Genres: Romance, Sports, Drama, Shounen
"There's no way I could like this manga, right? I mean c'mon... It's from the mid 2000s, and the reviews seem to be mixed!"
I said this to myself on an uneventful Wednesday evening. 4 days later, on a Saturday, I've finished the entire emotional journey Suzuka had to offer. I'm a big fan of Seo's works - I actually got introduced to Kimi no Iru Machi first before anything else, but I just love his art and the emotional plot twists/story-telling he incorporates, so I thought I'd give Suzuka a try after much debate. Needless to say, throughout its ups and downs, I don't regret reading this piece at all! I definitely recommend it, but read my full breakdown below first.
Story Rating - 7/10
For me, the story was alright. It was strong enough to pull me into binge reading multiple chapters at a time with cliffhangers waiting at the end of each one. At times, the plot felt like it stagnated, while at other times, certain unprecedented (and perhaps odd) shifts in the story dynamics and focus put me off. For example, for the majority of the beginning and middle, Yamato (our male MC) chases after Suzuka and bounces his focus between his crush and track and field. However, I didn't think enough progress was implemented for most of the plot at a timely manner, and instead of faster character development (I'll get to that soon), we introduced love rivals and other love boundaries to cause drama instead. Additionally, the love rivalries felt slightly inconsistent, with not as much value to the plot (besides the obvious first one) as I initially thought. But then, other somewhat improper tropes were introduced as well, such as long distance, parents approval of relationships, etc...I'll stop there before spoilers are revealed.
For the ending - it was noticeably rushed, but not to the point where it was unenjoyable - the ending is satisfying as could be considering what our characters went through. I wished it wasn't as rushed and there were properly executed closures for some of the other characters, but at least we get the main ending we needed.
Overall, despite the inconsistencies or odd patterns of drama vs. slice of life vs. happy arcs, which caused the plot to progress non-linearly, I can't deny that at the chapter level, the details were spectacular and the cliffhangers were great, if not critical.
Art Rating - 9/10
If there's anything I loved from the top of my mind about Seo's works, it's his art style. He makes the characters look gorgeous and perfectly befitting that of certain emotions to fit whatever dramatic commotion is taking place. This speaks volumes for a 2004-2007 manga - I would've never guessed his art was invented this long ago already.
Characters Rating - 7/10
Man oh man, here it comes - Asahina Suzuka and Akitsuki Yamato are one polarizing pair of MCs, that's for sure. They both have clear flaws in their characters which frustrate the readers, but both go through visible development as well, which makes up for it. Still, I'd like to warn incoming readers on a few points.
Asahina Suzuka may take some time to grow on you - she's unfairly cold to Yamato for the majority of the manga. I'd give her some patience to really understand her character more, but I wish Seo went in to flesh out more of her character and why she acted the way she did toward Yamato for the first half of the story. I want to understand more on why she made the decisions she did or acted the way she did.
Meanwhile, Yamato, despite being likeable for some, was also frustrating at times. His head-scratching decisions and a faithful prioritization of love for Suzuka above all else in life may frustrate you. However, you'll grow to like and appreciate his growth near the end :) As for the rest of the cast, it all depends on the character. The love rivals (as well as other supporting characters), each have their own unique stories and arcs, but the closure for some of them near the end of the manga felt rushed or executed in a way in which it was forced.
Overall Enjoyment Rating - 8/10
This is a recommended read, but I do advise to brace yourself - you're in for a wild dynamic ride of frustration and satisfaction. I'd say the satisfaction tops out at the end!
Sorry... I still can't go out with senpai. I have someone I like already. Always screwing up things... always being careless. Likes to interfere with other people's business, and likes to do things recklessly. But... I still like that person a lot.
The drama isn't as heart-hitting as other shounen romance/dramas I've read, but definitely still there enough to pull you in.