Written by C. C. Cooper on 19 Apr 2022
Distributor J-Novel Club • Author/Artist Kyosuke Kamishiro/TakayaKi • Price £5.03
For the hundreds of series out there featuring or spotlighting romance, practically none of them acknowledge breakups. Falling in love with your soulmate on the first try is everybody's goal, but chances are that things won't work out in the long- or even short-term, because romance, when you get down to it, is a casino, and wooing somebody is a spin at the roulette table.
In middle school, Mizuto Irido met, befriended, and eventually fell in love with the bookish Yume Ayai, and the two were as tight as an Albright knot. They chatted, they laughed, they hung out, they held hands. They did what every romantic daydreams of. But then things turned sour, so they broke up, and it wasn't the most amicable of break-ups. Mizuto lost that spin as horribly as anyone can, and his luck unbelievably goes downhill from there—Or so he'll have you believe.
Fronting the story is all this talk on Mizuto's behalf about what a nasty girl Yume was and how he wishes he could travel back in time and keep his middle school self from ever meeting her, and all these slights condition you into believing that maybe Yume was a backstabbing cheater who manipulated his emotions and verbally abused him.
The beginning of the end of their relationship was when Yume became more outgoing and talked to more people than just Mizuto. He became jealous that he wasn't the only one in her life and expressed these feelings to her, to which she replied, “If I can't platonically talk to other boys, then you can't platonically talk to other girls.”
My Stepmom's Daughter is My Ex holds the world record for fewest pages required to make me hate a series and its protagonist. After all that preface about how delusional their relationship was and how he regrets ever getting involved with her in the first place, Mizuto's hatred of Yume comes from her throwing his hypocrisy back in his face.
Fucking grow up, dude. I get that they were middle schoolers, who are incorrigibly stupid, but he's looking back at these events from high school, when he should be a little wiser and a little more mature. At some point, he should've realized that the responsibility was squarely on his lap. If he posted this story on the Am I the Asshole? subreddit, the vote would've been nearly unanimous: he was the asshole. A few outliers would've said everybody here sucks, because Yume wasn't wholly cordial in her responses, but the girl, for her part, was just trying to have a more fulfilling social life and had to contend with a possessive boyfriend.
I dropped this book after the first chapter, and maybe that makes me a bad reviewer. For all I know, Mizuto would come around toward the end and admit that he was undeniably at fault for their break-up, but I couldn't deal with the constant vitriol he spewed about his ex. The girl would cough and he'd complain that she was a disease-spreading pathogen. Past experience has taught me that whatever hope I have for a light novel never materializes, so there was no purpose in trudging through the toxicity to catch the tiniest glimmering gemstone. Once I got it to a pawnshop, the dealer would tell me it's fake, anyway.
From Toxic Classmate to Girlfriend Goals (Vol. 1)
Since I didn't finish My Stepmom's Daughter Is My Ex, I figure it's only fair that I review something I did finish, From Toxic Classmate to Girlfriend Goals. The synopsis is that Naoya Sasahara saves Koyuki Shirogane from a rando hitting on her, and she falls in love with him and tries getting closer, but since she's a tsundere, she acts all huffy about her behavior and motives. No elaborate paragraph about life turning upside-down necessary.
The selling point of From Poisonous Classmate to Lover Goals is seeing Koyuki go from tsun to dere, but it has a more interesting gimmick in Naoya's talent for reading body language, which he's mighty wild with. Just from a broad glance, he can glean a person's entire backstory, thoughts, and credit score with 98.785% accuracy, and it's pretty fun seeing him decode a person just from minor gestures. I do wish we got the details of a person's body language before his reading, so that we, the reader, have the chance to gauge what's up with a character, sort of like a mini mystery. And cool as his talent is, it's also lacking in oomph, not so much the talent itself, but how it's utilized. Most of its uses aren't substantial, just translating Koyuki's tsun tongue, and the pair of instances it saves the day, it's a OHKO. No grand psychological game where he's trying to read an opponent actively working to fool him. That'd be a tight story, now that I'm conceptualizing it, and now I'm disappointed that's not what this series is.
From the title, it's obvious Naoya and Koyuki will end up together, but I wasn't prepared for them to try and set a speed record. In the third chapter, Naoya goes, “Oh, I like her,” a la Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer, and just like Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer, Naoya falls for Koyuki apropos of nothing. He has a past of rejecting girls because his constant mind-reading would either drive them away or overtax him, so love's not a ping on his radar. But with Koyuki, he just starts liking her, which is something that could reasonably happen, but his backstory presents a wall he needs to hurdle, and he just smashes through it without a second's care.
Koyuki is another one with a barrier put up, but hers gets in the way. Naoya likes her, and she knows he likes her, but whenever he makes a move to tell her, she dashes off, filches a homeless man's cardboard box, and hides in it. I'm not sure what her deal is. If any of my high school crushes told me they liked me, I would've been over the moon and whirling ecstatically around Mars, so it befuddles me why she can say to her overprotective father's face, “That boy sitting right there is my boyfriend,” but her poor li'l heart can't take hearing “I like you” from the mouth of said boyfriend. I'm being facetious, by the way. It's because the chase and an unending volley of “will they, or won't they?” moments keeps the pages of a romance turning, and if Naoya and Koyuki make things official, this series will have nothing else to say. It could host a myriad of character stories to tell, like Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, or the romance could shift to a subplot, like it is in Fuuka, but either option requires a flexing of literary muscles it doesn't have.
Of the volume's ten chapters, there is exactly one I enjoyed reading, and that's when Naoya meets Koyuki's father and wins him over dating sim-style, and then the old man likes him so much he declares the boy his son-in-law and that he'll be moving into their household after the wedding. Wacky though this exchange is, it sports a number of traits every other scene lacks: liveliness, earned from the comedic setup; a goal, in earning Koyuki's father's trust; suspense, from the fact that Naoya is gaining his future father-in-law's affections while the old man is clueless as to who he is, so it's up in the air how he'll react when he finds out; and length, since their time together is longer than thirty-nine seconds of reading material. Much of From Venomous Classmate to Partner Goals is just Naoya and Koyuki hanging out and having dates. None of it's particularly boring, but none of it reeled my eyeballs to the page. What little drama that simmers rapidly evaporates, and I could retire to the Caribbean if an eccentric billionaire gave me a million dollars each time Naoya smiled over seeing a new sliver of Koyuki's personality. The novel's hyper-fixated on presenting Naoya and Koyuki as a lovey-dovey, red-thread-of-fate couple that it even goes so far as to have a scene where Koyuki sucks on Naoya's bleeding finger for impromptu first-aid. All the sugary-sweet fluff was nauseating me, but that right there made me want to run down the nearest person and upchuck on their face.
You know, I had taken up reviewing the latest romance releases because I needed something to fill in the days between Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki volumes, and every single one turned out to be the most uninspired filth pumped out without the first care. Even series I liked initially dissolved into an amorphous blob indistinguishable from their original figure. But there's a lesson I learned here, and it's that you can't go picking your reads willy-nilly, and this double-feature is proof of that. My Stepmom's Daughter Is My Ex seems like a unique twist on romance, but it's just the malignant whines of an angry boy, and From Noxious Classmates to Darling Goals would accidentally get its girlfriend pregnant if it were a real teen, because it does whatever with no regard for the consequences. These are both shit series dumped on store shelves to con starving romantics like myself out of a quick buck.
A part-time reviewer these days of video games.
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