By Miki Yoshikawa
Generally, Yamada-kun utilizes its characters well, and even secondary characters who haven’t been seen for a while are meaningfully used when they reappear. Unfortunately, those hoping Odagiri’s return would mark some profound character development will be sadly disappointed. Odagiri plays no active role in this chapter’s events, and is instead used for a joke which, while funny, is based on her relationship with Yamada, something that has overly defined her character a little too much in her most recent appearances. Odagiri may not be a complex character, but she is a layered, multi-faceted one, and there’s more that can be done with her outside of having her be fixated on Yamada or be an object of someone else’s affections. While more might be done with her down the line, the fact this chapter seemingly concludes the Alex storyline without involving her in a significant role doesn’t lend much confidence to that prospect.
Which would be fine, if the Alex plot was sufficiently entertaining, but Yamada-kun retreads hollowed ground here in an unremarkable fashion. Alex has perhaps the simplest motivation of any witch thus far seen in the series. His most telling character moment in this chapter was his reaction to Yamada’s answer as to whether he and Odagiri are an item. He gives an inaudible sigh of relief, visually conveyed by how he takes a moment to process the answer in one panel, and then nods his head down with a slight smile in the next. His body language betrays his carefree, friendly attitude here, making his interest in Odagiri readily apparent. An interest further confirmed by him doing “that” with her while in Yamada’s body. Sure, what “that” was is never confirmed, but judging by Odagiri’s flustered, embarrassed reaction, it was more than likely something very stimulating, if not flat-out intimate.
So, okay, Alex is into Odagiri. That’s fine, it could lead to some interesting development for the latter if the relationship is expanded upon in later chapters. But what else is there to Alex outside of this interest? He’s foreign, he’s friendly, and he’s alone and wants friends? The question remains as to why Alex even has his body-switching power. Shiraishi had it because she wanted to experience a life outside of her own and become closer to people; she was unsatisfied with her life as it was, and the power gave her a means to spice it up, and make some friends she never would have made otherwise. Alex, in contrast, seems perfectly satisfied with his life, and nothing seems to be in his way in terms of making friends or even pursuing a relationship with Odagiri outside of the language barrier. This chapter even goes out of the way to show that Alex has a pretty ripped body and is really talented in a variety of sports, making him a valuable recruit for practically every club on campus. Girls crush on him, guys admire him, and just about everyone seems to know and like him. It wouldn’t be wrong to call him one of the most popular kids on campus.
That being the case, the only possible reason Alex couldn’t have made friends before now is that he himself was uninterested in making them. Certainly, he doesn’t seem very proactive, as he essentially just lets Yamada do all the hard work for him in terms of setting up his social circle. This might imply that he’s manipulative, and surely, he intentionally switched bodies with Yamada in order to determine Odagiri’s true feelings. That said, he doesn’t seem to have any antagonistic intentions or grander ambitions outside of that agenda. One of Yamada-kun’s strengths is that it’s characters all have identifiable and empathetic motivations and backgrounds, most ultimately stemming from a simple, relatable desire to fit in and find their way in a confusing period of their lives. Alex’s casual romantic interest in Odagiri simply falls flat as a storyline when compared to, say, Hikaru’s self-deprecation and bullying problems in the arc prior. Granted, we’ve only known this character for two chapters thus far, and there might prove to be more to his story if he indeed becomes a recurring character. Right now, though, he’s wasted potential both thematically and as a character in of himself.
Still, even on a weak week, Yamada-kun remains a consistently clever and funny series. The cover page featuring Sarushima in a Tarzan-esque outfit surrounded by monkeys is a cute play on her name (“saru” means monkey in Japanese), and is also relevant foreshadowing for her surprising and hilarious relationship with Alex. Yamada’s antics in Alex’s body while trying to make friends delightfully keeps topping itself in absurdity, and the ending stinger of Shiraishi silently fuming over what Alex-in-Yamada’s body did with Odagiri is a fantastic punchline. If you’re looking for simple laughs, this chapter still provides solid entertainment. Yet, the series has always backed it’ great humor with strong characterization and weighty storylines, and both of which were sorely lacking here. For the average comedy manga, this would be a decent chapter, but for a series that has always gone above and beyond like Yamada-kun regularly does, it’s a below average, and rather disappointing conclusion to a storyline that could’ve been something much more substantial.