One of my favorite series Vertical Comics is currently publishing is Jun Mayuzuki’s After the Rain. It stars Akira Tachibana, a high school student who excelled at running track until she injured her Achilles’ tendon. She now works at a family restaurant and has developed a crush on her middle-aged boss, Kondo. Vol. 3 just came out, and it follows Akira and Kondo as they navigate their awkward relationship, run into old friends and new acquaintances, and just generally cope with life’s stresses and joys. Their journeys this time around take them to book fairs, botanical gardens, and more. Does this volume manage the characters and their growth effectively? Is it good?
Story-wise, this volume is great. The drama flows naturally from the characters’ lives, and their conflicts feel very believable and ordinary in a good way. Nothing feels overly manufactured or forced; rather, Akira and Kondo have both had their personalities and motivations established very effectively and everything feels in character. Both protagonists get a good amount of page-time here, and there are even some cute spotlights on supporting cast members. The pacing throughout is great, and no plot point ever feels overlooked or lazily rushed.
Kondo has some of his most touching scenes yet in this volume as we see him lament how his passions couldn’t help him save his marriage. The more lighthearted touches about his character (such as his ugly-adorable sweaters) are also enjoyable. Akira, meanwhile, has a fantastic arc that showcases just how much her priorities in life have changed post-accident. At one point Akira gets accosted by another high schooler who gets incredibly angry she’s stopped running, and watching Akira stand up for herself is very gratifying. Thankfully, her scenes with Kondo are also written very gracefully. Akira’s feelings are always treated respectfully but Mayuzuki never gives the impression that a romance between the two could actually happen. As a result Kondo remains a sympathetic, multi-faceted character and not some creeper whose transgressions are overlooked for the plot’s sake.
The art here is also great. So much of Akira’s personality and sense of dignity is conveyed through her subtle facial expressions and her piercing eyes. Kondo has a consistently disheveled and tired yet comfortable look that matches his position in life: one of authority, yet lacking in enviable success. The shading and patterns throughout are very pleasing to look at, especially when Mayuzuki uses cross-hatching. The page compositions are well-balanced and the flow of events from panel to panel shifts expertly to build and release dramatic tension.
All in all, After the Rain Vol. 3 is a very enjoyable read. The main characters are well-fleshed out and sympathetic, and their inner conflicts reflect the pains of everyday life. The art makes them all the more likable, with facial expressions that evoke both subtle and fierce emotions. My only real con with this volume is how one-dimensional a few supporting characters still are even this far into the series. Otherwise, this manga continues to impress by bringing out the poignancy in everyday life.