Like previous volumes, volume four starts out with the strongest story first. "Pain" is the tale of a teenage girl who makes a living off scamming older men, and later turns to prostitution to pay for the luxurious items that her vanity demands. The bulk of the short is about the meaning of sex and sexuality, the difference between love and lust. It's an interesting and mature twist on a coming of age story, and the narrative gives a surprising amount of depth to a lead character that initially seems very shallow.
The second story, "Distortion," meanwhile returns to a school setting, and discusses abuse of power by teachers and administers. After the most outspoken student against her school's unfair dress code and punishment system commits suicide, it's up to her wallflower best friend to carry on the fight against a psychotic gym instructor as best as she can. While the story covers legitimate problems that effect today's youth, I can't help but feel that the situations are exaggerated to unbelievable proportions (for example, very early on, the antagonist strips a girl down to her underwear in front of the entire student population), which makes the story less relatable. Obviously, questioning authority is a much bigger deal in Japan, but to an American reader, it's hardly a revolutionary concept. It's not even the first time that the topic has been addressed by the series-- Volume 2's story had very similar themes to it.
"Tomorrow" is more of the same fair, although it's a story of bullying from fellow students instead of teachers. The characters seem to be younger than most of the other protagonists in the series, which perhaps explains why the victim is practically angelic in nature. While the story touches on issues like internalized victim blaming and ineffective "if I didn't see it, it didn't happen" attitudes from teachers, it doesn't really do a lot with its premise. The bullies themselves aren't given any depth whatsoever, and the main character isn't even the target of their malice. Even as a take on the struggles of supporting a best friend in peril, other stories in the series have done it better. While not a bad story, it's not noteworthy either.
Now, I fully admit that the final story, "Forbidden Kiss," is my problematic fave of this volume, if not the whole series. When I originally discovered this story as a teenager, this was the story that made me fall in love with the series as a whole. As a lesbian, it's been consistently disappointing up until this point that despite the focus on taboo teenage topics, CONFIDENTIAL CONFESSIONS never addresses same-sex relationships. I'll be the first to admit that "Forbidden Kiss" completely fumbles the ball on the subject, but at least it's talking about it. Sort of.
Now, things start off relatively simple: a young girl, Ririko, realizes from a young age that she loves her best friend, Kana. As Ruriko starts to acknowledge her attraction to women, she learns a few things about Kana that might separate them forever-- assuming that Ririko's growing obsession with her friend doesn't destroy their friendship first. The story blossoms into a dark fantasy that blurs the line between reality and escapism.
There's no way to discuss the story in depth without spoiling the twist, but suffice it to say that Kana's backstory is conflicting. On one hand, it kind of ruins any relatability to Ririko's (already questionable) romantic devotion towards Kana after the reveal. At the same time, Kana's problems combined with Ririko's actions works as an exceptional well as horror story. While the story is written quite well, I wish that homophobia was treated with the same seriousness and real life awareness that drugs, rape, or stalking are within the series. It's a shame, because the conflicts the couple experiences together are poignant and resonate with some of my own experiences as a queer individual. Furthermore, while I sincerely doubt that it was the intention of the author to perpetuate the "gay people are predators" cliche, it's kind of hard not to connect the dots to that conclusion.
Even so, I still enjoyed the story, as well as the volume as a whole. The stories are ultimately weaker than the previous volumes, but they still address important issues that deserve serious consideration. The melodramatic style of the author did go a little overboard in places, so keep that in mind if you prefer realistic depictions of young adult issues.