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Junjo Romantica. Pure Romance. Boy x Boy; ass x ass. Or something like that. I'm not a yaoi character, I don't know how this works.
Saying that, I'd like to commence reviewing Junjo Romantica using the yaoi methods invested in me from fujoshi from far and wide.
1. Let's stare into their eyes as they unsettlingly quiver.
Take a look at the art. A quick Google will tell you all you need to know about this.
Ok. Ok. Fine! The art...sigh...it hurts me to call this art. I just need to create a slideshow of everything that is wrong with this:
a. Yaoi hands
These guys make basketballs look like yoyos.
b. Tiny heads
Misaki must have to shop in the child section every winter.
c. Eyes. Don't look directly at them.
They'll follow you around the room.
d. Have I mentioned the hands yet? Look at them.
I refuse to get over this.
e. Clothes. I thought gay guys were meant to be stylish?
It's amazing to me that they can do their buttons up.
f. The eyebrows are both overbearing and transparent at the same time.
Like a ghostly mother-in-law.
I can't talk about this anymore, I have to save something for my therapist.
2. Let's 'accidentally' put our hand on their crotch.
I will be frank, inspired by Frank at talktofrank.com: the sex looks like a dwarf fighting with a robot made from a deckchair.
On a more serious note... I understand that a lot of the audience *cough* 12 year old girls *cough* are only interested in this because of the sexual content. I'd rather not get deeper into it than that. I can only say that not only the drawings of the sex bother me - and they are truly heinous, like occular herpes - but the story behind these scenes, too, are unacceptable. This is not sex. This molestation. This is sexual assault. This is rape. Misaki does not want to have sex with Usagi (can't believe I just typed Bunny in romanised Japanese with no irony whatsoever). Usagi forces him - whether it's because he knows he's gay, or he just doesn't care if Misaki doesn't want to have sex with him, it's wrong, it's wrong, it's wrong. Fiction or not: Wrong.
There's also a more... disturbing dimension to Usagi (did it again, whoops). Usagi mentions that he was molested/raped by another person, which "made him gay". He also collects teddy bears and children's toys, leaving them around his apartment and bedroom. I don't know. It's unsettling. I would love to dissect this with the cast of Criminal Minds, but, I don't have rights to that show.
3. Let's tragically misunderstand one another.
The story is just...misunderstandings heaped on top of misunderstandings. It's nail bitingly awful, but so are most romance movies: girl meets guy, coincidences ensue, girl and guy have sex and decide to live happily ever after. I am no rocket surgeon, but in comparison Junjo Romantica is neither different or worse than the average romance story. Apart from the penises, I guess it has more than the average...
4. Let's make love and listen to death from above
Don't read this. Don't let others read this. Stop continuing to let this travesty happen. Thank-you and goodbye.
miwa score: -100/5
Recommendations: 70s mothers of shoujo manga Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio have some great boy's love comics floating about, beautifully drawn, compellingly written, and executed with a dignity today's modern garish comics lack. "Heart of Thomas" is coming out this month, published by Fantagraphics, so be sure to look out for it if you're interested. I also like the work of "Shoowa", Nakamura Asumiko (beautiful art, to die for, weird stories), and Miyamoto Kano.
P.S. Don't tell anyone I wrote this. Especially my mum.
For me to explain this book properly, I really need to give a bit of background on genre in general for the uninitiated. This is manga. Often called a Japanese comic book, but graphic novel is really more appropriate. Now, say comic book and mention Japan, and most people get the idea of books filled with Japanese super heroes, such as Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball Z, or Naruto. Or they might be a bit savvier and think Death Note. Aha, this is but the tip of a very large iceberg. Don't worry, you don't need to know all the ins and outs of manga, but a few terms you should know, so that you understand what one would be getting into.
Kodomo: This is manga aimed at children. As in small people aged 4 to about 8 to 10 years of age.
Shojou: sweet romance manga aimed at females. For teens on up.
Shonen: manga aimed at the male market. Literally mans boy. Ages 10 and up. Usually action oriented, with a focus on adventure or sports being a common theme
Seinen: Aimed at mature males, this will contain mature content, such as blood, gore, extreme violence, and even possibly themes of a sexual nature.
Josei: Aimed at mature women. Same warning applies as to content as seinen.
Shojou-ai: Shojou manga featuring female same sex pairings romantically. Nothing sexually explicit shown.
Yuri: Shojou-ai just got their groove on. It IS a graphic novel, so you will see the deed(s)
Shonen-ai: Like shojou-ai, but male couples. Aimed at female readers, however.
Boys Love (BL) or Yaoi: sexually explicit depiction of boys in love. Also aimed at female readers. If this puzzles you, think about the women who fangirled over THAT kiss in Torchwood. 'Nuff said.
Hentai: This literally means perverted. This is basically manga porn. Heavy stress on sexual imagery and may even cater to a fetish market. You have been warned.
