"You're my daytime shooting star."
Falling in love has been likened many times to being on a rollercoaster—it has its ups, its downs, its twists and turns. But an amusement park ride always comes to an end eventually, then you're left to wait in a long line before you get the opportunity to ride again. That metaphor is strangely appropriate, especially for this manga. It's not just about falling in love the first time—it's about picking up the pieces when the first time doesn't work, and eventually learning how to fall in love again.
The synopsis is deceptively simplistic in that it reads like any other school, slice of life shoujo manga you have ever seen. Suzume is a country bumpkin that moves to the city, and the mysterious man that helps her when she gets lost in the cement jungle happens to be her homeroom teacher. It would only sound more cliche if there was some romantic development between the two. Well, of course there is—its a romance manga, after all.
HnR is not bereft of any of the cliches that plague the shoujo genre, but it does avoid the gag-inducing pitfalls that a lot of them succumb to. However just because something avoids doing something common and boring doesn't inherently mean that it is good. What makes this series something of a gem is that it succeeds where many of its predecessors and peers have failed.
It has a compelling cast that encompasses even the most minor side characters. Almost everyone is multi-faceted and receives some level of development, even those more peripheral to the story. Shishio is an incredibly unique character in just how childish and immature given that he's a teacher, and just because he's an adult doesn't mean he's immune to making mistakes or poor decisions. If anything he exemplifies poor decision making, but that's part of being human. Suzume on the other hand is incredibly mature if not a bit clueless at times. The series is highly devoted to her development in learning what it means to love someone, because love is not something so simple as the butterflies fluttering around in your stomach when you see the person you like. Loving someone is making sacrifices, is being honest—so much more than she is initially prepared for.
Mamura, for his part, is an interesting foil to Shishio. He is not unflawed, and in fact spends the majority of the story learning how to be a more open person when he's initially so shut off from everyone else. Suzume opens his eyes to the rest of the world, and gradually he's able to be a little more honest with himself. He's not without his moments of childishness, but he matches those with moments of wisdom as well. Mamura is someone who is incredibly perceptive and observant, especially when it comes to Suzume.
In regards to the plot, we are presented with the trope of student-teacher but it's not dealt with as typically or flippantly, in fact it's incredibly realistic for a shoujo manga. Angst is not present in this story for the sake of angst, but because this is how real life works—this is what happens when two people enter a relationship when neither one of them are fully prepared for or aware of what it means to love someone when the rest of society would look down on you for it. In fact, that's never the only obstacle when you love someone. Your love also means the scrutiny of the people around you, the people who care about you and may be concerned about your relationship. The fact is, there aren't always happy endings to every love tale, most of them are bittersweet. We hurt, we learn, we move on. That is exactly the essence of this story—learning not to hang on to the past, learning that true happiness means moving forward.
The art for HnR is phenomenal, not just because it is beautiful and clean. But because every panel is expressively constructed, and each page has little tidbits in the background that give you deeper insight into the characters—all of whom are individually flawed with their own set of strengths. Even their designs are unique enough that you will not have any trouble differentiating between each character. It's clear that Yamamori-sensei went to great length to ensure each character was fleshed out in even minor ways. She is incredibly talented especially at the emotional scenes, where the dialogue and the panels so clearly convey much more emotion than what's given on the surface.
This has been a third revision for this review as I took some time after finishing the series to really contemplate its strengths, weaknesses, and how well it fulfilled its potential. A love triangle is not a popular trope, in fact it's something that most people generally tend to get annoyed at. It's overdone especially in shoujo, and so it's no surprise that many people will dislike this series because it utilizes that very cliche.
However, I contend that love triangles in other series feel contrived, superficial and serve only to drag out the plot and deliver unnecessary angst. This is not the purpose of this trope in HnR. It exists here as a integral part of the plot that serves not only to break the traditional mold of shoujo where the end pairing is obvious, but also to demonstrate an important point—moving on. Too many romance series focus on holding on to relationships when they only hurt you, whereas HnR focuses on moving on toward the future. It wasn't just a suspenseful device, although it certainly served the purpose of keeping us on pins and needles with bated breath 'til the very end, wondering who Suzume would truly end up with.
Having said all this and expressed why I am so satisfied and endorse this series so much, I feel it's only fair to admit that the end pairing was not the one I was hoping for in my heart of hearts, but it was the one that was necessary for this series to be as amazing as it is and for the characters to stay true to who they are. Yamamori has presented us with a realistic story of first love, how it comes with heartache and how you eventually learn to move on when that happens. And how you'll eventually understand what it means to be someone else's daytime shooting star.