After establishing all of the character relationships in volume 1 (or so it seems), volume 2 of Takako Shimura's Aoi Hana plows into deliciously full-blown drama territory- without ever becoming overwrought or hysteric, in keeping with the nature of the series.
Volume 2 begins with Fumi and her hyper-energetic friends from the Matsuoka Drama Club, Youko ("Pon-chan"), Misako ("Yassan"), and Miwa ("Mogi"), attending the drama festival at Fujigaya to help Akira sell tickets and see Yasuko play Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights." Apparently, the person who Yasuko used to be, and possibly still is, in love with is getting married (it's pretty striking, in a sadly ironic way, how she and Fumi are unknowingly both in the same situation at around the same time). After Yasuko finishes her dashing otokoyaku performance as Heathcliff, Fumi sees her cry when the person she used to love congratulates her. Awkward... -_-;; And all the while, poor Kyouko is watching the entire thing from the sidelines. Fumi wonders if Yasuko is in love with someone else without knowing who it may be, and Yasuko invites Fumi to go to her huge, traditional Japanese-style home so Fumi can meet Yasuko's family. Naturally, Fumi is sweating bullets about meeting the family, and wonders exactly what it will entail, but it all goes smoothly (I love Yasuko's sisters, especially Shinako and Kuri ^^), until Yasuko's "secret" (which the reader already knows) comes out to Fumi. I really hope that this scene, of all the scenes in the manga, gets replicated in the anime with as little editing as possible. Afterwards, Yasuko and Fumi more or less come to terms with each other about their past relationships and their relationship now. After Fumi returns home, Akira is there as always to sort things out and be there for Fumi, and Fumi muses on how much she loves Akira. Kyouko invites Akira, Fumi, Youko, Misako, and Miwa to come with her and her fiancee Kou to her summer home. And that ends the volume.
If the first volume was impressive, this is the one that conclusively convinced me that Takako Shimura is batting on the same level as the top names in the manga industry. Her specialty isn't flashy battles, or krazy komedy antics, or pruriently fan-pandering material: she excels in the field of emotion, and depicts the joys and trials of falling in and out of love and slowly but surely coming of age with an aplomb that few mangaka can ever dream of attaining.
With the Aoi Hana anime receiving high acclaim from new fans and reviewers as it airs right now, I really hope that more people will read its fabulous source material. One can feel that Takako Shimura cares about her characters, as she develops them with the utmost care. None of them are as simple as they first appear, to varying degrees: from Fumi's "crybaby" reputation that belies her cool-headed pragmatism and maturity (which really manifests itself at the end of volume 4), to Yasuko's tomboyish "devil may care" persona that she consciously adopts partly to hide her vulnerability and to emulate someone else, to a host of other characters; none of these people are cookie-cutter stereotypes. Even Akira, who wears her heart on her sleeve and seems like the type of character who would be purely naïve in other series, turns out to be surprisingly reliable and empathetic regarding other people's circumstances time and time again.
In short, this is another excellent volume, following a cast of excellent characters.
How wonderful it would be to see both this and the Aoi Hana anime licensed in English (with the anime receiving a DVD release)! ^^ (Although, based on precedent, the anime stands a greater chance of getting licensed.)