Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Don't Be Cruel [2-in-1 Edition]
Nemugata is at his wits' end – he's a scholarship student at a prestigious high school, but his grades are slipping. If he doesn't place highly in the next test, he faces expulsion, which of course makes him even more nervous. Fearing for his place at the school, he takes a chance and cheats on the test…and is caught by Maya, the school playboy. Maya uses the threat of revealing his cheating to get Nemugata to embark on a physical relationship with him. Can this tortured start ever lead to love?
This may sound disingenuous, but Don't Be Cruel's first two-volume omnibus really is two different books. By this I mean that while volumes one and two are about the same characters, the stories they're involved in differ significantly between the two halves of the book, with the first volume being much more nonconsensual and wrapped up in some of yaoi's more divisive tropes and the second leaning much more into emotional romance territory. If you can deal with volume one, there's a nice story that takes over in volume two, but the opening chapter of the omnibus may be enough to turn some readers off.
The story follows the relationship between bookish Nemugasa and playboy Maya. Nemugasa is a scholarship student at an expensive (and prestigious) high school, but stress has caused his grades to slip. When he cheats in desperation, Maya catches him and blackmails him into having sex to avoid having his cheating revealed to the administration. This basic plotline persists for the first hundred or so pages of the first half of the omnibus, with things taking a turn for the more emotional just before the start of volume two. At this point it is heavily implied that Maya had been in love with, or at least had a serious crush on, Nemugasa from the start, and the blackmail was his “clumsy” way of getting them together. The turning point in the story is when Nemugasa begins to think of Maya as his friend, which disappoints Maya significantly, because that really wasn't the relationship he was going for. Volume two then follows a storyline about Nemugasa coming to realize that he is in love with Maya as well and having to convince Maya, who has basically given him up, of that fact.
To say that the juxtaposition between these two halves will be disturbing to some readers is to state the obvious. When author Yonezou Nekota is selling the story as a plain old romance, it works really well, and watching Maya go through the emotional wringer is effective. On the other hand, it's hard to forget that opening chapter and a half where Maya rapes Nemugasa. If this subgenre of romance doesn't bother you particularly, this is all a moot point to a degree – the issue then becomes the fact that Nekota doesn't link the two halves very smoothly. Nemugasa's change of heart feels far too unsubstantiated, although presumably the fact that now kids at school talk to him because of Maya's attention and the fact that Maya is sharing his tutor are meant to be enough of a reason. It isn't quite enough, however, and romance, BL or otherwise, still really needs a bit more relationship development to sell its lead couple.
When the couple is established and the whole blackmailing business is cast aside, Don't Be Cruel is a much better story. Maya's need for attention from Nemugasa becomes the main obstacle, with Nemugasa feeling stifled by Maya's constant texts and invitations, to say nothing of his jealousy when his cousin Jutta enrolls at their school and befriends Nemugasa. He lashes out, not understanding that Maya is in love with him and sees them as having more than a friendship, and in doing so he accidentally wounds Maya to the point where he tries to give him up. This adds some emotional investment into the story for both characters, not only developing them both more, but also making the book more fun to read as it feels like there's more of a plot in general. This half of the book also has fewer sex scenes, although they remain fairly explicit. Nekota is not shy about drawing pubic hair or genitals most of the time, and both characters look distinctly masculine, which is not always the case in BL. Her art is good in general, lacking the questionable anatomy and massive hands that a lot of yaoi artists use, and the world of Don't Be Cruel isn't populated solely by gay men, another typical genre trope. Nekota also has nice touch with humor in both art and story when it's needed, as well as about her own work – her comments about the original cover for volume one (included as the color frontispiece) and the evolution of Maya as a character are entertaining.
Don't Be Cruel's first omnibus is a bit difficult to recommend because the two halves are so different. The second is much more welcoming to a general audience, where the first opens right up with a nonconsensual relationship that may be an instant turn-off for some readers who would otherwise like book two. If that's not your button, this is a good read with particularly nice art, and the evolution of the characters is interesting. If I could give separate grades to the two volumes in the omnibus, I would, because it really does feel a bit like two different series under the same heading.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B+
+ Second half is better with a stronger plotline and more emotional content, art is particularly nice, and the story has a good sense of humor placement
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