This review contains spoilers for the volume.
Mika Yamamori‘s Daytime Shooting Star took a major turn midway through the series, introducing a risk that could easily have lost her readers: she changed who the romantic interest for heroine Suzume was. When the series began, Suzume was infatuated with Mr. Shishio, her uncle’s friend and her chance encounter when she was younger who, when she moved in with her uncle in Tokyo, turned out to be her high school teacher. Despite his statements that a relationship with her would be a bad idea, Shishio still embarked upon a romance with his student in a move not all that surprising for shoujo manga. But then, around volume eight, things changed: not only did Mr. Shishio and Suzume break up, but she began a romance with Daiki Mamura, a classmate who’d been harboring a crush on her.
This was no mere blip, either. At that point in the story, Mr. Shishio began to be framed much more as an antagonist, with Mamura as the favored contender for Suzume’s heart. That holds true for this final volume, where Daytime Shooting Star adopts a message nearly unheard of for its genre: your first love is not necessarily going to be the person you stay with forever.
It’s a tack worth taking in shoujo romance, which absolutely tends to glorify the idea of first love = true love. We see it over and over again in the genre, whether it’s the protagonist ending up with a childhood friend, the person they’ve had a crush on since preschool, a young(ish) teacher, or just the bad boy they started dating due to an inexplicable and credulity-straining series of events. Oftentimes this idea takes precedence over the love interest/rival who is clearly better for the protagonist; in most cases like Daytime Shooting Star, the age-appropriate Mamura would have been jettisoned in favor of Suzume staying with Shishio. And while it’s certainly true that readers can generally tell the difference between reality and fiction, romance is a trickier genre in that it’s attempting to portray fantasy as reality, or at least social expectations as desirable fantasy. Having Suzume recognize that her relationship with Shishio wasn’t equal or even particularly rewarding as anything but the realization of her romantic fantasy could be framed as a step in the right direction, but even if you don’t see it that way, it’s certainly a plot twist that makes the series stand out.
Another interesting positive about this finale is that it puts the choice firmly in Suzume’s hands. When she learns that Shishio is at the hospital, it at first looks like Mamura is forcing her to go back to Tokyo to check on him, but in Suzume’s eyes he’s not “letting” or “making” her go, he’s helping her to quell her worries and find closure. She’s come to understand that she can’t just ignore Shishio’s repeated avowals of affection, she has to trust in her own feelings for Mamura and that she’s moved ahead in her life. Suzume initially hasn’t wanted to talk to Shishio since she started feeling more strongly for Mamura because she was afraid that it really was Shishio she still loved, but Mamura telling her to go back to Tokyo and find out what’s going on shows her that such is not the case. It highlights a major difference between the two men: Shishio has been manipulative and disingenuous with Suzume, first breaking up with her “for her own good” and then almost immediately trying to romance her back to him. Mamura, however, has been guileless and honest from the start, making his own issues clear and then being willing to give her up if he’s not the one she truly wants. Whether this is simply a statement of the differences in their ages and experiences or not, it certainly shows Mamura to be the one who is more on the same level as Suzume, according her more respect and understanding. And while Suzume may not fully understand what Mamura’s doing when he tells her to go back (she’s largely unaware that he thinks he’s breaking up with her), she does know that he’s thinking of her rather than of himself.
As a character, Suzume has been Daytime Shooting Star‘s main draw. She’s unabashedly herself, and she has what feel like very believable ups and downs in her life. She didn’t come to Tokyo to conquer hearts, but that’s what she’s done – and not just romantically. Yuyuka is able to be a better, happier person (although still delightfully sharp and cynical), and there’s a real sense of growth for most of the characters Suzume has interacted with. To see that come back to help Suzume in the end is a lovely bit of full-circle storytelling, and if Shishio isn’t included in that, well, maybe that’s a measure less of his being a self-admitted terrible adult and more of his emotional instability.
However you view the ending, though, it isn’t the one we might have reasonably expected from how the series began. That’s a risk on Yamamori’s part. But I think that it’s one that ultimately pays off.