The long-running Shojo series Honey Lemon Soda has made it to the West at last, thanks to Yen Press. Having started in 2015, the manga is ongoing with 21 volumes which certainly suggests it has a sizeable fanbase in Japan – but does it live up to expectations? Let’s find out!
The story follows Uka Ishimori who is beginning her time in high school. She’s apprehensive about it, due to her three years of middle school where she was relentlessly bullied by her classmates and spent her time lonely and afraid. For high school, Uka has decided to attend Hachimitsu High School despite her classmates also applying, because she’s chasing after Kai Miura, a boy she met just before entrance exams and who helped her when she was being bullied.
On her first day, Uka runs into Kai and ends up being splashed with soda but because she’s so shy and anxious she apologises and runs away from him. Later she discovers the two are in the same class and thanks to the earlier mishap, they end up talking to one another. Noticing how shy Uka is, Kai starts slowly trying to involve her in class conversations and protecting her, meaning it’s not long before our protagonist begins to make some friends.
Naturally, wounds left behind by bullying don’t heal so easily (especially when the culprits are still around) and Uka has certainly closed off her heart when it comes to trusting others. There’s a lot she needs to work through, but the nice thing is as much as Kai is central to her making progress, he’s not a knight in shining armour. He’ll help her to a certain degree, like giving her an opening in conversations or standing up for her, but then it’s up to Uka to establish connections herself. After all, he’s incredibly popular and has to maintain a certain image so he can’t spend all his time on Uka.
I confess that, while this isn’t a light romance story by any means because of the bullying, I like the way author Mayu Murata has handled Uka’s story. Quite often we see protagonists who reinvent themselves for high school or who would have attended a different school to get away from former classmates, so it’s refreshing to see Honey Lemon Soda divert from that. I’m sure readers won’t be thrilled by Uka chasing after Kei as her driving force, but again I think Murata handles this aspect well, since he’s not going to be the perfect Prince Charming you’d usually expect.
Story aside, the rest of what Honey Lemon Soda offers is typical of the genre. The artwork is more like something you’d see in the early 2000s vs 2015 when this debuted. The female cast all have huge eyes and Kei looks like he’s wearing heavy eyeliner and there’s not a lot in terms of backgrounds. It’s not bad art by any stretch, it just doesn’t stand out compared to other series on the market. Not a deal breaker, but worth knowing ahead of time all the same.
Given how long this series has gone on, I’m certainly curious about the direction of the story from here on out. Do Kei and Uka start dating at some point? Does she overcome her trauma from being bullied? Right now there doesn’t seem to be enough to keep it running for 20+ volumes, but clearly, there’s something that keeps readers coming back.
As previously mentioned Honey Lemon Soda Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press where it has been translated by Amanda Haley with lettering by Chiho Christie. The translation reads well with no problems. Volume 2 of the series is set for release in May with #3 following in August. Nothing is scheduled beyond those two, so it seems like we’ll probably be on a slow-release schedule for this one.
Overall, Honey Lemon Soda is off to an interesting start. By mixing your typical shojo tropes with a heavier story, there’s more to sink your teeth into than the cutesy title and cover would suggest. I’m not sure there’s enough to give it substance for 20+ more volumes, but for now, it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for something new in the genre.