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by Rebecca Silverman,

Honey Lemon Soda

GN 2

Honey Lemon Soda GN 2

Uka still can't quite bring herself to believe that she's not the bullied outsider in her class anymore, and that's an adjustment that will take time for her. She takes each setback as yet another blow, but is herself blown away by the kindness shown to her by Kai, Ayumi, and the others. Is it really possible for her to live a normal, comfortable school life with her peers? Or will her closeness to Kai, the boy all the girls want, end up sabotaging her hopes?

Honey Lemon Soda is translated by Amanda Haley and lettered by Chiho Christie.


What sets Honey Lemon Soda apart from its brethren? It's the willingness to understand that, even with the help of the most popular boy in class, it's not a quick or easy thing to break free of learned behavior and the things that haunt you. Uka, the story's heroine, was mercilessly bullied in middle school, and that's not something you can just "get over." Creator Mayu Murata knows this, and she doesn't pull any magic tricks that turn Uka into a popular girl overnight, or even into just a comfortable human at peace with her surroundings. Uka wants to change, and she wants to trust, but she's got too many years of horror to allow herself to let down her guard. Everything she does is tentative, like she's expecting someone to cut away the floor she's walking on at any moment, and that does a lot to ground this volume, even with its more blatant wish-fulfillment elements.

Nothing showcases this like the opening chapters. The first years are all going on the (dreaded by me) class hike, and Uka immediately sets herself up to fail by being the only person who followed the directions: she's in her gym uniform with a giant backpack, but all of the other kids are in their regular uniforms, sneakers being their only concession to practicality. From her trembling demeanor, we can tell that Uka is regretting her faithful adherence to the rules even before she tells us, and you'd better believe that most of her class is ready to snicker and tease her in ways that are all too familiar. That Kai just acts normal only makes things worse for Uka; since he's the boy all the girls are after, seeing him be nice to Uka fans is their flame of jealousy. Between her having a map and being the only one dressed to hike and this envy, one of the others sets her up for bullying by messing with the trail signs, sending the class down a much harder trail. When the class proclaims itself lost, Uka gets the blame: after all, she's the one in the hiking gear with the map. How could it not be her fault?

Since this isn't Limit, obviously things work out, but this storyline points out that being friends with popular Kai isn't going to solve all of Uka's social problems. Since it's much more typical for the reverse to be true in this kind of manga, it works in Honey Lemon Soda's favor; Kai's no more mature than any other fifteen-year-old kid, and while he can help a little, he's not ready to (or in the position to) fully save Uka. He might even be making it worse, even though that's not what he wants. When Takamine figures out the truth of the trail incident, he tells Uka that maybe she shouldn't be hanging out with Kai, because it's just going to leave her open to more garbage like this.

If that smacks of a different kind of bullying, I think that's fair. Takamine's a bit of a cipher, and it's not clear if he wants to help Uka or if he's trying to get her out of his friend group. (Or maybe just away from Kai.) To Uka's credit, she doesn't just accept what he's saying, but it's still hurtful to her, even more so when she's harassed for hanging out with Kai and the gang at a restaurant and popular girls, including his ex, come in. The truly awful thing is that Uka already basically knows what Takamine's saying – she's very much aware of her social status and reverts to her self-saving behavior unless directly jollied out of it; her default assumption is always that she's meant to be alone and that no one will want to be her partner. Every time someone denigrates her, she has to work very hard to pull herself out of it, and neither Kai nor Ayumi fully understands that. Does Takamine? Maybe, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Of course, this volume also has a surprise in the form of Kai's ex-girlfriend, Serina. She quickly becomes one of Uka's champions, defending her from other girls who don't think she deserves to be with Kai. Simply knowing what relationship she had with him in middle school makes Uka uncomfortable, but she's getting to a point where she can better accept that maybe not everyone is going to be awful to her. Uka is actively working to move forward, to convince herself that she's allowed to belong and be happy, and Serina's defense of her stands to be a contributing factor…assuming, of course, that it's for real.

With Kai starting to acknowledge how he feels about Uka and others noticing it too, the road ahead may not be smooth. Uka's journey in this volume is very much a case of "one step forward, two steps back," but that grounds the book in a reality that we don't always get. This second volume cements Honey Lemon Soda as the kind of shoujo romance that's easy to fall in love with—one that's sweet and bitter, with just a hint of effervescence.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Uka's character is grounded in her past and desire to move into the future, most characters behave like actual fifteen-year-olds. Serina is a nice surprise.
Art can feel too busy, some of the bullying is a little hard to take.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Mayu Murata
Licensed by: Yen Press

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