It’s finally time for new content in the Rascal Does Not Dream franchise!
The latest volume of the light novel series dropped last week, and with this release, the English-language publications officially outpace the anime. In the wake of the dramatic conclusion of Shouko’s arc, it’s time for Sakuta and his friends to face the future. Mai is graduating. Sakuta needs to shape up and hit the books—after all, he’s not going to make it into the same college as Mai with his lackluster exam performance. Not only that, but Kaede is approaching her middle school graduation, which raises all sorts of questions about her future. Lots to think about, lots of shenanigans to go down, lots of banter to be shared—all the things we’ve come to expect from these novels.
And just like the other Rascal volumes, we have a lot of complex feelings about Venturing Out. So many, in fact, that this time around, Twwk and I decided to drop the traditional review format and share our thoughts in a short conversation. So without further ado, here are our thoughts on Rascal Does Not Dream of a Sister Venturing Out!
sleepminusminus: What first struck me about Sister Venturing Out is how quiet a novel it is. With this series, I’m used to the traditional model of “Sakuta’s going about his life when Adolescence Syndrome shows up to ruin it, but with friendship, a little recklessness, and a lot of Rio’s pseudo-science, everything ends up working out.” But that’s not how this new novel reads.
There’s basically no Adolescence Syndrome. There’s not actually much recklessness or even much opportunity for recklessness. Aside from all the Kaede stuff, it’s mostly Sakuta enjoying his quiet
married dating life with Mai and reflecting on his plans for the future.
And honestly, I really liked that. The Shouko arc whipped by at the speed of light, with so many dramatic beats and character moments that it was near impossible to take them all in. We needed a moment to pause and survey the current situation, and Kamoshida delivers that in this novel. Plus, we get a lot of Sakuta-Mai banter. What’s not to like?
twwk: I enjoyed this slower volume too, though it did take some adjusting to. I kept waiting for some tragic, unexpected event to happen for a good chunk of the novel until I realized that this volume was just going to be different. If Rascal featured more traditional titles, this one might be Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, Volume 7.5, and I would have been more prepared!
But yes, some time to breathe and collect ourselves as readers is very welcome after the emotional trauma of Dream of a Dreaming Girl and Dream of His First Love, as is the relative quietness necessary to work through Kaede’s storyline.
sleepminusminus: And not only her storyline, but the other characters’ storylines as well. I especially loved that scene where Sakuta comes to Rio not for advice, but just to hang out, and Rio praises Sakuta so much that he flees out of embarrassment. Those are things neither character would have done at the beginning of the series when their walls were firmly in place and their struggles unexposed. Now, though, they’ve grown into genuine friendship and vulnerability.
And that’s a delight to read. It’s almost like we’ve been hiking up this mountain of character development, and now we’re taking a look back at the path and marveling at how far we’ve come.
But back to Kaede, whose storyline comprises the plot of this book. Kaede’s growing. She’s been going to school each day. She’s been studying diligently to keep up with her classmates. She’s been leaving the house on her own more and more often. But even as she continues to grow, she’s still hurt by the same lack of love that sparked her Adolescence Syndrome. She still hasn’t gotten past the nurse’s office at school. She’s still avoiding her classmates’ glances as she walks home. And she’s still measuring herself against the expectations of others, be that Sakuta, Mai, her classmates, or even panda Kaede.
That all comes to a head around halfway through the novel when Kaede ventures out to take the Minegahara entrance exam but falls apart halfway through the test. It’s then that Sakuta finds out that Kaede wants to go to Minegahara not out of her own desire, but because panda Kaede wanted to go there, and because she thought Sakuta would be happier if she did.
Kaede’s been rushing her growth and stifling her own emotions for the sake of those around her. So part of her growth in this novel is learning to take things slowly, one day at a time, and to value herself and her own desires over those of others.
I found that aspect of her character especially touching, particularly given how endearing she already is throughout the book. Her snarky attitude masking her genuine affection and gratitude towards Sakuta, her determination in the face of immense struggle, her tender desire to be loved by others and to belong, her budding friendship with Mai and Nodoka—there’s a lot to admire and a lot to sympathize with.
twwk: I have to commend Kamoshida on this front because this Kaede isn’t one that’s easy to write, lacking the archetypal qualities that panda Kaede exhibited, upon which he could lean. In a sense, she’s just a normal girl, an adolescent reacting to the social ostracization she faced, but with the additional difficulties—both physical and emotional—associated with Adolescence Syndrome. It’s hard enough for a 14 or 15-year-old to deal with bullying, but to also work through the unusual bruising that forms as a result of the condition and having to daily see and process the obvious love that Sakuta and Mai had for her other self? It’s a very difficult experience for the character and is navigated well by the author.
Even so, I struggled with how the characters, particularly Sakuta, are dealing with the loss of panda Kaede. I found their reactions to be disingenuous. Sakuta seems to have gotten over his “other” sister’s disappearance rather quickly. Though he admitted that he cried rivers when it happened, there’s nothing about his behavior now, in this novel, that tells us he isn’t anything but over it. It’s only been four months, but Sakuta seems like he’s moved on.
