Twenty-four year old Emi Ashiana is rather miserable after being dragged out to a dance club, which is not at all her normal scene, by a friend who then disappeared on her to pick up men. But then she meets one of the DJs, a self assured woman named Kei, and the night, as well as Emi’s life, might be turning around.
The unfolding relationship between the socially uncomfortable Emi and the more confident and in control Kei is paced in a way that feels natural in real terms yet perhaps a bit unusual and uneven for a fictional story. As the point of view character Emi is the lens through which the reader views Kei and the story’s events, but Emi’s own thoughts and situation aren’t broadcast through monologues or internal narration. So in a sense the readers are meeting BOTH Emi and Kei gradually and seeing bits and pieces of the issues that surround them in a way that is building nicely and slowly foreshadowing future developments but perhaps requires more patience than normal for a story of this type. There’s an uncomfortableness to uncertainty, and the way the narrative is structured conveys a touch of that feeling to the reader at the same time it’s being experienced by the characters. Emi’s thrown into a series of unexpected situations, reacting instinctively, and often dealing with the emotional weight over everything after the fact. This makes for a fascinating, engaging story, but necessarily means a little of the chaos of real life must be captured intruding over the normal “neatness” of constructed stories.
That touch of the unexpected is underscored by the extremely interesting way After Hours both utilizes and upends tropes and stereotypes of typical romance stories. The cliched elements and themes that appear, as well as the more unique ones, are incorporated in a natural way that feel like legitimate extensions of the characters’ emotions and it all blends together in a complimentary mix that elevates the complex undertones I touched on above.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the somewhat unusual, and excellent, choice of going with adult protagonists. It adds a significant amount of depth and nuance to the story to be starting with emotionally mature characters with adult responsibilities and complications and exploring things from there. It also facilitates the deft touch with which Nisho handles the subtext and themes of Emi’s simultaneous hesitance and excitement and she unexpectedly begins to fall for another woman.
I didn’t know much about this going in, but the first volume of After Hours proved to be a wonderful start to a romantic story that felt incredibly fresh and genuine.