Tuesday, August 3, 2021

REVIEW: The First Stage of Love (manga anthology) by Kazuhiko Mishima, translated by Melanie Schoen

The First Stage of Love is essentially a manga anthology, since it's composed of multiple stories and no single story dominates. It's published by DMP's Juné imprint, and it looks like it can still be purchased relatively inexpensively. I bought my copy used.

Parts of this review include spoilers.


Since this is basically composed of a series of unrelated stories, I think it'll work best if I discuss them one at a time. However, I'll say that, overall, I liked this volume quite a bit. The art style wasn't really to my taste - most of the couples looked enough alike that you could have shuffled them up and it wouldn't have been particularly noticeable. But the stories were generally sweet and enjoyable, and no one was cruel or rapey.

"Strawberry Milk"

Nanase likes to go up to the school rooftop and smoke. One day his teacher, Yui-sensei, tracks him down and tells him to stop because "I don't like my kisses to taste like smoke." Nanase isn't entirely sure where he's going with this, so he taunts Yui-sensei, saying that he'll quit if his teacher shows him what's so great about kissing someone who doesn't smoke.

I missed the first "sensei" in this and initially thought it starred a student and his upperclassman. Heck, they looked basically the same age. I wish that had been the case, because student-teacher relationships aren't really my thing.

But it was okay for what it was, although Yui-sensei was honestly an idiot.

"Worries of the Future"

Mitsuzuka is obsessed with the way he's aging, primarily because he remembers when he and his boyfriend, Kobayashi, were in high school and Kobayashi thought he was cute. Back then he was shorter than Kobayashi, but now that he's an adult he's taller and has a more manly build. Kobayashi still calls him cute, but he's convinced that the way he looks as he ages is eventually going to turn Kobayashi off.

This is my favorite story in the whole volume. It was so good, and Mitsuzuka and Kobayashi were a cute couple. I laughed as Mitsuzuka scowled into a mirror and freaked out when someone mentioned gray hairs. His reaction when he realized Kobayashi had misunderstood things was great too. I'd have loved to see more of these two.

"His, Her, and My Relationship"

 Murakami recently had sex with Seta, his coworker and boyfriend, for the first time, and now he's incredibly worried that it wasn't any good, because it seems like Seta has been avoiding him. Then he notices that Takahashi, one of the women at work, has been hanging around Seta a lot and maybe even bringing him lunches. Is Seta cheating on him?

From the sounds of things, Murakami could probably use some gay sex ed, but aside from that this wasn't bad. These two grown men need to learn to talk to each other more, though. I assume that, just like they'd only recently started having sex, their relationship was probably still pretty new too.

Would I read more about Murakami, Seta, and Takahashi? The answer is yes.

"The First Stage of Love" & "Finally, the Second Stage of Love"

This is the first of two stories that take place over the course of two chapters, and it's the only story mentioned in any detail on the back of the book.

Kikuchi is a bookstore employee who has a crush on a regular customer, Kaji. He enjoys talking to him but is a bit bummed at the thought that Kaji probably only views him as another employee. However, when a coworker mentions that she thinks Kaji might be married because he bought a children's picture book, Kikuchi can't help but go after him and find out the truth.

In the second chapter, Kikuchi and Kaji have secretly been a couple for a while. However, Kaji's work has kept him very busy lately, and it's putting strain on their relationship.

Ehh, this was okay, I guess. A bookstore employee running after a customer in order to confess his love to him was honestly a little weird. And as for the second chapter, why not just text each other? What was all the stressing about?

"Wait Weight Wait 1" & "Wait Weight Wait 2"

Content warning on this one for issues relating to weight.

Just before summer, Uehara's best friend Mori confessed his love to him, saying that he'd fallen for him because "I like fat kids." Uehara's response was to freak out and lose a bunch of weight, but he didn't really think things through, and Mori's hurt reaction when school starts up and they see each other again throws him off. 

In the second chapter, Mori and Uehara agree to go on their first date after Mori gets back from a trip with his family, but sudden awkward feelings on Uehara's part throw a wrench in their plans.

Okay, so this had problematic aspects and the characters' thought processes didn't really make sense. Mori was worried that Uehara would hate him for being gay...so he pretended to have a fatness fetish rather than admit that he just liked Uehara for himself. What?? And the ending of the first chapter was all about how Mori loved Uehara no matter what his weight happened to be, but in chapter 2 Uehara was worried that Mori wouldn't like him because he'd gained weight again. Guys, you're idiots.

But it was really sweet the way they tried so hard for each other, even if they were utterly stupid about it. And I liked that there were no stereotypical uke/seme aspects to their behavior. They were both giant, sweet, frustrating idiots who needed to have the stupid smacked out of them.

The weight loss/gain aspects were annoying, though. When Uehara initially wanted to lose weight, he apparently did so easily. When he wanted to gain it back, he couldn't no matter what he did. And yet when he ate a lot without intending to gain weight, suddenly the pounds magically appeared.

"Chocolate Truffle" 

I could have written about this along with "Strawberry Milk," since it was technically a continuation of that story. However, the author set the two chapters up as frames for the volume, so I figured I'd write about them that way too.

In this chapter, Nanase brought Yui-sensei chocolate truffles but wouldn't give them to him unless his teacher said "Please feed them to me."

Very short. Again, I'm not wild about the student-teacher aspect, but it was cute for what it was.

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