Aikawa Saki is one of my favourite mangakas and even though I may not always enjoy (or even stomach) her story lines, her art keeps me coming back for more.
Which is why I was shocked once I finished Houkago Sensei... because the story proves beyond a doubt how she has finally matured as a storyteller as well as at developing characters. Generally I found weak shoujo leads and naively besotted bishounen in her stories, where any tiny dialogue or event would cause a SHOCKED or a teary eyed response from the heroine at the drop of a hat (Yeah I'm talking about you Hotaru from
Boku kara kimi...) and misunderstandings and unsaid feelings created the majority of the plot. Well no more!
This one shot briefly introduces us to a cute and level headed Sakuma who is secretly working at a bar posing as a college student, and earning good money. Well, clearly conflict needs to be introduced so under very gallant circumstances, she is saved from being pawed by an inebriated customer by Sawamura sensei. She makes a hasty exit knowing he could blow her cover and what happens later at school when he confronts her and beyond is what forms the meat and potatoes of this chaste little one shot.
Story: Not highly original to be working part time, against school rules and to be caught by either a student or a teacher, but how it's handled is definitely novel. Mostly the bishounen ends up blackmailing the shoujo somehow or asking for small sexual favours, only here the hero takes the high road and offers to help her instead. Hmm interesting. AND Sakuma isn't all choked up about it, thinking how she doesn't deserve such kindness or how he's so understanding and gentle and descended from the heavens just to be her prince charming. Small twists and unexpected plot elements lend the story credibility and avoid the general nausea associated with how quickly the leading ladies fall for just any person simply because he's male and happened to be at the right place at the right time.
Art: Aikawa Saki. Nuff said. If you're not familiar with her artwork, I would urge you to read [Zenbu Kimi no Mono] or [Secret Kiss]. The bishounen always look smexy and glomp-worthy and the shoujo's look young enough to pass for 15-17 years but clean and cute enough for modern tastes. Her panels aren't littered with flowers or annoying hearts but often have interesting and relevant backgrounds adding to the mood. As far as this particular story goes, her character's expressions have only matured and there is less loud mouthed screaming and wide eyed innocence and more sneaky laughter and shy grinning. A+ for appealing to the seasoned shoujo reader.
Characters: Without spoiling too much of the story and plot-line, both characters are highly mature for one shot shoujos, not that they're precocious or making exceptional decisions, but they think before speaking and control their reactions and behave appropriately not given to drooling at moment's notice or impulsively grabbing the other for a kiss simply because the plot calls for it. They have shades and nuances in their personalities which is often missing in one shots, and gradually develop feelings straying from the Love at first sight! cliches.
Overall this was an enjoyable read and one I would hope is considered for serialization because it was a level headed shoujo with potential for doki doki moments and kyaaa inducing romantic scenes. A must read for fans of the genre and everyone else who could use a break from frustratingly fluffy stories steeped in stereotypes.