Love at Fourteen
14歳の恋 (14-sai no Koi)
Josei – Comedy, romance, slice-of-life
9 Volumes (ongoing)
Kazuki and Kanata are 14, but they’re mature for their age. At least, that’s what they want people to think. In fact, the two secretly hang out together and act like their elementary school selves! But perhaps time is moving on without either realizing it, and for the pair and others, a strange feeling has sprouted inside them…
While the title may be Love at Fourteen, make sure you are okay with older/younger romances before you pick this up.
Because the magazine it’s in comes out only three times a year, Love at Fourteen has one new volume released a year. But this also explains why you’ll read the same introductions repeatedly throughout the series — explaining Kanata/Kazuki being mature, Nagai a delinquent. If you marathon the series, yes, this will be annoying.
Love at Fourteen, like some other manga, has its episodes follow two different numbering systems. Chapters are just as the name suggests — the main storyline. Generally, in between these are Intermissions; these shorts show what other characters were up to during the Chapters or feature follow-ups or “earlier in the day” stories that connect to the previous Chapter. There are also comedic pages and a story set in the future, but those are fillers/extras.
Kanata and Kazuki are the most mature students in their class, but it’s just an act. When not in school or after the day is over, they hang out together and talk about their day — getting excited when good things happen and just stop pretending to be wise and cool. But as they continue to hang out, they feel like their super hyper selves are forced. They realize they like like each other and start secretly dating.
This setup is a little like Kare Kano: His and Her Circumstances in this regard. But the difference is that I don’t know why they decide to keep up the act — or rather, the real question, what part is the act. The first chapter reads like the two realize they’re more mature than they thought, but their “natural” selves are still significantly more childish than their in-class selves. Maybe they were forcing it a bit to relive their elementary school days together, but they let their classmates decide much of their personalities… for seemingly no purpose. Yes, adolescence is an age where you worry about how others perceive you. But considering neither seem to be especially close to the other students in class or worry about suddenly being ostracized, I don’t know why Kanata and Kazuki seemingly decided to let their physical growth change how they were in sixth grade.
Even the way they get together is sudden. Classmates say they’d be too nervous to do day duties with Kazuki/Kanata, and the way those of the opposite gender talk about them gets the two leads to be nervous around each other. They say their class-act is real, kiss, and then the story goes from there. I don’t know why they keep the fact they’re going a secret. I guess they think their true selves will come out more if they’re always together? Still, I’m sure the class would fully support the two nicest and mature students dating. Heck, even their so-called immature selves aren’t that immature. Story-wise, it would eliminate a lot of the internal conflict from Kazuki and Kanata, so that’s why I suppose. But in-universe, it makes no sense why they act like classmates. I can understand not telling everyone the next day, but as the months go by, it’s a pointless secret as they meet up in the science room every day after class without others knowing.
Their secret being discovered is how most of the rest of the cast is introduced along with their own relationship problems. First up is Tatsumi, a classmate of theirs usually referred to by his family name of Nagai. Tatsumi checks off many of the items on the “problem child” checklist: bad attitude, skips class, gets into fights, and an angry expression. But he meets his match in Yuka, aka Hinohara-sensei.
… Yes, sensei, as in teacher. She constantly teases him and manipulates him so that he ends up doing what she wants and not fighting back. Tsundere Tatsumi can’t compete when Yuka does things like lock the door and puts the keys in her chest. Seeing his blushing face whenever she naughtily teases him eventually causes Yuka to get a red face, but he never sees it.
Having a crush on an older person is fairly common at this age, but it’s another when the adult — especially one in a position of power — starts developing feelings back. And here’s the truly bizarre part: they’re not the only age gap couple in the story. In fact, up to now, there are NO 14-year-olds mutually in love with another 14-year-old besides Kanata and Kazuki. In fact, out of the main and supporting cast, there are no two middle schoolers in love with each other outside of the main leads. There are more teen x adult pairings than there are student x student pairings. Even if they don’t get together for years, as is hinted in one of the side stories, it’s — at the very least — strange to have so many in one manga.
The four characters I already named are the most important in the story, all introduced in the first volume. New characters are introduced occasionally, some in the second volume and new ones all the way up to the ninth. Among them are Aoi, another classmate who finds herself attracted to Kanata, the school nurse who is Yuka’s friend, and Shota, a transfer student who finds himself interested in a lady on the bus. The latter pair are actually from another manga Mizutani created, but that one volume series is unavailable in English. She talks about it a lot in the author’s notes, and parts may be directly connected to it, so there may be parts that English readers don’t “get” since we don’t have Game Over.
