Things are still rocky now that Anna has returned to Maria’s life. For those not keeping up, Anna was Maria’s best friend at St. Katria. She lost her voice and Maria spoke for her. Unfortunately, it turns out that Anna hates Maria, and now she’s creating drama within the group of friends Maria has built. It doesn’t help that Anna has fallen in love with Shin, and is set to make sure Maria can’t find happiness with him. Shin likes Maria, and he’s previously confessed his feelings, though things haven’t progressed since then, despite Yusuke’s encouragement. Christmas Eve seems like a perfect chance, but Shin is helping with the choral group Anna belongs to, and Maria is stuck at school doing makeup work. After realizing she’d been forcing her feelings on Anna, Maria is scared about forcing her feelings on Shin. Realizing she won’t be able to make the concert, Maria sends an apology to Shin…and confesses her love. Unfortunately, Anna is currently in possession of Shin’s phone, and responds in Shin’s place. Maria is taken aback, but decides she’d rather not press the issue as long as she gets to remain friends with him. Yusuke can’t believe she’d just give up, and convinces Maria to confront Shin head on with her feelings by ‘pretending’ to confront her with his own. Maria wants to make sure Shin realizes how happy he’s made her, even if her feelings aren’t returned, so she pours them out, only to be met with an apology. Once everyone leaves, Shin talks with Anna about a conversation they had about Maria’s past. A past that has convinced Shin not to follow up on their mutual feelings for each other. While it’s clear Anna has ulterior motives here, Shin doesn’t just take her at her word. He demands proof, and accepts what Anna provides, on top of some footwork of his own. Still, Anna has him convinced that it’s better for Maria to be alone than to have painful memories resurface in the arms of a boyfriend. That’s fine with Anna, who blames Maria for the hate she holds for herself and others.
Maria has finally realized that she was never Anna’s friend, but rather forced her friendship on the other girl. Yusuke helps her see the truth of her own feelings and Anna’s, just in time for the Travelling Arrow Show’s piece on their school, where Maria’s classmates talk about how they’re glad to have met her. Moved by their feelings, Maria decides to tell her friends the story about her expulsion from St. Katria. She tells them about meeting Anna, and how the girl’s popularity plummeted when she lost her voice, and the other students began bullying her. When Maria stood up for her friend, she got into an argument with a nun and became violent. Her expulsion left Anna all alone, and with the realization that she was being bullied by her classmates. Yusuke and Tomoyo convince Maria that Anna has actually been waiting for her all this time, and that she should try to mend their relationship. To start off, Maria goes to Anna’s music school and creates a quartet with Anna, Shin, herself, and Yusuke, where Maria will sing a song written by Anna, expressing her feelings. Meanwhile, just as Shin attempts to warn Yusuke to stay away from Maria, Yusuke does a full on confession of his feelings and pulls Maria into his arms. This ignites the traumatic memory of her mother’s suicide, though it’s not very clear, and kicks off a series of nightmares as her brain attempts to remember and process the events from her past. Always considerate of others’ feelings, Yusuke apologizes for upsetting Maria, but also tells Shin he intends to stay by her side and make her smile, despite Shin’s warnings. To start off, Yusuke begins calling Maria every night before bed, hoping to relax her before she falls asleep (so she won’t have nightmares). Maria is a bit troubled by the memories, but decides not to dwell on them, and focus on the present. In their music group, Maria pressures Anna to put her true feelings into her lyrics, which eventually results in an explosion of emotions during which Anna makes the ultimate confession – she just wants to sing. Maria realizes that there’s nothing she can do to help, and all her efforts have only made things worse for Anna, so she vows never to see her again.
The decision to part from Anna is made before Maria really solidifies her decision, as Anna has both quit the music school, and dropped out of St. Katria – leaving behind only a necklace identical to Maria’s. Maria is left confused and consumed with thoughts of Anna, but shortly after a letter arrives that includes some confessions of Anna’s. Once that’s cleared up, the story moves forward, leaving Anna behind, and introducing a new character – freshman Shintaro Kurosu. Kurosu immediately takes an interest in Maria, and he’s not alone. The televised piece on their school has made Maria recognizable, and popular among the incoming freshmen (an issue touched briefly upon here and there, but ultimately it goes unused, at least for now). He immediately inserts himself into Maria’s circle, visiting her classroom often, and ignoring his own class and grade. Noting how lonely Kuroso appears, and that he doesn’t seem to fit in with his peers, Maria welcomes him into her circle of friends, though his pushy nature doesn’t leave her much choice. He immediately clashes with Shin and calls him out on his attitude regarding Maria. He’s also constantly around her, and always attempting to touch her. Kuroso is a physical flirt, but Maria isn’t use to being touched, so it’s startling at first, though she eventually grows more comfortable with him…and others. As Kuroso’s physical nature wears Maria down, she starts seeking out more physical contact on her own with her friends.
For all the mistrust Shin has held toward Anna in previous volumes, it bothers me that he so readily accepts what she has to say here. Yes, he investigates on his own, but in the end he falls in line with Anna’s opinion – that being with him will only hurt Maria, so it’s better if she’s alone. Because it’s not just him; he tries to tell Yusuke to stay away from her, as well. He becomes obsessed with protecting her rather than helping her overcome her traumatic past. In contrast to Yusuke, who is willing to do whatever it takes to help Maria move forward. They both care for her, but I don’t quite understand why Shin decides that isolation is better for Maria than facing her past and moving on from it. His decision makes even less sense with how little Tomori focuses on Maria’s reaction to Yusuke’s embrace. She has a panic attack here or there, and some nightmares, and then the problems seem to vanish for a while, taking an obvious back seat to other parts of the story. Which is fine, but for something so important and so recent, it should be more on the reader’s mind (as well as Maria’s). I’d like to see her reacting more to the constant physical presence of Kurosu. And speaking of, the series is more than halfway over at volume 8, which feels a bit late to bring in another main character. It’s clear he’s there to push the characters, press their buttons, get them to make decisions, but he feels a bit forced in. He’s also got a lot of Yusuke’s traits, but he’s more willing to bluntly speak out about things, whereas Yusuke tends to hide his true feelings. So, he’s sort of a cross between Yusuke and Maria. He’s also constantly harassing Maria, following her and touching her at every given opportunity. Fortunately he doesn’t touch her in inappropriate sexual ways; mostly just her face, hair, shoulders, and arms. And it does have the effect of causing Maria to become use to physical contact to the point where she starts longing for it. Unfortunately, he’s still basically harassing her, and it bothers me that Maria eventually writes it off (in volume 9) with a “that’s just the way he is” excuse. Were Maria not already in love with Shin and set on being with him, I’d be rooting for her and Yusuke, since so far he’s the only one taking her actual feelings into consideration. I’m still enjoying the series, I just wish more focus was paid to certain things, and that Shin wasn’t such a stubborn ass, because it’s only hurting and confusing Maria. In the end, he can only protect Maria from himself, and while he’s focused on that, other guys are swooping in and helping her change and grow while he sits back and watches. Shin needs to get his shit together. Tomori’s focus on them has backtracked in a way that feels like a forced extension for sales. Or perhaps she jumped the gun too early in terms of character confessions. Or maybe the word “love” is simply tossed around too loosely in manga.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.