Ow, my heart. Ow ow ow, this volume.
A new school year begins, as Fumi, Akira, Kyouko, Mogii, Pon-chan and Yassan enter their senior year and Haruka and Ryouko become second-years.
Orie and Hinako get married, as Orie's little sister Haruka notes. ^_^ Orie comes out to her family, but her parents aren't exactly thrilled. Haruka is still ambivalent about her sister being gay, but towards the end of this volume, we get a lovely, subtle bit of development showing that, when it comes down to it, her big sister is the same big sister she has always loved and she knows it.
Kyouko and Kou fulfill the pattern for childhood friends in this series and become a couple, but not without obstacle- the baggage resulting from Kyouko's family situation. We get the full story on Kyouko's family here, after having only seen hints of it in previous volumes. Shimura handles the issues unique to Kyouko's back story as realistically and sensitively as she has handled everything else in this series- most poignantly, when Kyouko discusses her situation with her mother with Ryouko and admits she'd never spoken to anyone about her family before.
I've said so elsewhere that I don't envy Shimura writing her characters from the point they've brought her to in this volume. Fumi and Akira both love each other deeply, but while the nature of Fumi's feelings is as clear as day for her, Akira isn't so sure about her own. Akira is being incredibly (arguably overly) accommodating in trying to make things work, while Fumi worries about how much Akira actually wants what she says she does.
The best thing for Akira to do, imo, is be completely honest about how she feels and let things go from there- but I understand her hesitation up to this point. Responding to someone whose feelings you don't return can be hard, and the person in love with her- who she wants to make things as painless for as possible- is her best friend, so I very much sympathize with her actions, even though they aren't what's best for her or for Fumi.
Most people have their hearts broken. Most people experience unrequited love and failed relationships. Such experiences may make one feel like one's heart is slowly being fed through a meat grinder, but most people learn to pick themselves up and recover. (I know, easier said than done. See: Kyouko's mother.)
I like that this volume affirms that Fumi can and will recover if things don't work out with Akira, however much it may hurt. Fumi isn't who she was when she first met Akira, right after Chizu dumped her, or who she was after Sugimoto broke up with her.
The way Akira is being written so far, either outcome could be written believably. I would like to see things work out between them, because Fumi loves Akira so much and it would certainly take her longer to recover from her than from Sugimoto and Chizu. Not just because she loves Akira more than she loved Sugimoto or Chizu, but because Akira was her best friend before becoming her girlfriend. Hell, Akira was her pillar of support when she recovered from her experiences with Chizu and Sugimoto.
If I had to bet, I would wager that they will ultimately wind up together, although there may be a break-up and/or other rocky patches along the way. The "a girl-meets-girl love story that will set your heart aflutter" tagline that comes with each new chapter of this series certainly helps. But most of all, Fumi and Akira's relationship has been developed for so long that I would be surprised if Shimura had another girl in the cards for Fumi.
If I'm wrong (I very well could be; there are astute people who disagree with me), Fumi winding up with another girl could work, if it's developed well enough. But right now, I'm rooting for Fumi to end up with Akira.
In short- I trust Shimura to continue to handle both Fumi and Akira's development with sensitivity and realism, and trust her to give Fumi an (organically) happy ending, whether it's Akira who winds up loving Fumi back as much as she deserves or not.
This volume's bonus short, "Kawakubo-san's Loves", gives us insight into one of the Fujigaya students who has graduated- and her feelings for different girls and women, ever since her first crush on her pretty kindergarten teacher. It reinforces this volume's theme of learning to recover after heartbreak- multiple times, if need be- in order to find love.