Do you like video games? Do you have fond memories of playing them together with friends? Do you wish those good times could last forever? And most importantly, can you read Japanese (because there is no English translation of this book)? 放課後のゲームフレンド、君のいた季節 (Afterschool Game Friend, The Season When You Were There) written by Murasaki Yukiya brings back a lot of these memories for me. It’s a single volume story about a high school aged boy nicknamed Rio who meets a sweet girl named Mizuki Yumea who happens to play the same MMORPG as him. Unlike him, however, she’s a no-life gamer who until then spent all her time alone. The story follows the highs and the lows of their school and MMORPG lives.
First thing’s first. I have to say the characters were written quite realistically. None of them really fall into any tropes except perhaps the main character’s friend, Tatsuya. He’s the popular guy in the class who’s friends with everyone and always wants to go out and party. However, he is like that for a reason, and he is only a supporting character who rarely appears anyway. The real star of the story is, of course, the heroine. She is quite eccentric, but in a charming way. I almost want to say she’s like a manic pixie dream girl, but she doesn’t really fall into that trope at all when you really think about it. If anything, the main character fills that role in relation to her. But she’s not brooding and waiting to be saved either. Both the characters need each other in different ways. What she is, is cheerful and a bit of a jokester. She’s just completely sucked into the world of games. Honestly, there’s a lot of people like that in real life. Perfectly normal people who like to joke around and have fun, but because they’re so into games, they find it difficult to connect with others. But that makes the friends you do make feel all the more precious. The heroine is great, but the main character was a bit boring. By that, I mean his choices are usually imposed on him by other characters. Rarely does he go out and decide to do something himself without an outside impetus. That also brings me to another downside. The main character is also quite repetitive in his monologues. Whenever something good or bad happens, you can expect to read how that makes him feel at least 3 times. However, I don’t find that his downsides really impact the enjoyability of the story.
You should not come into this expecting a balls to the wall romantic comedy with a zany main character like 俺を好きなのはお前だけかよ. No, this a drama. The first sentence of the book’s outline is ゲーマーな少女との楽しい日常がずっと続くと思っていた…… (Very roughly: I thought that the fun days gaming with her would last forever……). There is a lot of foreshadowing in the book, but the author handles it well. That is, he does not make it spoilery. It almost feels like he takes into account the reader figuring out what the foreshadowing means beforehand when he writes, and uses that to enhance the tension. And the drama is well done. The situations do not feel forced. You can really understand the character’s feelings behind each action. And the ending, without spoiling anything myself, is certainly fresh.
Overall, I’d definitely recommend it if you can read Japanese. Even if your Japanese isn’t all too great, this is a great book to begin with. It is pretty easy to read, and because there is only one volume, you will not need to invest as much time to get the same enjoyment as you would with a multi-novel series. Oh, and last but not least, the art is lovely. Shiromizakana did a really great job at capturing the cuteness of Mizuki and the fun she shares with Rio.