ホタルノヒカリ (Hotaru no Hikari)
Josei – Comedy, romance
4 Volumes of 15 Volumes (complete)
Hotaru just wants to spend her personal time lazing around the house. Romance? Who cares! But her lifestyle is interrupted when the co-landlord moves in — and he’s her boss! Hotaru manages to avoid being kicked out, but Seiichi isn’t going anywhere either. His neat-freak style clashes with Hotaru’s casual, messy atmosphere at home. But living together won’t be the only big change in Hotaru’s life once a younger coworker kisses her!
The Kindle Unlimited Adventures series of posts was designed to give my first impressions of a bunch of series. Some I may have barely scratched the surface of, others I got to read almost all the way to the end. But in this case… I’m cheating. But it’s not really my fault because Hotaru’s Way not only had 15 volumes — a very good run for a josei series — but it spawned a 6-volume sequel/spin-off. And then there’s Hotaru no Hikari BABY, which I read some of in the original Kiss magazine. So I’ve read some of Hotaru’s Way already and had it spoiled because of the sequels. But all you have to do is find one image of BABY to find out what Hotaru’s up to.
And I have to say… I’m more partial to its sequels even though I don’t know exactly what happened in Hotaru’s Way. One is shorter, the other involves family life versus the usual does-he-love-me-or-not and do-I-love-him-or-not that dominate most shoujo and josei manga.
Plus, at the start of Hotaru’s Way, the situation’s messier than Hotaru’s room. She’s living secretly with her boss, who is separated from his wife. She’s too lazy to look for love, but when Makoto, a designer from their workplace, kisses her, she tries to be a good girlfriend and hide the layabout inside her. Makoto’s handsome looks and kind demeanor makes him the catch of the office, but of course, the fact they’re dating is not something Hotaru wants spread around either. Considering she hasn’t dated in five years, she often turns to 41-year-old Seiichi to confide in (or he offers his advice and thoughts unprompted as a way to tease her). So much of Hotaru’s Way involves hiding things. Not always being honest isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s generally not good.
That doesn’t mean that people need to fully reveal themselves to a new or potential partner. Much of Hotaru’s Way is about finding that right moment. Hotaru starts dating Makoto early in the series, and he and others misunderstand Hotaru’s shortcuts and easygoing attitude as an air of mystery. So while Hotaru does put more care into dressing up, making sure her makeup’s okay, and acting both hip and mature, part of the “deception” is just their assumption.
Speaking of assumption, let’s go back to the two sides of Hotaru. It’s not like in His and Her Circumstances where the protagonist is putting on a role for self-satisfaction, and she doesn’t transform from an ugly or average lady into a Madonna. Most of us have to have multiple sides of us or we’d go crazy (or get fired from our jobs). Hotaru is a good employee, so who cares if she goes to the convenience store in rags? While it doesn’t directly address sexism in society, there is the pressure in the manga that upper 20s is getting out-of-range for dating and marriage, and come on — does anybody really think that a man who likes to spend his days off wearing old clothes and drinking beer would be afraid of a picture of them like that would spoil the relationship?
So there’s the whole issue of Hotaru not being comfortable with revealing her slovenly self. But she doesn’t lose that side of her once she starts dating Makoto. In fact, her messiness and carelessness is a constant source of frustration (and sometimes amusement) for Seiichi as they become drinking buddies and form an odd connection in his house. Both think to themselves that they’ll miss these days when one of them inevitably moves out. Hotaru, as I mentioned, often talks about her relationship with Makoto with him. Seiichi is still grappling from his separation from his wife, although for now, anything about their marriage is a mystery. In fact, that might be the bigger intrigue for Hotaru’s Way than Makoto’s reaction to Hotaru’s relaxed self. Well, maybe not so much as what Seiichi’s marriage is like versus the impact it will have on the love triangle. Because while the manga shows how hard Makoto and Hotaru are working to make their relationship work, readers will recognize she’s having moments with Seiichi.
