potential comes from: both Sakuya and Chihiro stand to save each other, making this a reciprocal love story. We know Takaya is capable of doing this well, which was part of what made Fruits Basket so endearing, but thus far it feels uncertain if the tale will turn in this direction. When you come down to it, that's really the issue for anxious readers of this omnibus – the dark foreshadowing overwhelms the rest of the story, creating a distinct worry that there's some horrible revelation ahead. It's not that there should be no hints or foreshadowing, because those are both an important part of writing, but when the hints feel more important than the current plot, there's a problem, and this is just enough like Takaya's other works to make it difficult to get completely lost in it. Twinkle Stars' first two volumes have potential – but the question remains, the potential for what?
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Interesting implied backstory, the scene where Chihiro saves Sakuya from bullying is very strong, easy panel flow
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