That’s difficult to digest when considering that panda Kaede is gone, possibly forever. She has essentially passed away.
I only point this out because I’ve been largely critical of Kamoshida’s writing in the past, particularly of how he justifies the way Adolescence Syndrome works and its effects. When you erase a beloved character, one that the protagonist serves daily out of love and functionally lives for, there should be a more realistic response to her loss. It casts a pretty big stain on what was otherwise a fine volume.
sleepminusminus: To be fair, there are some moments in this volume where he does tear up a little thinking about panda Kaede. Like when they’re discussing how much she studied during her period of amnesia, or when Sakuta finds Kaede’s notebook among the current Kaede’s belongings. But you’re right that Sakuta doesn’t seem to be processing these emotions in a realistic way.
And while we’re on the subject, where was all the mourning for Kaede in the last two volumes? Sure, Shouko did show up and offer some words of comfort for Sakuta, but a few words aren’t enough to cover over two years of life lost in a moment.
That leads to a larger point: Sakuta as a protagonist is a little too perfect. He mourns for panda Kaede but not too much. He hides stuff from new Kaede and from Mai and gets away scot-free. When he waves off any misgivings Mai has about the whole situation with a few words about how it was necessary for Kaede, he receives very little pushback. And at this point, the ship’s creaking with the number of contrivances the author’s pulled in his favor.
But we always end up ranting about Sakuta when we cover this series, don’t we…
twwk: Yes, yes we do. But the criticism is valid. The greatest weakness in this series is exactly what you’ve pointed out—how artificially plot points, characterization, and all else come together. In light novels, it’s expected that coincidences will occur, and I’m happy to accept all the Adolescent Syndrome occurrences whirling around Sakuta, but the insincerity of the “little things,” like this lack of realism in mourning for Kaede, are what get to me.
Kamoshida digs his own grave, not only by trying to put square pegs in round holes, but by constantly justifying that the pegs fit. The justifications, which happen all the time in the series (Like when the author indicates that a simple apology won’t bring the sisters together in volume three though it actually would, or when supporting Sakuta’s decision-making about life and death in volume seven though they are abhorrent), are the very indication that Kamoshida realizes there are issues with the story, but I think as a reader, I would be more willing to overlook them if he didn’t try to explain them away
Though to be fair, aside from the couple of examples I’ve mentioned, this problem isn’t as rampant in Rascal Does Not Dream of a Sister Venturing Out, perhaps because it’s more grounded and realistic. Indeed, the author does a nice job of digging into “real-life” issues.
sleepminusminus: And this time around, his target is the social stigma surrounding remote schooling in Japan. Admittedly, it’s a little funny to read all of this stuff since COVID-19, when online school is pedestrian and a lot of the objections have either been addressed or dismissed because we didn’t have a choice. But Kamoshida does make some insightful observations about how social groups isolate those who don’t fit their unspoken standards. And it’s not even out of malice most of the time—usually, it’s just out of discomfort.
That’s something for us to reflect on. Whether I like it or not, I find myself pushed away from people who don’t check my boxes of what I consider “normal.” I need to be more like Uzuki, Nodoka’s idol friend, who helps Kaede take the step towards remote schooling. Less focused on society’s standards of “normal.” Less focused on fitting in. More focused on loving well. More hospitable to strangers and outsiders. More driven to live out my passions in meaningful ways.
twwk: I’m not sure, but the text indicates that alternative education and distance learning has more of a stigma attached to them in Japan than in the US. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case, though I also wonder how things have changed in that nation since COVID.
I also echo your thoughts about Uzuki. I tend to think that filling the reader with such admiration is the goal here, that Kamoshida is trying to encourage us to be more open and kind to those who are struggling in a traditional education environment, or who have other circumstances that are affecting their ability to live a normal life.
As imperfectly perfect as Sakuta is portrayed, there are frequent scenes in the series in which he’s reached his limit. He breaks down completely sometimes, as the weight on his shoulders—Kaede’s issues, Shouko’s life, his parents’ absence, to name a few—is too much to bear. Perhaps the takeaway in Sister Venturing Out, and a theme generally in the series, is that demonstrating friendship and love to those who are struggling to simply get by in life, can alter the course of their lives for the better. Sometimes, this is done through the hard work of being involved in others’ lives, but also occasionally by simply being empathetic and kind with one’s words.
That message is meaningful and full of hope. And for a series more often associated with the image of Mai in a sexy bunny outfit, it’s this theme and others like it that better represent the Rascal volumes, and which keep us coming back for more.
And so, that’s it from us on this first installment of the story beyond the anime! Have you been reading along as well? What do you make of this latest volume and its contribution to the series? Let us know what you think in the comments!
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Sister Venturing Out is published by Yen Press.