The manga introduces some of their other coworkers and friends like the pretty designer Yuuka, haughty Kaname, Seiichi’s dad, and more. Kaname was just given his introductory arc when I finished my sample of this series, and it sounds like the author has big plans for him. He could either end up as another suitor for Hotaru’s heart or perhaps be a part of the beta couple. There was no one in the secondary cast that I was immediately drawn to (although Hotaru’s beautiful older sister with a chubby nice guy I thought was a unique touch). I think Hotaru’s Way‘s target demographic (young and adult women) will likely want the most time with Hotaru, because many will relate to her struggles in being an unmarried woman and/or her love of all things comfy and easy.
While most manga art is about the light in characters’ eyes, some artists, like Hiura, have more of what I call “black eyes style” — it’s less about adding layers or spots to characters’ eyes and more about removing a portion of a black pupil to get that spark in their eye. So this gives Hotaru’s Way a more mature, natural look and less about artbook-ready beauty. As a comedy, expect a lot of shocked faces. Images of dead fish, like on the covers, are common, and Hotaru’s “himono” self is often gets put down for her messy hair and happily goofy face. But Hotaru’s Way reminds me most of Gakuen Alice: both manga feature a lot of aside comments that explains relationships, details, what happened, and more. As such, it’s a slower read than other romance manga. The volumes I read were already lengthy (180-190 pages), and combined with all the asides, it felt closer to 250 pages. I always like when I’m feeling like I’m getting a good value in reading a volume versus paying the same price for a volume that reads like it’s only 100 pages long because of the lack of text. The downside to this approach is that the manga can overexplain on details readers may not care about. Does it really matter that Hotaru’s jersey is from junior high? Readers can plainly see that a husband is carrying his wife in his arms. Do we need an arrow saying “carrying her princess style”? C’mon. Also, for those concerned, while characters do sleep together, this manga is pretty tame. Hotaru thinks about needing to be aggressive, and Hiura uses teddy bears as stand in for positions when she thinks about hiding her stomach, but there has been nothing approaching smut.
Also, here’s an aside of my own: one of the characters we learn won an award for a brand owned by a famous individual that I despise. I don’t like writing in my books, but if I had a physical copy of this manga, I’d scribble all over certain panels. Thankfully, that’s limited to one chapter.
Honorifics are used. Quite a bit of Japanese terminology is used include -buchou for manager, himono (dried fish), OL (office lady), izayoi (sixteenth night moon) etc. Footnotes are included for most of these. The original name of Hotaru no Hikari is used in the ending interview with the author and in translation notes. Quite a few times actually, so I am curious why they didn’t just keep the original? Or was it a late change in that most of the series had been translated already?
Speaking of Hotaru no Hikari, that is the name of a song. Translated, it means something like “Glow of the Fireflies”. Either way, a lot of you probably realize “hikari” means “light”, so that’s why the chapters are numbered “Light 1”, “Light 2”, etc. Because you could read the Japanese title as Hotaru’s Light, which could mean that Hotaru is searching for someone to light up her life. Hotaru’s Way kind of sounds like Hotaru is doing her own thing, but most of the manga is her trying to get back on the “normal” path and not be a himono anymore.
For me, it’s hard to read these early volumes of Hotaru’s Way since I know where it’s going. I want to get to the bigger conflicts. It’s like the feeling of impatience you have in a group action-adventure story. Sure, things happen in those early arcs, and it may set up some important characterization and details. But everyone is really waiting for the full cast to be introduced so that it can truly start. Hotaru’s Way may technically only be 15 volumes long, but combined with its spin-offs, it’s 25, and with these long volumes, Hotaru still has quite a journey to go on to ensure her lover accepts her at her best and at her worst.
Hiura participated in the Star Wars: Tribute to Star Wars and Stories from The Great East Japan Earthquake Stories from 311 anthologies.
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