Still, if you take out all the characters’ ages and (job/life) positions and focus on the emotions, Love at Fourteen is very likable. It’s basically the song “Puppy Love” in manga form. But while Kanata and Kazuki have an overall happy, sweet relationship, the author includes a good helping of humor as the two misunderstand each other and deal with their first romantic relationship. The series is an idyllic romp through middle school, particularly for older readers. It’s almost Hallmark- or Disney-ish in that fashion, where you aren’t supposed to think about all the actual red flags or real-world statistics but just go along with the sweetness in a G/PG-rated adventure. So don’t expect all the firsts here, although that could change.
But the other characters help give the series a different atmosphere than when Kazuki/Kanata dominate the story. Tatsumi/Yuka have a risqué vibe, and Aoi’s feelings have that melancholic feeling. So technically, you get several different type of manga in one. Having an ensemble cast means there will be volumes where your favorite couple hardly appears — or doesn’t at all. But the range of relationships means that we aren’t stuck with the usual cheerful x tsundere couples that dominate most shoujo and shounen romances. I always like to see a couple with more similarities than differences, like with Kazuki and Kanata. Readers will still get of tsundere-ness (particularly in Tatsumi), but not one type of romance dominates. On the negative side, so while we do see all these relationships grow, you have to accept that the characters don’t rotate in and out on schedule. Even if you are only interested in, say, Kazuki x Kanata, there are too many chapters featuring other couples that the series isn’t going to be worth your while. That’s not necessarily a complaint, but it’s something to consider.
As of Volume 9, the manga is ongoing, but I have a feeling it’s going to be ending soon. The manga is likely going to end when the school year is finished, which isn’t too surprising considering the title. That still will probably mean a few more years to go at this pace. There are external developments causing changes, but the characters themselves are changing. Maybe not a whole lot for some of the characters (Shota, for instance, is still on the quiet, introspective side, but we see him become attached to this city), but significantly for others (Tatsumi, who stops rebelling at every turn). The overall manga covers many of the usual school activities. Kazuki and Kanata get excited, and the others watch them or end up involved. Meanwhile, everyone keeps having encounters with someone they’re interested in or who are interested in them. Tatsumi, for instance, is discovered to have a great singing voice, and Hinohara gives him some private lessons.
Because of this, friendship doesn’t just take a back seat to romantic relationships; they’re in the trunk, brought out on occasion. Kazuki, Tatsumi, and Shota do become friends, and Kanata thinks of Aoi as a friend despite the latter actually crushing on her. I understand there’s a limited amount of time with a series only releasing one volume a year, but it is rare that in a manga for female audiences co-starring a female lead, she really didn’t have that many friends. (She’s friendly with the class, but not close to anyone.) So it’s not surprising that most of the characters’ personalities are shown in terms of their (current or soon-to-be) partner.
The art is very relaxing, which fits the nostalgic tone of the manga. The character designs are down-to-earth as well. There are some occasions where I fele the backgrounds are a little plain, like the bus always looking empty when other people are supposed to be on it. In one instance, I thought it was weird the Lady sat down by people when the bus was so empty; people are on the bus but are not shown. Expect a lot of blushing and embarrassed (both happy/excited-embarrassed and embarrassed-embarrassed) faces. Kanata and Kazuki do look different when they’re in class and out-of-class, as they seem to age several years when they’re trying to be cool and wise. Each volume contains several color pages, and they’re not always at the beginning of the volume. Physical releases are oversized which makes those inserts even nicer. Mizutani’s style is very nice and outside wanting to show more people in areas, I don’t have any complaints.
Honorifics are used, but not terms like “onee-chan”. Translation notes are included in all volumes, but in the first five volumes, they were usually limited to one note (plus honorifics guide). Starting with volume 6, there is a much longer list, although a lot of things will likely be familiar to animanga fans (red string of fate, for instance). There was a different translator who worked on the series originally, but the second one took over with the fourth volume, so that doesn’t explain the sudden increase in translation notes. Some footnotes are used. A few Japanese terms/abbreviations like “OL” and “zori” are kept.
Love at Fourteen is has some likable characters, but for a manga that tries to drown people in nostalgia, the relationships are not limited to middle school sweethearts like the title would suggest.