Published by Juné Manga, Asumiko Nakamura’s Graduate – Winter is a sequel to her previous series Classmates. The volume stars Rihito Sajou and Hikaru Kusakabe, a pair of romantically involved high school students who are still feeling out their relationship. Sajou is the much more introverted and studious of the pair, and finds himself taking on even more work than usual following a family emergency. Kusakabe tries his best to support his partner, but their differences in temperament and communication styles don’t make things easy. The couple also has to contend with Hara-sensei, Sajou’s teacher who views him in a light that’s inappropriate given their student/mentor relationship. Does Graduate – Winter juggle its various characters and plot points effectively? Is it good?
The first thing that jumps out about this volume is how good it looks. Nakamura’s artwork is excellent on virtually all fronts, from page compositions to character expressions to shading. Sajou and Kusakabe are both highly emotive characters with unique body languages befitting their individual personalities. While Sajou is significantly quieter and more reserved than Kusakabe, his facial expressions still convey the emotions he struggles to put into words. Nakamura also does a great job depicting different styles of hair. Sajou’s is black and sleek while Kusakabe’s is light and wavy. It’s always impressive when an artist is able to avoid same face syndrome and populate their comics with distinct-looking characters, which Nakamura does successfully here.
As previously mentioned, the shading and page compositions in this volume are also excellent. This is largely because of how well Nakamura balances her pages with different values. There are seldom large expances of black or white clumped together; rather, light, medium, and dark values are placed adjacent to one another to enhance their respective richness. The volume’s panels and word balloons are also laid out in a way that effectively leads the reader’s eyes across the page. All in all, Graduate – Winter is a pleasure to look at.
Thankfully, the volume’s writing is also strong. Nakamura does a good job keeping the characters’ personalities consistent with dialogue that reflects their awkward but compassionate rapport. The pacing throughout is also solid. No portion of the story ever feels like it drags on too long or suffers from a lack of attention. The most notable plot development here is likely when Sajou finds out his mother has a tumor. Nakamura convincingly depicts the unique stresses caused by this sort of event, and the volume never reads as trauma porn. The most poignant portions of this volume are in its latter half, as Sajou and Kusakabe seek comfort in one another while being unable to pretend that life is proceeding as normal.
This volume’s cons are fairly minor, and they even unravel somewhat as the story progresses. Dialogue-wise, there are some exchanges between characters that don’t flow naturally. In these instances, it’s unclear what triggers certain statements and responses. Thankfully, this occurs less frequently in the later chapters. Besides this, the scenes involving Hara-sensei can also be uncomfortable. Early on, it’s unclear how his student/teacher relationship with Sajou is going to play out. Thankfully, the inappropriateness of Hara-sensei’s desires and behavior is addressed by other characters. Personally, I found that the issue was addressed effectively enough that the book didn’t end up leaving a bad taste in my mouth. With that said, your mileage may vary on this point.
Overall, Graduate – Winter is poignant and beautifully illustrated. Its main two characters are likable and their romance unfolds charmingly. Some serious subject matter is tackled in this volume, and for the most part it gets handled effectively. With that said, there are still some occasional issues with the dialogue not feeling fully coherent, and Hara-sensei may be a polarizing character. Nonetheless, I would recommend this volume to anyone interested in slice-of-life boys’ love series.