Have you ever known a person who was reasonably well off but was into something inadvisable? Like, he had himself a lovely wife, a middle-class home, and a stable job but started poking about in gambling. It was just something he was dabbling in, not yet a habit, and you warned him about getting in too deep, and the next time you see him a few months or years down the line, he's 100K in debt, the house was foreclosed on, his wife left him, and he's entering poker matches using spare change dug out from thrown-out couches. This parable is a metaphor for how I feel about volume 2 of There's No Way a Token Human Like Me Could Be Popular, Right?
The plot goes like so: Yuuji Tomoki, who's been tragically unpopular with girls all his life, suddenly receives a love letter from his classmate, Kana Hasaki, who confesses to and friendzones him in the same breath. Turns out she wants to rekindle her friendship with Touka, so Yuuji goes about helping her to this end, while pretending her physical attraction to him can't possibly mean she wants them to run for local office so that they can engage in amorous congress.
I call this the plot, but it's so transparent that birds fly into it constantly. The only effort put in to bring the two girls together is holding a study session, and at some random point, the book claps its hands and declares, “We did it! They're friends again!” Normally, the establishment of the goal is when stories get creative with the solutions for achieving that goal, but There's No Way a Ridiculously Average Guy Like Me Could Be Popular, Right? loses motivation from the get-go. It's like someone who announces they're going to become an amazing pianist, then promptly gives up after three days, and when you ask them about how the practice is going, they, embarrassed to confess the piano was too hard for them, remark how they can play Flight of the Bumblebee with their eyes closed.
Since she's on the cover, it only stands that Kana would be the leading lady this volume, but in developing her, the volume forgets about Touka. Not in the vaudeville-hooking-you-off-the-stage way, but in the completely-forgetting-any-sort-of-character-development way. She acted like the world's crabbiest crab, but the first volume gave us enough on her personal struggles that we understood the cause behind her attitude malfunction. Now that she wants to make things official with Yuuji, however, she's dissolved into a clingy, jealous girlfriend who'll incinerate a brothel if another girl so much as glances in her fake boyfriend's direction. But I don't understand what she needs to feel threatened about. Yuuji's blacklisted by the global female population, so Touka's an endangered species in wanting to pucker up with his movie villain face.
But in an inspiring tale of species on the brink, Touka's kind pulls through, and now there're all sorts of girls who want to drool over Yuuji's shirtless figure. Touka and Kana have been mentioned, but his teacher just finished Domestic Girlfriend and added it to her Top 5 Manga list. There's this scene partway in where his teacher tries getting something out of his hair and ends up falling on top of him in true-blue anime clumsiness, and afterwards, she gets all blushy-crushy around him. It was at this moment when I became thoroughly disappointed in There's No Way an All-American Boy Like Me Could Be Popular, Right? The first volume had a time playing around with conventional romantic tropes, but now it's fallen into the quagmire of conventional romantic tropes. Yuuji was once upon a time a deeply unpopular student, but now that he's claimed stardom as a protagonist, every drop-dead gorgeous woman in his life suddenly wants to go on a date with him to the marriage registration office. It's like every gold digger in the prefecture just found out he's heir to his millionaire grandfather's oil company. Also, some dude goes gay for him, because a harem isn't complete unless it's including every possible demographic, I guess.
The plot doesn't solidify until the back half, and it's when Kana takes over narration duty to share her backstory that this volume becomes good. There's almost this Your Name musubi between the two, and Kana has a tender style of narration which adds to the sweetness factor of her and Yuuji's connection. I only wish she would give Yuuji some pointers on how to match your style to the moment, because he has a knack for ruining moderately emotional scenes by uncouthly remarking, “D'oh, I fucked up.”
I won't go so far as to call volume 2 terrible, but I will say I'm deeply disappointed in it. The first volume had its faults, but it respected its characters and wanted to tell us about the downs they suffer and their potential for happiness or contentment in each other. Gone is the nuance and complexity, and what we get is a romance series doing what every other third-rate romance series has already done. I'm not looking forward to volume 3, when Yuuji accidentally walks in on one of the girls changing and she embarrassedly stammers, “Y-You know...I don't mind if it's you who sees me like this, Tomoki-senpai-kun...”