One of my unexpected favorite slice-of-life series as of late has been Jun Mayuzuki’s After the Rain, published by Vertical Comics. The premise– a high school student develops romantic feelings for her middle-aged boss– could easily enter dicey territory. There’s so much more going on, though. Watching the characters navigate their way through altered expectations and strained friendships has been very touching. Vol. 4 is out now; is it as enjoyable as the series’s last three installments?
Art-wise, the manga continues to display the same strengths. This is a character-driven story, and the attention paid to facial expressions and body language reflects that. Mayuzuki does a good job rendering both comedic and serious moments, as well as subtle shifts between them. There are a number of instances where adjacent panels depict close-ups of mouths or whole faces and show how they change in occordance with characters’ reactions to what’s going on around them.
The patterns and shading throughout also continue to be pleasing to look at, especially where nature imagery is concerned. Given the series’s title, it’s appropriate that the rainy scenes are always so atmospheric and evocative. The line-work is also quite thin throughout and white space is used frequently, matching the soft tenderness of the human drama.
Plot-wise, the character development here is great. Akira and Kondo’s interactions with each other and the extended cast continue to display their intense awkwardness following major life changes. From Akira being unable to escape the pesterings of fellow track runners to Kondo’s relationships with his son and ex-wife, there are a lot of small but impactful moments. Highlights include Kondo serving a table of Akira’s peers so that she doesn’t have to deal with them, as well as Akira and Kondo setting up a birthday party for Kondo’s son. The differences in how the characters interact in work versus non-work contexts are also effectively conveyed.
Unfortunately, the scenes revolving around supporting characters are less consistent. They can be great as foils to the two protagonists, such as when Kondo’s old friend causes him to introspect. When they receive most of the focus, however, the book gets much less interesting. This mainly occurs toward the end, where Yui and Yoshizawa have significant page-time revolving around their feelings for each other. The pair haven’t received much development prior to this volume, and what we get here doesn’t make up for that. Yui in particular feels like a bit part who’s suddenly driving the action for no discernible reason; her plot line does nothing to further the story proper or either protagonist’s character arc. All this could be forgiven if these scenes were at least enjoyable, but they just feel bland and pointless.
All in all, After the Rain Vol. 4 is yet another great installment in the series. Though the end gets a bit boring with its focus on the supporting cast, everything prior to that point is great. Kondo and Akira continue to be dynamic, interesting characters whose character arcs are simultaneously well-thought-out and unpredictable. The art is impressive as well thanks to the shading, patterns, and emotive characters. I’ll be looking forward to Vol. 5.