Love at Fourteen Vol. 3 - Manga Review

Fourteen year olds Kanata Tanaka and Kazuki Yoshikawa are in love, but must hide this relationship from their classmates in order to maintain their mature images. However, this is easier said than done as Kanata and Kazuki must figure out how to navigate their new found emotions during a tumultuous time in their lives going through middle-school and all of the drama that accompanies it.

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Tensions remain high among the boys and girls at school after the folk dancing class in preparation for the sports festival and after another disagreement, Kanata and Kazuki become embroiled in the conflict, putting their feelings and mature appearances to the test. Meanwhile, Aoi sees this conflict as an opportunity to get closer to Kanata while Nagai continues to be harried by music teacher Hinohara.

The main draw of Love at Fourteen is its portrayal of the little heartwarming moments of Kanata and Kazuki’s relationship, and this continues to be the case in Vol. 3. We’re treated to a couple of these moments in this volume and these continue to be charming because of the way creator Fuka Mizutani is able to invoke a nostalgically innocent and heartfelt feeling during these moments. This is especially effective because Mizutani is able to make good use of shading and paneling to create a more dramatic mood in comparison to the rest of the volume and I found the art as a whole to be an improvement in this volume specifically because of this usage.

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In particular, I greatly enjoyed one of the shorter chapters which followed Kanata as she was browsing makeup before trying to get Kazuki to notice if she had any on. While these moments have been a constant fixture of the series since the first volume and have not grown old yet, it would be nice if Mizutani tried to build these moments into something greater than just a a series of vignettes. However, they are still quite enjoyable and were my favourite part of this volume by far and if Mizutani is able to provide more depth to these scenes, this would greatly strengthen the series.

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After three volumes I would have hoped that Love at Fourteen would have shown signs of progressing towards a larger and more encompassing plot, but sadly this has not been the case. Vol. 3 continues to function more as a series of vignettes depicting moments in the middle school lives of its characters, making the story feel directionless as a whole. It never really feels like the story knows where it is going and while I understand that this continues to be an ongoing stylistic choice on the part of Mizutani, the stories of these characters just aren’t strong enough to make this type of structure continually engaging.

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The main plotline focusing on Kazuki and Kanata’s relationship is actually very good on a surface level and works relatively well as a series of vignettes, but it is frustrating not to have a direction because it feels like this plotline could be so much more if it had a clear direction. In this volume their relationship is tested when the boys and girls of their class come into conflict, resulting in a misunderstanding between the two of them and their first real fight. However, this quickly becomes a missed opportunity to deepen their relationship as they both individually worry about it before coming to an immediate resolution the next time they see each other without conflict. At no point was this incident used to further their relationship or provide either of them with the opportunity for introspection, and this is has been an ongoing source of disappointment on my part during my reading of this series. It’s too bad that by the third volume we have not seen any signs that Kazuki and Kanata will really grow together on a deeper level as the series progresses, and instance such as this feud really make it clear that is will be an ongoing weakness of this series.

While relationship between Kazuki and Kanata holds up well enough on a surface level, the same cannot be said about the secondary relationship between fourteen year-old Nagai and his music teacher Hinohara. This was a recurring plot line in the previous two volumes, with Hinohara making advances towards Nagai and playfully teasing him in a suggestive manner mildly against his wishes. As you might assume, this storyline on the whole is quite creepy on the virtue of a teacher in a position of power acting suggestively towards a fourteen year old. This was already a problem previously and continues to be probably the single biggest drawback of the series presented in this volume. If there was any question about Hinohara’s intentions, this volume put them to rest as it becomes clear both in flashback form and in the portrayal of Hinohara’s dreams that she has romantic feelings towards Nagai, and a significant portion of this volume again concerns her playful pursuit of him.

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Creepiness aside, I really have to question why Mizutani continues to think this relationship is a worthwhile use of page-space in this volume, as this plot shows no signs of really progressing. I found it off-putting that this story line continues to take up a significant space within the series that could be put to much better use developing Kazuki and Kanata’s relationship further as per my earlier comments. It’s a shame that this plot line will be continuing to be a part of the series when it doesn’t add to the story at all in the way that fellow student Aoi’s plot line does, and I hope that this relationship does not become even more off-putting as the series continues to progresses.

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Love at Fourteen Vol. 3 disappointed me as it shows no indication of fixing the problems this series has and shows signs of them worsening. Kazuki and Kanata’s relationship is undoubtedly charming and I can honestly say I enjoyed these portions of the story for what they were even if they often felt like a major missed opportunity. However, the romantic subplot between Nagai and Hinohara still manages to take up too much page space and continues to venture deeper into uncomfortable territory. Love at Fourteen Vol. 3 continues to make it clear that while there is a well executed series somewhere beneath all of this, the execution is just not there to save it from the weight of a number of puzzling plot decisions.

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Original score under our old review format: 2/5

What do our scores mean?

Love at Fourteen Vol. 3 was published by Yen Press on June 21st, 2015. Authored by Fuka Mizautani, the series began in 2010 and is still ongoing in Hakusensha’s Rakuen Le Paradis magazine. Volume 4 will be published in English on September 22nd, 2015.

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*Copy provided for Taykobon by publisher
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