Saturday, February 20, 2016

His Favorite (manga, vol. 1) by Suzuki Tanaka, translated by Ivana Bloom

His Favorite is basically a m/m romantic comedy. It's published by SuBLime.

Review:

I went into this not knowing much more about it than its premise and that, according to the “reception” section on its Wikipedia page, one reviewer mostly liked it but was annoyed by its lack of sex. I didn't even bother to read the full review – I just ordered a bunch of volumes in the series and hoped for the best. My wish was for it to be cute and funny fluff. Unfortunately, I didn't really get what I wished for.

First, the story: Yoshida is an awkward and funny-looking high school kid who would kind of like to have a girlfriend. However, all the girls hate him because Sato, the most popular guy at school, keeps turning them down, saying he already has plans with Yoshida. Which confuses the heck out of Yoshida, because as far as he knows he and Sato don't even know each other all that well. He hates being used as Sato's excuse. And why doesn't Sato ever throw anyone else to the wolves (girls)? Is the guy just messing with him or something?

Yoshida eventually realizes that he and Sato do know each other, which is about the same time that Sato starts hitting on him. It embarrasses Yoshida and freaks him out a little...but he also kind of likes it. Except Sato doesn't seem to be nearly as affected as he is, which upsets him even more.

According to the author's note at the end, this started off as a standalone short and was later expanded into a series. It's...rough. In this volume, Yoshida came off as being somewhat high-strung. After thinking about it, I realized that was in large part due to the fact that he spent the entire volume on edge and/or embarrassed. Which in turn put me on edge. I didn't like that Sato's interactions with Yoshida were mostly based on making Yoshida uncomfortable.

Sato just wouldn't back off. For example, at one point Yoshida turned down Sato's offer to tutor him after he flunked a test because “the thought of being alone with Sato is too scary” (77). But then he flunked the test again and ended up accepting Sato's offer on the condition that all the two of them do together is study...a promise that Sato ended up breaking (leading to Yoshida's first orgasm - so far this series doesn't have explicit sex, but it does have non-explicit on-page sexual acts).

I liked Yoshida well enough, and it helped that, once he realized liking a guy was an option, he really did seem to be attracted to Sato. But I didn't like Sato, and I really wish Yoshida's first romance were with someone else. Sato made no bones about the fact that he's a bit of a sadist and enjoys seeing Yoshida squirm, and I thought Yoshida deserved better.

Sato's public face was of someone who was relatively easy-going, but privately he had a lot going on. Tanaka barely scratched the surface, and I think Sato could be an enormously interesting character in later volumes if Tanaka ever opts to go a bit deeper...but I have my doubts that's going to happen, because the results would probably be darker than what Tanaka seems to be going for. For example, here's a quote from Sato, near the end of the volume: “When I was in grade school, I used to dream of inventing a weapon that would wipe out mankind. By the time I met Tsuyako [another unsettling character], I imagined flying to the ends of the universe. I wanted to be alone at the edge of space, where I'd never have to meet another person. But everything's different now. Now that I've found you again.” (129) I just can't see years of festering negative emotions being fixed just like that, and Sato made it clear, earlier in the volume, that he still believed his fellow classmates could turn on him at any moment if he wasn't the perfect guy they expected.

So...yeah. The romance made me uncomfortable, but I liked Yoshida and found Sato to be a potentially fascinating (if unsettling) character. And I did laugh at some of the humor. I just hope the romance gets better. Less Sato pushing himself on Yoshida, more actual romance. And maybe more evidence of vulnerability on Sato's part.

Extras:
  • About a third of the volume was devoted to a short unrelated manga called "People-Pleaser." It was about a boy who'd moved so often he'd gotten used to molding himself into whoever he needed to be in order to make friends as quickly as possible. Except one guy in his newest class seemed to be a little tougher than usual, sometimes liking him and sometimes shying away. I really liked this story. After His Favorite's main story, I found this to be surprisingly sweet and emotionally subtle.
  • A 9-page manga starring several of His Favorite's characters. I think it might be the lead-up to something another character sees on page 81 of the main story. Yoshida asks Sato to go on a date with him. Yay, Yoshida is an active participant in their relationship for once!
  • A one-page author's note.
  • A full-color illustration that makes Sato look like a giant and Yoshida look like an adorable goof.
My read-alikes list needs some work. I had to do way too much forum searching to find things that would be relatively appropriate.

Read-alikes:
  • Awkward Silence (manga) by Hinako Takanaga - More m/m romance, in this case involving an introvert who has a long-time crush on a popular baseball player at his school. One day, out of the blue, the guy asks him out. Reviews say this is a cute series, although I haven't read it myself.
  • Green Light (book) by Yura Tamaki, art by Taishi Zaou - Be warned, this is a short novel, not a manga. It's another m/m romance between a guy who isn't popular with his classmates and one who is. I've read it, but can't remember much about it except that the writing was so-so and that, yes, there was explicit sex.
  • Our Everlasting (manga) by Toko Kawai - I haven't read this, but it sounds like the first half of the volume has a story in which a more confident guy confesses his love to a shy introvert, which may work for fans of His Favorite.
  • Ichigenme...The First Class Is Civil Law (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - Another one I haven't read yet, although I own both volumes. The main character has always assumed he's straight but starts to question his sexuality after he's hit on by a gay man with whom he'd become friends. Yes, I know, I'm getting further and further from His Favorite's original premise. Still, it might work for those who enjoyed the part where Yoshida started to wonder if maybe he really was in love with Sato.

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