Hirano and Kagiura (Novel) Review
Akira Kagiura is starting his first term at the boys’ high school he’s chosen (they’ve offered him a place based on his achievements as a basketball player) but because he lives a long way away, he’s going into the dormitory, sharing a room with a second-year student, Taiga Hirano. (It’s the school’s unofficial ‘buddy system’ for new first-year students away from home for the first time.) So he’s a little taken aback to discover that Hirano has blonde dyed hair and pierced ears. Is this guy some kind of delinquent? However, after the initial surprise, he comes to realize that, in spite of his flashy aura, Hirano is a thoughtful and caring person and Kagiura’s fallen on his feet. Who else, after all, would eat the green peppers in his meals that he can’t abide? Or wake him up as he’s not a morning person and needs to get to early basketball practice every day? Or is willing to patiently tutor him when he’s struggling a little to keep up with his studies?
Probably one of the main attractions of this gentle, likable slice-of-life novel – which takes place roughly during the early volumes of the manga of Sasaki and Miyano – is in seeing glimpses of several characters we’ve already met and come to know well. Events that we’ve seen playing out – such as the dramatic first encounter between Sasaki and Miyano – are mentioned, but they take place off-stage, so as Hirano is on the Disciplinary Committee, he’s called away to help sort out the repercussions. We also get to see Sasaki from Hirano’s point of view which is interesting. ‘He was handsome but he had a nasty look in his eyes – he acted like everything was too much trouble… As classmates went, it was hard to get close to him. When a guy so tall acted so cold, people found it intimidating.’
Hirano and Kagiura is described as a novel but it’s short, even for a light novel – and for me, the most attractive feature is the many full-page illustrations included by original creator Shou Harusono as well as a bonus short manga at the end. Novelist Kotoko Hachijo’s style is (in Kevin Steinbach’s translation for Yen On) mercifully free of many of the less attractive features of light novel style and uses third person past tense (Yay! from this reviewer). The everyday routines and concerns of Kagiura as he settles in make up a large part of the narrative; some details are already familiar to readers of the main series, such as Kagiura’s obsession with basketball, his dislike of green peppers and Hirano’s shortening of his name to Kagi (Kagi-kun in the manga). But there’s new material too, especially when Hirano accompanies Kagiura to stay at the main Kagiura household during the summer vacation, the two travelling together by overnight bus. This turns out to be a good opportunity to get to know each other better in a relaxed situation away from the routines of school life, and gives Hirano the chance to get to meet some of Kagiura’s family. Back at school after the summer break, it’s time for the Cultural Festival (Kagiura’s on the committee) and now that time has passed, Kagiura feels much closer to his roommate and much more part of the school.
Recommended for ‘Ages 13 and up’, even though the blurb talks of ‘hints of blossoming love’, there’s only the occasional hint of anything deeper than admiration and friendship between the two young men. It really is a case of those looking for more (and the manga has been hinting at more for some while) to read between the lines in certain passages, if they choose to do so. Fans of Sasaki and Miyano will enjoy this side story – and we’ll get to read more from Kotoko Hachijo when Yen On publish the two volumes of Sasaki and Miyano; The First Year (the first one is due out in April 2023) in which the novelist again works with Shou Harusono to bring more stories about the central pair and the classmates.
Two of the pages of the bonus manga are in colour, which is a nice touch; the design of the book echoes the manga volumes, with little images on the double-spread contents page accompanying the chapter titles. There are afterwords from both novelist and mangaka, as well as thanks to the Japanese team.
This short novel makes an attractive addition to the Sasaki and Miyano canon and will appeal to fans of the main series, although, to be honest it’s not essential reading, charming and insightful although it is.