Ok, now that we have this out of the way, I can talk a bit about this particular manga. The title literally translates as Pure Romance, so that gives a rather big clue what the book is going to be about. A look at the cover readily tells you that this is no sweet shojou manga, however. Yep, it has two guys on the cover. So, this is definitely going to be either shonen-ai (like Gravitation), or yaoi. Well, let me tell you, sweet it may be, and it may focus a lot on the interpersonal relationships, but this is no shonen ai. If you blush easily, this is NOT the book for you, as trousers and pants go flying, and hands do more than roam. Not that this is porn by a long shot. No, the sex scenes are actually important to the plot. Or rather, I should say plots, as the book contains two parallel stories.
The main story is Junjou Romantica. High school student Misaki is a sweet but not very academically capable student who is in his last year of high school. This means he is at crunch time, as this is the year that focuses on preparing and taking exams that not only help them graduate from high school successfully, but ones that are for entry into the universities they wish to try for. Misaki lives with his older brother, who is 10 years older than himself. Their parents died rushing home one evening in the rain, in a hurry to bring back gifts that Misaki had asked for from their trip. Needless to say, Misaki has some feelings of deep seated, albeit irrational, guilt over this, and it affects how he interacts with others as he afraid of causing more tragedy or upset from being "demanding". Misaki's brother had been accepted into a certain university, and gave it up, choosing instead to take care of the small Misaki, so Misaki really wants to make it up to him by attending this same university. Big brother Akihiko simply adores little brother Misaki, so when he comes home with mock exams scores that barely scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel, he turns to his best friend, Usami, asking for help.
Usami is ideal for tutoring Misaki, he thinks. He thinks of Usami as kind hearted as well as brilliant. An award winning novelist who speaks English like a native, and who always got only the top marks in school and university, Usami is surely the family friend who will understand Misaki and be able to impart some knowledge into his cute little head! Unfortunately, the Usami that Akihiko knows is not the entire story, as Misaki discovers in the first few pages. For one thing, he is scary when awoken, and he likes to sleep in. Enough so that he gave Misaki the code to open the door to his five bedroomed penthouse. After all, Misaki will be living with him while he studies, so that every spare moment can be spent cramming information into Misaki's otherwise empty head. This is where it goes from bad to worse. For Misaki enters, finds two stacks of books from Usami's publisher, and discovers a secret. Usami not only writes those award winning novels, but boy's love novels as well under a pen name. And upon the table is a stack of boy's love novels entitled "The Romance of the Student Council Room". And the characters of the book are named Akihiko and... cue a major temper tantrum that entails Misaki storming to the upstairs and flinging open a door. He finds a room filled with children's toys, and a very, very evil Usami who decides to make him pay for waking him up, and for the words that come flying out of the very unfortunate Misaki's mouth. Not the most promising start between a couple, yet one that very much hints at the almost sitcom nature of this manga.
The second story in the book is really an introduction to the Junjou Egoist plotline. Just as Usami is outed as to having feelings of unrequited love for Misaki's elder brother Akihiko, main character Hiroki suffers from a broken heart due to a mistake he has made while trying to salve his own unrequited love for Usami. Yes, THAT Usami. Taking place earlier than the story in Romantica, Egoist shows us a snapshot of Usami in university and the impact he has had on Hiroki. Poor down in the dumps Hiroki actually breaks down in tears in a public park, where he is noticed by Nowaki. Nowaki's name means typhoon, and boy is it apt. He literally blows generally sharp tongued Hiroki's defences away, while Nowaki himself is forced to address his own insecurities in order to try to be a "perfect fit" for the man he now loves. Misunderstandings ensue, and plenty of giggles and head shaking to be had here as well, though nowhere as humorous as Romantica. For while Romantica's Usami (nicknamed Usagi or Rabbit, strangely enough) is larger than life, Hiroki and Nowaki actually closely resemble people you might actually know in real life. It makes a nice counterpoint, and also makes Usami more believable. He becomes that rich out there eccentric guy that nearly everyone knows one of (or at least has heard of), and saves him from becoming a strange caricature of a human being.
Both stories are endearing in their own way, and I found myself really cheering for the couples to succeed. I loved the fact that the each character was fully fleshed out, though not quite in full, so that we get to know more of the inner workings of each character as they themselves discover new things about each other. The plot lines move solidly along the paths of the development of each couple's actual relationship take as well as that of personal growth, making this a highly enjoyable read. Being adult relationships, yes, sex is involved, and being a graphic novel, one does get an eye full. It is all tastefully done however, and veers well away from the hentai end of the market. Think of it as an adult rom com in book form as opposed to being on the big or small screen, and the shock value quickly wears off. Fans of anime will be happy to know that this was made into an anime as well though, and can be watched with subtitles over on Veoh.com absolutely free and as well as an official English subtitled region 1 dvd set is being released in April 2010.
The artwork here at first glance may not seem anything to shout about, but it is nonetheless very nice to look at, and perfectly suits the characters and story. It is certainly a unique style, unlike many artists who seem to draw "standardised" characters and backgrounds. No, the artwork here firmly proclaims this is the work of mangaka (manga writer/artist) Nakamura Shungiku. While she has written more than just the Junjou series, Junjou is certainly the most famous, though her book Hybrid Child is also currently in print and translated into English. I look forward to reading many more of her works and completing the Junjou series, as her stories are varied and often deep in places, though not too heavy. Perfect for a light bit of reading, but being yaoi, best kept out of reach of children.