One of my favorite new series of the year thus far is easily Yoko Nogiri’s Love in Focus. Vol. 1 impressed me with its wonderful art that makes use of classic shojo tropes and patterns, as well as its likable trio of core characters. Kei, Mako, and Mitsuru’s love triangle is enjoyable to read about, largely because they’re all flawed but dynamic characters with a good amount of depth to them. Vol. 2 is out now from Kodansha Comics, and it follows the three as they grapple with their feelings and go on a photography camp trip with the rest of their roommates. Is this installment as good as the last one?
Visually, Nogiri continues to impress. This is shojo manga art at its finest: expressive faces and body language, lovely shading and patterns, and effective composition choices all working in tandem to deliver an aesthetically pleasing whole. The pages and panels throughout are remarkably well-balanced, both in terms of balancing light and dark tones and in terms of keeping the action clean and easy to follow. I also have to point out how delightfully adorable Omichi (a dog that lives with the main characters) is, and the inclusion of a back matter page detailing his history is a great bonus.
There are a lot of well-detailed shots of the sky, trees, weather, and other nature imagery throughout the volume, all of which enhance the mood and make the world feel dynamic. All the detail in the camping trip chapters is especially atmospheric, poignantly conveying the wonder of the young photographers taking in all the beauty around them while also grappling with their complicated emotions. The framing of the subject matter and the way Nogiri leads the reader’s line of sight along is also very effective. In instances where the reader’s line of sight lines up with (or is just behind) that of the characters, it’s even easier to follow their emotional turmoil beat by beat as they see their crushes interacting and smiling with other people.
The writing in this volume is also consistently strong. Though Kei received the least amount of depth in the last volume, Nogiri makes up for that here. We get a lot of insight into the character’s thoughts and backstory, making him a lot more nuanced and likable. Even though some of his actions have been very jerkish, he’s not just an obnoxious antagonist getting in the way of a predetermined coupling. Mako and Mitsuru continue to be well-written as well. Their dynamics with Kei and with each other are a lot of fun to read, and the awkward tension between them all is palpable. One could argue that Mako kind of gets the short end of the stick in terms of page-time and seldom driving the plot forward, but she’s still well-written and has a distinct personality so it’s not a big problem.
Nogiri also does a good job weaving a plot that naturally leads to character development and conflict. Kei and Mitsuru are struggling with their feelings for Mako, as well as with the other’s potential status as a rival. Even deeper is how this interpersonal drama leads to retrospection and self-admonishment, particularly from Kei. The previously mentioned photography camp is a great opportunity to see how the characters’ actions change depending on who they’re around. From one-on-one talks to the trio being together to the entire dorm hanging out, each social situation causes subtle shifts in how the characters present themselves.
Overall, Love in Focus Vol. 2 follows up one of the strongest debuts of the year with one of the best sophomore installments. The art continues to be everything you could want from cute, character-driven shojo manga, and Kei gets a lot of development that fleshes him out considerably. There’s very little not to like here.