With the popularity of romcom titles like Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Chitose is in the Ramune Bottle and The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten, it comes as no surprise that Yen Press is steadily adding titles from the genre to their lineup. The most recent of these is Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian, which I’m here to review today. Does it stand out from the crowd? Let’s find out!
The story takes place at Seiren Private Academy, a high school that protagonist Masachika Kuze attends. Kuze is somewhat of a slacker when it comes to school and is constantly falling asleep in class, forgetting his textbooks or otherwise being anything but the model student you’d expect to find in a school like this.
However, sitting next to him is Alisa Mikhailovna Kujou (nicknamed Alya), a transfer student who’s known as the “solitary princess” due to her beautiful looks, being top of the class and being a member of the student council. Alya, who is half-Russian, is also fluent in the Russian language which has led to her developing a strange relationship with Kuze.
Alya has made it a goal of hers to fix Kuze’s bad attitude toward studying and is often found lecturing him and waking him up from ill-timed naps. To their classmates, their relationship comes off as almost antagonistic, but Kuze knows Alya’s true feelings for him are much kinder. Often Alya lets her true feelings slip by whispering in Russian, believing that no one will understand a thing she says.
As it turns out, Kuze also knows the language and understands every word she says, including when she’s secretly calling him cute! Not wanting to tell Alya the truth about his linguistic skills, Kuze puts on a poker face and pretends not to understand, leading to their odd friendship continuing, day by day.
Coming in at only 168 pages, Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian is a short but sweet rom-com outing. To begin with, I wasn’t particularly smitten with the cast or the premise, but once I reached halfway, my opinion shifted. As the pages went on, author Sunsunsun began diving into Alya’s backstory, exploring why she works so hard at her school and doesn’t have a lot of friends. Likewise, we grow to understand why Kuze has become such a slacker and that he’s more than capable of working hard if it’s for the right reasons.
I think that’s why this clicked with me in the end because it became less about the comedy and instead humanised the characters. It may have taken some stereotypical twists in the story (such as Kuze getting involved with the student council because of Alya and his sister), but the characters are quite layered with enough to get you invested in their storylines. I also think making Alya a transfer student who has spent time in both Japan where she was born and later Russia before coming back to Japan, is a smart move, since this explains both her work ethic and difficulties fitting in, having moved between the two countries during his childhood. With no time to get attached to anyone in her elementary or middle school, there was nothing to do but work hard.
I also appreciate that because of the fact Kuze understands everything Alya says, there shouldn’t be too much ‘will they, won’t they’ when it comes to the romance. Even if Kuze doesn’t yet understand why, he does at least acknowledge that Alya is fond of him and he too has budding feelings for her. It’s still early days, but I could see them becoming an item relatively quickly.
As previously mentioned, Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Matthew Rutsohn. The translation reads well and I particularly like that Alya’s Russian dialogue is written in the native script with an English translation in brackets after the fact. Since it’s usually a very short phrase that Alya is saying, it doesn’t feel intrusive and instead makes it clear that Alya doesn’t expect anyone to understand.
The series is ongoing in Japan with 7 volumes (including a #4.5 release) and Yen Press already has #2 available in English with #3 following in May. There’s also a manga adaptation (which is unlicensed currently) and a TV anime has been announced, so we’ll be seeing a lot more of this one in the future.
Overall, Alya Sometimes Hides Her Feelings in Russian Volume 1 introduces us to a likeable pair of characters with a slightly odd but wholesome relationship. Hidden beneath all the bickering and the personas they wear, these two both have interesting stories to tell about the past that’s shaped who they are and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story takes them going forward. Certainly, one to keep an eye on!