The first Houkago Play followed a “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend” as they just hang out, playing and talking about video games and other random things. While Houkago Play 2 is considered a sequel, the Boyfriend and Girlfriend from the first manga never make an appearance in this story. Instead, we follow a new un-named boy and girl pair as they hang out together in a manga club room after school.
So how does this manga compare to the first in the series and how does it stand on its own? Here are my category breakouts:
-----Story - 7 out of 10-----
This 4-koma slice of life series doesn’t break
a lot of ground in the story department. A lot of the manga is simply a bunch of video game references with most of the proper names censored, making it hard to track down the references if you don’t immediately recognize them. Also, while the first Houkago Play was a refreshing bit of manga depicting an already established relationship, Houkago Play 2 has a more typical slow-burn of a developing relationship. While the story does stumble quite a bit in the beginning, even by slice of life standards, it does do a few interesting things (such as some rather well-done strips with no dialog) and picks up quite a bit later on as it focused more on drawing manga and the characters’ relationship. In the end, it does have a rather satisfying conclusion for the two characters, standing very well on its own.
-----Art - 6 out of 10-----
Now I personally enjoy the art style of the Houkago Play series quite a bit. It’s very unique and stylish. I think a lot of other people can find it to be attractive as well and you can decide if you do or don’t like the style based solely on the covers of the various books. However, the art category takes a major hit from me here due to what I see as a critical graphic design flaw: the speech bubbles usually have no indication of what character the dialog is coming from. In the first Houkago Play, the speech bubbles almost always had pointers to indicate who is saying what. But in Houkago Play 2, pointers are only ever included for the rare thought bubbles in the series. As the two characters go back and forth talking to each other, it is often difficult to figure out which character is saying what. This can make what should be a simple 4-panle comic read into a bit of a chore. It really hurts the flow of the story. Because of this, the strips that have absolutely no dialog are some of my favorites. It’s really a shame.
-----Characters - 8 out of 10-----
While this is a slice of life manga, the characters are very important. For the most part, the two characters in this series are fun to watch and have a good amount of chemistry. Senpai (the girl) in particular has a surprising amount of depth to her with many scenes in which you can really feel her anxiety when dealing with her feelings, both in dealing with the boy and in creating manga. While the characters aren’t absolutely amazing and I still like Girlfriend from the first manga much more, I did find myself legitimately caring about these two and their relationship by the end.
-----Enjoyment - 8 out of 10-----
Despite the graphical hardship of its bad speech bubbles, I enjoyed Houkago Play 2 quite a bit. As far as my own enjoyment goes, I like it about as much as the first Houkago Play. While the beginning felt like a slog at times (mostly due to the speech bubbles and references I largely didn’t connect with), the payoff at the end was well worth it.
-----Overall - 7 out of 10 (Conclusion)-----
Overall, this is a pretty solid single-volume 4-koma slice of life manga. Objectively speaking, I’d say that the first Houkago Play is a bit better as it doesn’t have the same speech bubble issue and the novelty of the characters’ relationship already being cemented throughout the entire run of that manga is rather nice. But I still think there is a lot to enjoy in Houkago Play 2. It may even be more up your alley than the first manga if you are someone who enjoys creating art or other creative endeavors as Senpai’s joy and hardship in drawing manga can be very relatable. Give it a try!