Twinkle Stars Volume 3 mainly concerns three intertwined arcs: 1) the contrast between the two romantic chapters of Chihiro’s life, a mournful prologue named Sakura, and the more bittersweet Sakuya; 2) Hijiri’s defamation of Chihiro and karmic comeuppance when her teacher rejects her crush; and, 3) Sakuya’s realization that she loves Chihiro.

Not only do Chihiro’s two loves have similar names, but you can otherwise say that he has a type, for both girls are flooded with tragic circumstances; in fact, you could say that Sakura and Sakuya differ slightly on just a few things. Aside from the y and the r, there is a significant difference in willpower, for while both girls have sympathetic backstories and a tendency to be maudlin, Sakura drowned in it, and Sakuya rose above it. Writer/artist Natsuki Takaya masterfully distinguishes between one girl’s acceptance of and identification with her abuse, and the other’s rejection of it in the way both girls’ smiles are drawn; it’s a subtle distinction that I can best describe by saying that Sakura smiles like Frodo under the One Ring’s weight, and Sakuya like Sam thinking of Rosie in the Shire.

Which isn’t to say that Sakura doesn’t have a crushing burden. Though Twinkle Stars‘ heroes fell from dysfunctional family trees, Takaya singles out Sakura with an especially operatic origin story, and when her trauma haunts Chihiro’s memories and Hijiri’s photo file, she becomes the group’s specter. The last manga I read in which photographs had a contagious effect on the narrative was Junji Ito’s Tomie, and it is hard not to see Sakura’s Tomie-like power not only over Chihiro, but over people she hasn’t even met. Similarly, Takuya’s decision to stigmatize Sakura, to ‘monstr-acize’ her, may also have a troubling impact on some readers, but it has a galvanizing effect on the third volume, so that the teens seem to come together in solidarity despite the fact that Sakura may be more needy than any of them.

By comparison, Sakuya may really love Chihiro, and not the way that teenagers do, but with a selfless love. She tells Hijiri that though she expects to be hurt by him when he goes back to Sakura, she doesn’t want “to leave him alone in this world again.”

Before we clap Sakuya on the back for being a saint, however, I have to ask–is Sakuya really that good? She seems almost happy to learn Chihiro’s tragic backstory. Could there have been a glimmer of schadenfreude twinkling in Sakuya’s eyes when she saw the suicidal depression of her competitor in Hijiri’s envelope? Does she suspect that Chihiro, who, despite his larger than normal burden of suffering, is a normal boy, will be more attracted to Sakuya’s life wish than Sakura’s death wish?

As I mentioned in my review of Volume 2, Twinkle Stars is an exceptional manga not only for the mangaka’s unflinching treatment of the subject mattter, but for the way the images articulate the story in a rhythmic arrangement of panels. And instead of a rational sequence of thoughts, the image bursts in Twinkle Stars create a sequence of feelings, so that reading the manga feels more like lived experience. Takaya enhances this effect with her understated dialogue, sparing the reader the unnecessarily redundant commentary that we get so much of in real life. The overall effect of submerging the verbal in Twinkle Stars creates a melodious and lyrical effect so that these double volumes fly by.

Twinkle Stars Volume 3 arrived in stores on August 1st, 2017, and if you find it sold out, you can buy it through the Yen Press web site. You can read my review of Twinkle Stars Volume 2 through here.

Twinkle Stars Volume 3

Yen Press sent the review copy.

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