One thing that Kare Kano does differently from a lot of shoujo manga is that it puts its side stories about the main couple’s friends in the middle of the series rather than the end. That might be a disruptive and frustrating choice if one is consuming the story rapidly—the “Dark Arima” arc has been left hanging since the end of volume nine—but for someone like me, who hasn’t read a volume of this series in a year, the two-volume tale of the romance between childlike Tsubasa and her step-brother, Kazuma, works as a nice, self-contained reintroduction to Kare Kano‘s characters and plot.
When Tsubasa’s doting father married Kazuma’s mother, each lonely only child acquired a new step-sibling. Tsubasa was very upset at first, but grew to like her step-brother a lot and open up to him in a way she had with no one else. Kazuma fights his more mature attraction for her, drawn to the sad and lonely side of her that only he gets to see, especially as he feels an increasingly strong desire to devote himself more fully to his musical career with the indie band, Yin and Yang. Feelings of doubt and insecurity about his musical worth plague him, however, and he spends a lot of time trying to figure out what he wants and should do. He eventually realizes that his love for Tsubasa is a strength rather than a weakness, as allowing himself to experience it positively impacts his songwriting abilities and makes him feel like a more legitimate part of the band.
Tsubasa has always been my least favorite character in the series. Since her introduction, she’s been portrayed as immature and violent, and often pretty dumb. These two volumes make the case that she’s actually refusing to grow up on purpose, putting up walls to deflect things she’s not ready to deal with yet. She’s certainly far more tolerable here than she ever has been before, and by the end of the story seems to have grown up a great deal. Originally viewing Kazuma as a “safe” guy by whom she can feel adored without entering into anything more complicated, her front row center presence at a Yin and Yang concert signals that she accepts both Kazuma’s dedication to music as well as his feelings for her.
While there are certainly moments between Kazuma and Tsubasa that are important, not just between them but for the story at large (I very much hope Tsubasa retains her newfound maturity), I still can’t get very excited about their relationship. Part of the problem is that they’re not actually together a lot in these two volumes: it seems like Kazuma spends much more time with his (meant to be amusing but not actually amusing at all) bandmates than he does with her. Granted, this is actually indicative of their circumstances, and Kazuma’s absence from Tsubasa’s world and her hatred of the music that keeps him from her is a big part of the story, but it seems they’re only able to connect for a few pages at a time which hampers my ability to really understand how they’d function together as a couple.
I’m also rather confused about the passage of time. From the time Kazuma’s new song prompts Yin and Yang to give a stellar performance to the concert Tsubasa attends, eight months pass. Have these eight months also passed uneventfully for Yukino and Arima, who appear throughout these volumes sporadically, functioning solely as Yin and Yang fans? Perhaps it was a convenient way for Tsuda to leave her leads in a holding pattern while whisking them that much nearer to graduation. Time will tell, I suppose.
Ultimately, these two volumes are decent, but disappointing, too. At least the focus returns to Yukino and Arima with the next volume.