It’s been a while since I reviewed any of the Yamada-kun series, even though I gave it one of the top thirty spots for my best of list for 2015. Let’s get back to it for the recent eighth and ninth volumes of the series when things get rather serious.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches Vols. 8 and 9 (Kodansha Comics)
Written and drawn by: Miki Yoshikawa
Translated by: David Rhie
Lettering by: Sara Linsley
With a troubling vision of the future, Yamada and friends are on the hunt for the identity of the last witch in the school. Whoever finds her will become the new president next year and if Miyamura gets in, Shiraishi will be safe. However, little does Yamada know that by discovering the identity of the witch, everything will come falling down around him.
The reason for combining these two volumes together for a review is that the story really starts heating up more than it ever has in these books. We learn the identities of all the witches and discover what their powers are, we get hit with a shocking development that’s pretty dramatic and raises the stakes pretty high for Yamada, and we learn there’s a bit more to the Student Council than what they let on. There are a ton of new developments over the course of these two volumes with some big drama, probably more so than in the previous books.
But ignoring the sheer amount of story development, was any of it good? The short answer to that is: Yes. The story has been really good and quite engaging. The plot developments make sense and follow along with how things have been hinted at–for example, the student council has always been a bit sketchy and manipulative in the past, despite their friendly and silly exterior at points. The moves they pull here make sense and their ultimate motivation, while still cloudy, is quite intriguing. Leona Miyamura’s isolation and paranoia finally makes sense and you can see how it has really messed her up. The drama caused by the seventh witch and what it does to Yamada is heartbreaking and well executed in how it affects him and a lot of the other characters. Everything just comes together so well in how it plays out that I’m invested in the story more than ever.
Even beyond that, this story wouldn’t work without its well written characters. Due to the major events in these two volumes, you see how much growth and development this cast has underwent over the course of the series. While some of their traits from their first appearances still remain, they do feel different. Yamada is no longer this angry loner that doesn’t care much about his life, now really caring about all of his friends and others. Shiraishi is far friendlier and more open to other people than she ever was (just look at her treatment of Yamada at the beginning of the series and after her memories disappear). Heck, there have even been minor developments with characters like Nene Odagiri and Shinichi Tamaki that paint them in a better light after the events of these two books.
There are some minor problems with the characterization, however. A couple of the characters, like Miyabi Itou and Meiko Otsuka, don’t really get a whole lot of focus or growth here. They are billed as part of the main cast in the list of characters at the beginning each volume, but there’s just not much focus given to them. There’s also some characterization that we’re told about instead of being shown, like Maria Sarushima supposedly abusing her powers again after her memory wipe, which is a little frustrating since we couldn’t see it. Then there is the final witch, Rika Saionji, and how she’s been portrayed. Her power is quite frightening–she has this creepy tendency of popping up when you least expect it, and there’s this intimidation factor that occasionally pops up. However, Yoshikawa tends to write her character as being rather airheaded in how she talks and jokes about how she likes not wearing underwear. These traits really undermined Rika at points and it’s rather disappointing (hopefully we get more levels to her soon).
I lost my eyes in an accident three years ago. Only artistically placed shadows remain.
Yoshikawa’s writing is still very good here. Besides the good characterization, the storytelling has been well handled as well. The story moves at a good pace, keeping each chapter eventful on a character, story, or humor level. Very rarely does a chapter feel padded out or a waste of time because of that. At worst, the story may be moving too quickly at some points, but on the other hand, it does prevent things from feeling padded out at any point. The tone of the book is great as well. Despite how serious and dramatic the manga can be at points, it never loses its sense of humor or upbeat nature. It balances both sides very well, knowing when to be serious and when to be funny, and it rarely feels like one side is out of place in a scene. There are still some morally dubious elements with Odagiri’s powers that can be uncomfortable to some, but Odagiri does undergo some growth that changes her views on her charm power. But regardless, outside of some minor nitpicks, the writing has been great on the manga so far.
The artwork is still a joy to look at as well. Yoshikawa’s style is still reminiscent of Fairy Tail (again, probably due to her work with that series’ creator), but it suits the manga very well. The characters are generally very expressive and energetic, with wild, exaggerated expressions and body language. It really helps sell a lot of the comedy and its physical humor on display, like with Tamaki trying to get Yamada to team up with him or when someone has an excited reaction. The art is also good with pulling back and helping depict the drama and serious moments in the story, like when Yamada is talking on the phone with Odagiri (the looks of concern on their faces are excellent). The layouts are generally well put together, with scenes flowing well from panel to panel and transitions from one to next not being stilted in slightest. The art is a bit static at times and the fanservice on occasion can be really awkward in places, like one chapter opening up with a panty shot for no reason (not even as a joke or anything).
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches volumes 8 and 9 really heat up the series like never before. Between the strong developments in the story and the great characterization, everything that has been building since the very beginning is coming together just perfectly. While there are problems that certainly detract from the experience, this has been one of the best series Kodansha has put out this year. Without a doubt, if you like romance, comedy, and some drama that can sneak into a series when you least at expect it, Yamada-kun and the Seven the Witches is the series for you.