The fourth volume of Aoki Ume’s Hidamari Sketch manga (ひだまりスケッチ) came out in Japan this past January. I was a bit slow in picking it up, but am glad that I did. It doesn’t have a deep involved plot or more than hints of Yuri, but then again Hidamari Sketch never has. If you’ve liked the previous manga, light novels, or anime, you’ll probably enjoy this as well.
Ume-sensei has a strong cast of characters already and we can again enjoy the amusement in their daily lives. But she doesn’t make them carry the entire load in this character-driven manga. The first extra we meet is Yuzawa Arisa, a senior art major, who is the only one left in the art room to answer Yuno’s phone which she forgot there. She can’t resist Yuno’s cuteness and has her pose for a sketch.
The end of the school year brings exams and Yuno does poorly enough to need to take a supplementary test on English grammar. Everyone offers their help, each in their own way, and thanks to that she scores 100% on the retest.
A new school year brings new students to Yamabuki-high, and two new freshman neighbors to Hidamari-sou. The landlady talks the Hidamari-four into help clean their rooms before they move in.
Nori moves into room 103 and adds a modern touch, bringing her computer and the internet to Hidamari-sou. Her computer-related interests are incomprehensible to the other residents, but they accept and welcome her all the same. She also becomes a good friend and supporter of the other new resident.
Nazuna is a polite, timid girl who moves into room 203 next to Miyako. She had lived in the area, but had to move when her father’s job transferred him elsewhere after she was accepted to Yamabuki. She feels unready to live on her own, being bad at cooking and cleaning. Yuno gets the chance to grow, as she learns to support Nazuna like the others supported her last year. When Nori wants to put up curtains, Nazuna is able to direct them to the local “I’m Home” [Depot?] to get them. Ume-sensei is able to show humor in this simple shopping trip, though perhaps Miyako with a chainsaw is more frightening than funny.
The volume ends with an extra chapter of “ordinary manga,” instead of the usual 4-panel. This tells of Natsume’s entry to Yamabuki-high, and how she met Sae on her first day there a couple years ago. She finds that Sae’s confidence, looks, lifestyle and career make her irresistibly cool, and so develops a huge crush on her. When she finally gets the courage to go talk to Sae again, she finds Hiro already talking with her about what to make for dinner. Sae’s easy thanks and offer to accompany Hiro grocery shopping on the way home shatter Natsume’s dreams, though not permanently. Previous volumes show us that Natsume continues to carry a torch for Sae.
This volume offers the humor and double-meanings I’ve come to expect from Ume-sensei. What Yuri can be seen centers around Sae, in either her relationship with Hiro or Natsume’s crush on her. I think the level of Yuri peaked in volume 3, with this one returning to that of the first two.
Over time Ume-sensei’s art style has grown on me, or maybe I’ve come to see it as the natural way to depict these characters I’ve come to like.
Did this volume blow me away? No, but that is also not the style of Hidamari Sketch. Did it give me a wonderful time with my “old friends” at Hidamari-sou and added some new ones to the group? You betcha! Did I enjoy it? Definitely. Several times I was glad not to be drinking while reading, as spraying manga with milk from your nose is not a good way to take care of it, or any other book.
Art – 7
Story – 6
Characters – 8
Yuri – 1
Service – 1
Overall – 7
I hope that Yen Press will continue on and translate this volume as well. There’s really just one way to encourage them to do that, and that’s for all of us to show them it’s profitable by going out and buying the first three.
Absolutely agreed George. Our support for this genre must be expressed with $ or we’re just killing the thing we love. Thanks again for a loving look at this gentle slice of life comic!