Friday, March 11, 2016

His Favorite (manga, vol. 4) by Suzuki Tanaka, translated by Ivana Bloom

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

This post includes a few spoilers.

Review:

I'm starting to think that the first volume of this series was the roughest, because everything after that one was much better. Volume 4, in particular, was really good.

At the beginning of this volume, Yoshida gets upset when some of the girls call him “ugly” and say that he looks a lot like one of the monsters in an amusement park haunted house. Although Yoshida is terrified of haunted houses, Sato forces him to go to the one the girls mentioned. After that, we get an extended flashback to Sato's elementary and middle school years. When he's 12, his parents tell him he'll be going to a boarding school in England. What they don't tell him is that the “boarding school” is actually a brutal fat camp that uses dangerous and unorthodox methods (like combat against wild animals) to help kids lose weight. The volume ends in the present, with Nishida and Sato battling for the right to date Yoshida and the school's girls battling to win a contest that will give them a full day with Sato.

The beginning of volume 4 was probably the weakest part. I felt a bit sorry for poor Yoshida, being forced to go through a haunted house when just the thought of being there terrified him. Sato couldn't seem to decide whether he was being too hard on Yoshida or whether he was enjoying Yoshida hiding behind his back too much to stop.

The flashback, though, was excellent and gave me something I've been wanting for a while, an extended peek into Sato's mind. This entire part was from his POV: being saved from bullies by Yoshida; the day Yoshida got his cross-shaped scar; being shipped off to England by family members that didn't seem to want him around; surviving his three years at that brutal school and even somehow making friends there; and the weird and upsetting feeling, after he returned to Japan, that his fat self had somehow been erased as though it had never existed.

Sato was about as screwed up as I had expected. In elementary school, he emotionally distanced himself as much as possible from the people around him and the things being done to him. His family members didn't even get proper faces, just big black spots with “Sis,” “Mom,” and “Dad” written on them. He even tried not to care too much about Yoshida's efforts to stop others from bullying him, probably so that Yoshida wouldn't have a chance to disappoint him later on.

Tanaka kept the section set during Sato's middle school years from being too grim by making certain elements over-the-top ridiculous. There were races conducted with wild animals running behind the kids as motivation, and combat classes in which the kids had to either defeat wild animals or be carried away on stretchers. I thought it was a little bit too ridiculous, at first, but, combined with some of the other things going on at that school, I think this section would have been too dark if Tanaka had played it all completely straight.

You know how Yoshida found out in volume 3 that Sato wasn't a virgin? Well, Sato's first time having sex was with one of the school's teachers.  He'd have been maybe 15 at the time. Apparently the teachers made a regular practice of having sex with any students who turned into stereotypical hotties after they lost weight, and Sato was one of those. That was also how he figured out that he could use his good looks to make weak-willed people do pretty much anything he wanted them to do. So yeah, even with the wild animal combat sessions this section was a bit dark.

One thing that hadn't really occurred to me, prior to reading this volume, was that it wasn't just Yoshida and Sato who'd gone to elementary school together. Most of the students at their high school had also gone to the same elementary school, and some of the guys who wanted to be Sato and some of the girls who wanted to date him might have been the same ones who bullied him a few years earlier. That had to be a bizarre feeling.

After all that heavy stuff, Tanaka decided to end the volume on a lighter note. I absolutely loved the “battles” between Nishida and Sato, even though I agreed with Yoshida that they should have talked with him first. Sato didn't even try to be a better person than Nishida – he'd have had to be a saint. Instead, he thoroughly embraced his role as the over-the-top villain, complete with a panel in which he shouted corny evil lines while looking down at Nishida from atop a cliff (“Yoshida is mine, and it's about time you knew that...in Hell!” (153)). This entire section had me laughing so hard I cried.

After a so-so beginning, this turned out to be the best His Favorite volume yet. I can't wait to see what else Tanaka comes up with.

Extras:

This volume includes one full-color image and a short postscript.

Read-alikes and Watch-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.
  • Antique Bakery (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga; Antique Bakery (anime TV series) - I decided to add this one to the list because I thought it would be a great recommendation for those who liked the more serious flashback portion of this volume. Like His Favorite, Antique Bakery has characters who knew each other several years ago and who have changed dramatically since then. I've written about the anime and all four volumes of the manga, but be warned, my manga posts have tons of spoilers.

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