[Contains Minor Spoilers]
I went into this with high expectations, thinking it seemed like a promising Shounen Ai story that would actually focus on a realistic depiction of a intimate relationship between two fairly ordinary boys. My disappointment may have been partially the fault of my own high expectations, but nevertheless, "Umibe no Étranger" turned out to be a surprisingly frustrating read. I will try to give a good amount of objective criticism, but I will also be including subjective opinion in the "Enjoyment" section.
Despite having a rather simplistic concept, it actually seemed somewhat promising at the start. It initially felt like the story was going to be focusing on the complex developing feelings of the characters in-depth, based on the simplistic yet sentimental feel of the overall concept and setting. It's clear that the story does attempt to do this, but the events that occurred throughout the story to aid in this exploration of the characters' feelings were sometimes nonsensical and felt far from being realistic. One major flaw of "Umibe no Étranger" is its enormous lack of actual development for Shun and Mio's relationship and feelings towards each other. It goes from them being complete strangers to apparent lovers in less than a blink of an eye, missing a lot of important developments in their overall relationship. There is a huge empty gap between the point where Shun and Mio have just met and gotten acquainted and the point where they seem to be deeply romantically interested in each other. This major flaw is what makes the story feel detached and unrealistic, since there is barely any content to slowly and meaningfully develop the origination and growth of these significant feelings of Shun and Mio, making their relationship feel strangely forced and therefore not as meaningful. The point at which Shun and Mio's romantic relationship officially begins is not made clear either, and when it is, it is done in a trifling manner, causing this important establishment to lose its significance and meaning. The story starts out just fine, but it is near the end of the first chapter that the storytelling begins to take a questionable turn.
The characters also seemed promising at first, also feeling as if they would be relatively realistic depictions of real people, but even this turned out otherwise. Some aspects of the characters were done well; the focus on the characters' personal life problems gave them more depth, but this wasn't handled so well in the end either, since there were certain issues that weren't properly addressed and simply brushed off. Shun and Mio are supposed to be around 20 for most of the story, but they behave disproportionately childlike and feel a lot more like a couple of awkward, developing teenagers rather than actual adults. The strange behaviour of the characters is further emphasized when Sakurako comes into play. Not only is Sakurako's behaviour questionable, but the things Mio ends up doing during that part of the story are even more unrealistic and disorienting. The characters ended up feeling very disconnected from reality and unfortunately did not serve to depict anything close to real people or the way real people behave.
I think the art actually helps to draw the attention of the reader away from the rather lackluster writing, making the work feel much more emotionally engaging. The art has a warm, organic feel to it, and resembles the art style of KyoAni works while also giving off a slight Ghibli vibe. It's especially expressive and does a good job at evoking various emotions in the reader, which is why readers may miss major flaws and many little shortcomings of the story. If the writing was as good as the art, "Umibe no Étranger" could have been almost a masterpiece.
I finished this in one setting, and experienced a headache-inducing emotional rollercoaster as I did, but not for the right reasons. There were times I was genuinely immersed in the story's events and the characters' actions, but other times I was just so thrown off by unwarranted and out-of-place behaviours of characters and events that I was stuck in an awkward place of frustration, bewilderment, and disappointment. I was really excited to get into it at first, since it looked so promising, but I guess this only ended up fuelling my disappointment in the end. The thing is that it wasn't completely bad throughout, which is what confused and emotionally frustrated me. After I'd finished the whole thing, I just felt plain bothered. I put a question mark in the rating for this section because I'm really not sure how I feel about it; I know that I experienced various emotions reading this but afterwards it just felt disappointing and a little frustrating.
I wouldn't really recommend "Umibe no Étranger" to readers who tend to focus more on the technical aspects of story writing, but I wouldn't discourage a casual reader from checking it out. I would, however, recommend it to "yaoi" fans who are mainly exposed to fetishized, unrealistic depictions of gay men in extremely unrealistic situations revolving around almost nothing but sex, since the characters and setting of "Umibe no Étranger" are relatively more realistic and meaningful. "Umibe no Étranger" may have lackluster writing and may not have done a very good job at realistically depicting LGBT+ people (or people at all, really), but it is refreshing to see that it at least made a genuine effort to convey a somewhat authentic and heartwarming story, because not many works focusing on same-sex couples do (as seen with countless "yaoi" and even "yuri" works).
This review is for "Umibe no Étranger," I have yet to read the sequel "Harukaze no Étranger," but I will do so as soon as I can. I was left with a feeling of not just disappointment, but dissatisfaction, after "Umibe no Étranger," and strangely enough, I kind of really want to read "Harukaze no Étranger," to see how Kanna Kii handles the sequel and if the story writing possibly ends up changing for the better.
Thank you for reading!