We get a reminder that time does move on, as Sae and Hiro apply for colleges. Still, there’s room for one more school festival and the usual round of holiday season activities.
Story/Art: Ume Aoki
Translation: Satsuki Yamashita
What They Say:
With Sae and Hiro staring their college entrance exams straight in the face, the underclassmen of the Hidamari Apartments are reminded that their own graduation is just a short time away…but there’s still plenty of time for the girls make fun memories in the meanwhile!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As just a brief reminder, Sunshine Sketch is Ume Aoki’s manga about a group of high school students at Yamabuki High School, a private school that is slightly unusual in that it has a dedicated arts division where students can study art full time in high school. So, let us get to the continuing adventures, such as they are, of Sae, Hiro, Yuno, Miyako, Nori, and Nazuna.
The opening chapters of this volume keep to the fun and funny, as Nazuna desperately tries to learn how to cook (to look good in front of her parents) and Miyako drags everyone to the beach…just because she heard on the news that there will be a lot of jellyfish around and she likes to eat jellyfish (sadly for her, the jellyfish seen in abundance are not the edible variety). The end of summer comes quickly as the new school term opens and we head straight into the Yamabuki Festival, the school festival. This is one final breather before the seniors (the third-years in Japanese high school) will have to devote themselves wholeheartedly (or not) to taking entrance exams for college. Yuno’s class puts on a haunted house (one of the staples of high school culture festivals, if anime is to be believed at all).
As we quickly pass on to Christmas and New Year’s, we get some focus on secondary characters as Sae’s younger sister Chika comes to visit and Natsume, the tsundere wannabe friend of Sae is invited by her to the Hidamari Apartments Christmas party. This is the final break for the two seniors before they enter the hell of examinations. In Japan, getting into college is a high-stakes competition filled with stress that can lead to mental breakdowns. In Sunshine Sketch, there is tension and a touch of drama, but it is all limited to just two chapters at the end of the book, never overshadowing the focus on gentle comedy and fun.
It would have been rather wearying, and depressing, to have focused solely on the intense pressure related to college entrance, so Ms. Aoki has done the sensible thing by giving us just a taste of that pressure and anxiety without letting it take over the volume. The swift passage of time, however, makes the volume feel slightly rushed, as if we’re headed to the exit in the chapters ahead. Of course, one fault that some authors have is not knowing when to end a story, or any part of a larger tale, so it may be best not to drag things out. We will have to wait a while to see, however, as this volume marks the point where the domestic release has caught up with the publication of compiled volumes in Japan. If you’ve been enjoying the story and the characters so far, you’ll be quite happy with this addition to the series.
Yen Press’ presentation continues to be very impressive. The cover and opening pages are in full color, as they have been since the first volume. The binding is very sturdy and the paper of good quality. The printing overall is crisp and clean without any signs of blurring or bleeding. As I said with the last volume, chapters open with more richly detailed greyscale panels, making me wonder if these were originally in color.
The lettering is crisp and clear throughout, without any immediately noticeable typos or other errors. All sound effects are kept in the original Japanese, with English translation fitted in in smaller type nearby, done without obscuring the image. Some signs and visual texts (cell phone texts) are replaced with English, but in a style that meshes with the context and does not look out of place. I cannot comment too much on the translation as I have not seen the original Japanese edition and do not have a proper knowledge of written Japanese. Honorifics are retained in the text without any explanatory notes, thus it is assumed that readers are familiar with the standard Japanese suffixes attached to names. The Translator’s Notes are included on the inside of the back cover, which do explain some of the more obscure references, though other terms in the main text which may not be widely known do not receive any comment.
If I had a single complaint, it was that on page 70, there was a Japanese poem which was left untranslated until it was noted again on the bottom of page 74. While the later reference is related and there was no room on the bottom of page 70 to print the translation (since there was another marginal note already taking up the space there), there was room on the bottom of page 71 to include the translation, which would have been somewhat more helpful at this point, close to its first appearance. This is just a minor quibble, a difference in editorial judgment.
As I have commented before, Ms. Aoki’s art is heavily stylized in terms of her presentation of people. She has a distinct method of rendering heads, squashing them to a certain degree, with the effect becoming very noticeable in super-deformed renderings and other expressive settings. While it is cute at times, sometimes it does make the characters appear quite cartoonish.
It’s starting to feel like the end is near for a major part of Sunshine Sketch, as we see Sae and Hiro preparing for the next step in life. As the two third-years take their entrance exams, the younger members of the Hidamari gang begin to wonder about what the next step will be for themselves. If you’re worried that this volume will be wallowing in nostalgia and separation anxiety, don’t fret. The focus is squarely on the fun and silly life of the girls with the looming change as little more than something in the background until the final two chapters of this volume. So, enjoy the school festival and some other fun times. Yet, it’s clear that the story is making preparations for two of its main characters to move on.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A-
Package Rating: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: December 17th, 2013