STROBE EDGE (Sutorobo Ejji), by Io Sakisaka. First published in 2007 and first published in North America in 2012.
Ninako has never been the kind of girl who knows her own thoughts. She's more the sort of person to go with the flow and agree with whatever ideas her friends might suggest. So when her girlfriends say that she MUST be in love with her old friend Daiki, well then surely she must be! She believes this until she starts to get to know Ren, the class idol. Bit by bit they start to open up to one another and Ninako starts to truly understand what being in love actually is like. Just as she comes to this realization, Daiki blindsides her with a couple of confessions of his own and Ninako finds herself more confused than ever.
Normally reading shoujo is a relaxing experience, but reading Strobe Edge made me want to tear my hair out. It's ridiculous just how much this story would move forward if someone - anyone! - would just learn to talk to one another!
Strobe Edge lives and dies on the fact that no one in the cast will clear up even the simplest misunderstanding through five minutes of conversation. Instead, Sakisaka milks it for every drop of pathos possible while our main trio natter endlessly to themselves about their feelings, what other people say, and what others could possibly be thinking. It starts with Ninako, but the phenomenon just grows and grows with the cast until it seems like no one is actually talking to one another.
I don't understand how anyone could relate to a ninny like Ninako. No one who makes it to their teens could possibly be this wishy-washy! Yes, peer pressure is a very real thing, but Ninako seemingly has no opinions of her own whatsoever. She simply lets her friends' gossip guide where her mind goes until someone else tells her what to think. She does eventually start to get over this and express herself, but by then it was far too late for my patience. To her credit, she does at least express her feelings in complete (if naive) honesty and does not toy either boy in her life around. She may be a twit, but she's definitely not a jerk.
Alas, the same cannot be said for her two beaus. Ren is the cool, aloof one, and the story does a good job portraying the way he slowly opens himself up to Ninako. Too bad he turns out to be dating another girl on the side, which instantly kills whatever appeal he might have held. That leaves us with Daiki, but that's not much better. He seems decent enough at first, but having competition for Ninako's heart brings out the douchey, passive-aggressive side of him. To some degree, he has his reasons, but mostly it's nothing but petty jealousy on his part.
Maybe I'm just getting too old for this sort of shallow romantic drama. I'm well into my thirties and thus long past the days of mooning over boys while being too fearful to confess to them. Maybe this story would resonate more with someone who actually was currently a teenager. Nonetheless, Strobe Edge was more frustrating than endearing and did nothing to elevate its very basic story.
It's difficult to quite pin down why Ninako's design did not work for me. Is the fact that she looks like an overgrown Kewpie doll? Everyone else looks pretty normal, at least as normal as shoujo bishies can be. The art is rather lightly shaded, which makes it hard to distinguish shadows from the screentones. Unfortunately, this is one of those manga that substitute sparkles, bubbles, and whatnot to telegraph every single emotion at every moment possible. It's not even all that well composed as panels shift in size at random and are seemingly thrown together on the page.
I know this series got a fair bit of praise when it came out, but I never saw what the others got out of it. Strobe Edge wants to be sentimental, but it comes out annoying and passive-aggressive instead. It doesn't distinguish itself from the giant pile of of shoujo within Viz's library and isn't really worth your time.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete with 10 volumes available. All 10 have been published and are currently in print.