An obvious element of the appeal of murata‘s Catch These Hands! is one of contrast—that despite the nominally rough-and-tumble subject matter, the story contained within is actually adorable and sweet as hell. There’s little reverence for the actions of high school delinquents and the ultimately inconsequential fights they spend their time on, but as well, the story doesn’t really condemn or mock the try-hard tough girls for their pasts. It’s a plot that very much occupies a ‘real world’ setting, simply being reflective on how we spend our youths and how that informs our efforts at moving into adulthood.
The actual focus on ‘adulthood’ as a theme of the book, what signifies it, and the expectations of society and ourselves for when we’re ‘grown up’ is definitely going to make the series more relatable for an older audience. We don’t get an exact age for Takebe, but she’s old enough that all of her former friends are married with children now. The listless ennui of being at that supposedly the same stage of life, but with none of the alleged achievements of such societal maturity, is captured in a very matter-of-fact way. This is hardly a story of soul-searching melancholy, so instead the struggles of the earnestly meat-headed Takebe are played for dry comedy. The girl has no idea what to do with herself, so all she can do is base her ambitions off the surface-level societal signifiers of her peers, regardless of if those should apply to her or not.
Enter Soramori: the other half of the story, and the element that pushes it into the fluffy romantic comedy it’s meant to be. Decidedly ‘weirder’ than Takebe even before it’s made clear why she acts the way she does, Soramori presents an opposite outlet for Takebe’s growth into true adulthood which she might not even recognize at this point. The book makes an oblique point that Soramori actually has her things together pretty well: She has a dedicated job, gets on well with her co-workers, and has other friends she contacts and hangs out with. But none of this is set up as qualifying her to help ‘fix’ Takebe; Indeed, the only time when Takebe actually does try to get Soramori to help her cast off her perceived shackles of former delinquency and become a ‘normal’ member of society, the ultimate point arrived at is that Soramori thinks Takebe is perfectly fine the way she is. This loose theme manifests at other points as well, such as the chapter where the pair shoot for success on social media, only to realize they have more fun when they just enjoy the date and each other’s company on their own terms.
That idea of being ‘fine the way you are’ persists with the storytelling throughout this volume. It’s not about Takebe actually changing herself to what she thinks maturity should embody, nor is it even about her or Soramori changing themselves to appeal to each other. Hell, Soramori basically cons Takebe into their relationship in the first place (amazingly built up with a slowly revealed gag about the way Soramori ‘accidentally’ became a strong delinquent brawler and only continued because of the high-school crush on Takebe she developed). That might have the odd taste of coercion in a romantic relationship, except here it never feels like Soramori’s actually exercising any overt pressure (you get the feeling she’d let Takebe off the hook if she even had the thought to ask) while Takebe simply comes off as too stubborn in her honorary principles to turn her down.
It means the whole thing coasts along with that comfy ‘slow burn’ effect to the romantic relationship that might wear out its welcome in a more emotionally intense story, but feels right at home here as most of the appeal is watching these two doofuses hang out , trying to get a handle on their own feelings and places in the world. It also helps that the humor consistently lands so well; as mentioned earlier, Catch These Hands! is mostly trading on beats of extremely dry comedy, playing the characters’ awkwardness for humor with each other, but mostly not embarrassing them more broadly. Facial expressions and reactions are elements of visual humor murata gets a lot of mileage out of, particularly the recurring gag of Takebe’s resting bitch-face which honestly never gets old.
all in all, Catch These Hands! leaves a pretty strong first impression with this establishing volume. There’s obviously the question of how different its particular story might hit for other age groups or demographics (I feel like younger readers in the audience might wonder how all the listlessness in this could in any way be seen as aspirational), but for what it wants to do, it pretty much lands pitch-perfectly. It’s funny and cute and uses its primary hook to drive those elements just effectively enough. It wasn’t quite what I expected going in, but after reading it I don’t think I’d have wanted it any other way.