Sunday, October 23, 2016

REVIEW: Only the Ring Finger Knows, Vol. 1: The Lonely Ring Finger (book) by Satoru Kannagi, illustrations by Hotaru Odagiri, English translation by Allison Markin Powell

Only the Ring Finger Knows is m/m romance. It was originally published in Japanese in 2001.

My review includes a few spoilers. Also, I'm still on my extended "not going to include read-alikes" break. I will say this, though, the relationship dynamics reminded me a lot of His Favorite. I wonder if that series was inspired by this one?

Review:

Yuichi seems like the most perfect guy at Wataru's high school. He gets good grades, has good looks, is good at basketball, and gets along well with everyone. However, a chance encounter at a water fountain shows Wataru another side of Yuichi, one that's cold and sarcastic. Wataru can't remember ever even talking to Yuichi, so why does the guy hate him so much?

The situation only becomes more awkward and upsetting when Wataru and Yuichi discover they've accidentally swapped rings. At their school, wearing matching rings and/or wearing a ring on your ring finger signifies that you're dating someone and, shockingly, Wataru and Yuichi's rings not only look exactly alike, but they also fit on each other's ring fingers. The matching rings are, of course, an indication that there is romance in Wataru and Yuichi's future.

Anyway, my first exposure to this series was via the manga adaptation of it. I remembered it being fairly sweet, if lacking in substance, so when I learned it was based on a 5-volume series of novels I decided to give them a try. Now that I've finished the first volume, I can say that 1) I prefer the manga and 2) the manga only adapted the first hundred pages.

This book had a couple big problems. One was the writing/translation, which was terrible. The other was how frustrating the characters were – they seemed to be determined to sabotage themselves.

I'll start with the writing. While I thought that Wataru's gradual realization that he was gay (not that the word was ever used) was pretty good, most of the rest of the book needed work. There were weird word choices, awkward phrasing, and one very noticeable lack of transition from one scene to the next. It was bad enough that I sometimes had trouble figuring out what the author was trying to say. This was particularly a problem during the last scene at Yuichi's cousin's shop, when confusing and contradictory emotions were added to the mix.

My favorite weird word choice example happened during Wataru's first encounter with Miho, a cool and pretty first-year student:
“She had a surprisingly small face, and her skin was so smooth it reminded him of raw cake batter.” (138)
This part was so unexpected and bad that I actually laughed until I cried. Who compares a person's skin to raw cake batter like it's a good thing? I suppose this was more original than saying her skin was smooth as silk, but sometimes originality isn't a good thing.

Now on to the characters' self-sabotaging behavior. At one point Kawamura, Wataru's best friend, said “Well, whatever, you guys sure are a stupid couple.” (134) I couldn't agree more. It was amazing they were still together by the end of the book.

Yuichi spent almost the entire first half of the book treating Wataru like garbage, even though that wasn't even close to how he felt. I wish Kannagi had toned that down, because it made it more difficult to believe that Wataru could fall for him. I could sort of go along with it, because Yuichi's mask occasionally slipped in ways that even Wataru was able to notice, but it was still a bit aggravating.

In the second half of the book, Yuichi and Wataru began to think about sex. Wataru was worried that things were going faster than he was comfortable with, so by the end of the conversation he and Yuichi had come to an agreement in which they would have sex if Yuichi ranked in the top thirty (in all of Japan!) on the exam he was studying for. Like Kawamura later said, this guaranteed that they'd see each other even less than they already were, because Yuichi would be too busy studying, which would probably only make things more awkward for them later on. While they were separated, Wataru got caught up in a jealous classmate's schemes and, instead of telling Yuichi about it at the first opportunity, he made things worse by lying about it.

Amazingly, Wataru and Yuichi's relationship survived their efforts to sabotage it, and now I have four more volumes to go. Here's hoping that, at the very least, the writing/translation gets smoother.

Extras:

Several black-and-white illustrations and two color illustrations.

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