The human heart is a fickle thing. Worst than that, it can make you feel things about certain people that would make normal folks raise an eyebrow or two. One of those things a heart can do is make you fall in love with someone whose age gap is way too big for someone to take seriously. So it comes as a surprise that Jun Mayuzuki's After the Rain can take a concept like that, normalize it, and -- in an even bigger twist -- make it one of the best rom-coms the manga world has delivered to us. And yet here we are with its first volume blowing away any sort of expectation one would have regarding such a story.

After the Rain places its focus on Akira Tachibana, a high school girl whose days of running track have come to a halt. Soon after injuring herself during practice, she goes into a bit of a depression, only to be pulled out by the kindness of an older restaurant manager named Masami Kondo. With her heart healed, Akira starts working at the restaurant, with hopes that she can declare how she feels to Masami. Of course, this comes with some stigmas, especially when there's the lingering fact that Akira's seventeen and Masami is forty-five!

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In many cases, such a pairing would make someone groan with disgust. (Normally I'd be one of those folks.) But what Mayuzuki demonstrates in After the Rain is a deep dishing of maturity with its story and its characters. Even when Akira finally confesses to Masami, he doesn't take it in stride. Nay, he runs this somewhat crazy scenario in his brain in order to fully convince himself how wrong this situation is. Nevertheless, the two try their hand on a date (more so Masami can convince Akira he shouldn't be her type), which does bring to light his worries into the real world.

And yet, there's this charm and innocence that Akira demonstrates when she's with Masami that mutes the haters in the backgrounds. You quickly see that the reason behind her crush is not because she's into way older guys; it's because Masami managed to do something no one else could: pull her out of an emotional abyss and pushed back into the sunshine of life. And it's that light that brings forth that spark of hope, dreams, and love back into Akira's heart, giving her a bigger reason to march on through with her life.

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What also makes After the Rain work is Akira's relationship with her friends and coworkers. One may feel bad for her classmate Takashi, who can't seem to clue on the fact that she has zero interest in dating him. Fortunately for him, his new coworker (and Akira's friend) Yui and her bouncy personality may be the cure for the aching heart that he's suffering through. The addition of Masami's son Yuto at first shakes up Akira's feelings for the manager, only for the two to become good buddies after she finds out her crush is divorced. Then there's the semi-antagonist Ryosuke, who finds out about Akira's crush and blackmails her on a date.

All of these run-ins and relationships help to tie together a surprisingly well-thought out world within Mayuzuki's work. In some cases, the attitudes and personalities of these characters feel more like classic shojo characters. At the same time, the maturity and realistic mindsets they showcase bring said shojo tropes to a more modern age, thereby making the actions and overall plot of the story feel more grounded in a better reality.

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It also helps that Mayuzuki's art style is simply dazzling. At first the contrasting looks of Akira's beauty and Masami's more rounded-out appearance would bring out a more visual clashing of sorts. Instead, the looks of the characters shine out their humanistic traits, be it both good and bad for the sake of each specific person. When situations become a bit more comical, the people and places are soon drawn in a similar fashion to that of Osamu Akimoto (KochiKame) to boost up the hilarity the moment showcases. For the most part though, this manga is just incredibly beautiful to look at.

After the Rain wowed me from start-to-finish with its first volume. What could've been a creepy story of a young girl falling in love with a man nearly thirty years older than her instead has blossomed into one of the most feel-good romantic comedies in recent memory. Beautifully drawn and filled with a deep emotional soul, the story of Akira and Masami is one that even the most prudent of people may find themselves rooting for to come to fruition.

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Tomo Tran of Vertical Comics

Background Noise: Egypt Station by Paul McCartney - Even after nearly five decades of songwriting, the former Fab Four member hasn't lost his magic touch. Fun romps like "Come On To Me" and "Fuh You" show that at even when he's 76, Sir Paul can still capture the heart of youthful love. It's where he goes on a more epic route in tracks like "Despite Repeated Warnings" and the grand finale "Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link" when the sheer brilliance of McCartney is on full display, demonstrating how much he can swoon just about every person that hears his slick limericks and hypnotic musical genius.

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