by Miki Yoshikawa
This chapter of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches confirms what you probably had been expecting was the case with Hotaru the minute you read last week’s reveal. Heck, you might’ve guessed it before then considering how obvious it was. But yes, as it turns out the reason Hotaru’s behavior seems to be so contradictory is because he, in fact, has been a role played by two people; the real Hotaru, and his identical twin brother Hikaru. The entirety of this chapter is composed of a flashback explaining the twins’ backstory and how this came to pass.
The timing of this flashback is a bit iffy. We’ve really only known Hotaru for about three or so chapters, and not much of a story has been built up with him yet. Sure, he threatened Yamada to not expose Hikaru-Hotaru’s violent behavior, but it’s not like he has ill intentions towards the Supernatural Studies Club or anything. It’s clear that this arc is not about him antagonizing Yamada and company, and instead going to be about Yamada helping these brothers with a problem at school like he’s done with other witches in the past. But it doesn’t feel like Yoshikawa has set up the twins’ bullying problem or developed their characters enough to make their story compelling, and make readers invested in seeing them overcome their issues. Hotaru is a pretty flat character personality wise, even with Hikaru-Hotaru’s more dangerous and violent vibe. We really needed some more time with him, maybe some more funny gags, besides the shirtless scene he had in his debut chapter, in order to really feel convinced that he’s dangerous, funny, tragic, or whatever Yoshikawa is trying to present him as here.
But this chapter does succeed in letting us know more about Hotaru and get a sense of he and his brother’s personalities and relationship. The real Hotaru is as he was introduced: shy, meek, and earnest. Hikaru is almost his total opposite; outgoing, violent, and unambitious. You’d think their differing personalities would create some sort of sibling rivalry, but they actually seem to have a pretty caring and stable relationship. Yoshikawa treats us to an intimate scene with the brothers discussing their future plans with one another in their bedroom, which is where we get a nice chunk of much needed characterization for the two. Their casual conversation and Hotaru’s concern over Hikaru’s decision to not attend high school definitely characterizes their relationship a sort of responsible sibling, irresponsible sibling dynamic that many school-based shonen tend to have: Onodera & Haru in Nisekoi, Tenma & Yakumo in School Rumble, etc. Familiar as it might be, the brothers’ rapport with one another makes Hikaru’s decision to impersonate his brother believable and even a bit touching. He’s a concerned sibling who cares about his brother’s emotional well-being, and despite his reluctance to attend school, if going to Suzaku High as Hotaru and making him some friends will make him happy, he’s determined to play the role.
Clearly, Hikaru blundered somehow, which has resulted in the brothers’ current state of affairs. Hikaru’s violent tendencies have likely led to Hotaru being ostracized and bullied. Furthermore, his attempts to curb this by retaliating, combined with Hotaru’s passivity, has probably made Hotaru unhappy with school life. Some resentment forming between the twins is plausible as well, considering Hotaru’s frustrated behavior in last week’s chapter. Of course, this is all speculation, but based on the previous chapters this seems like the most plausible direction for the arc to do. The next chapter will likely continue the flashback and show what happened before the story moves back to the present day, so we should get more details then.
As for this chapter, it was predictable in the sense that the explanation of the twist and the motivations of the characters are extremely straightforward. It’s a charmingly simple concept, though, and effective in making the characters likable and easy to root for. In that regard, it elevates Hotaru from a rather boring character to a more interesting, sympathetic one, which gives the arc more flavor to it. Yet while that’s much appreciated, it still doesn’t excuse the awkward timing of this flashback. If there were more mystery and build up to the character, and Hikaru posed more of a real threat to Yamada, there’d be a bit more emotional weight to the proceedings. It might have been better to have at least done a chapter where Yamada confronted the twins about their problems take place before this, instead of afterwards, as it presumably will.
Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches is one of the funniest manga currently running, and among my favorites to keep up with on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, this arc has not been the series at its strongest from a narrative standpoint, and while the host jokes are chuckle-worthy, it’s not been it at its funniest either. Still, chapter #190 is a step in the right direction, providing an effectively serviceable backstory for the twins and moving the story forward. Most readers would probably rather spend time with the characters they know and love, but Hikaru and Hotaru’s story is fairly enjoyable, and there’s still enough interesting elements to this arc that makes it feel worth reading.