by Casey Brienza,

Don't Blame Me

GN 1-2

Don't Blame Me GN 1-2
One day, while taking a meal at his college's cafeteria, Toshiaki Kaji notice something bizarre: a man in a teddy bear suit. The man in question turns out to be Takasaki, and he belongs to the college's film club. Intrigued, Kaji decides to join up and soon discovers that the club's members are a bunch of misfits that include club president Tsuchiya, the promiscuous and openly gay Jun Kujirai, yaoi fangirl Miki, and cult film geek Ikurou Nakamura. Kaji and Nakamura are instantly attracted to each other, but admitting their feelings isn't easy—especially when Nakamura is so socially inept and insecure and Kaji has beautiful girls like Yamazaki yearning after him. Even several years later, when Tsuchiya and Miki are married and Kaji's young cousin Makoto is around to cause worry, theirs is a relationship that takes great patience and a true investment of love.

Beloved boy's love (BL) mangaka Yugi Yamada began earning her chops in the manga business as an assistant to the prolific, veteran creator Satosumi Takaguchi, of Shout Out Loud! fame. Takaguchi has worked in many different genres over the years, most notably shoujo, josei, and BL, and published for many different imprints. Yamada, who evinces a clear stylistic debt to her sensei, demonstrates similar narrative range in the two-volume series Don't Blame Me, her first long series dating from early in her professional career.

Indeed, the manga begins its tale with a technique more common to shoujo manga and BL—by depicting adult conflicts through the eyes of a child. The child in question is the thirteen year old Makoto, who hero-worships his twenty-seven year old cousin Kaji. After noticing his beloved “Toshi” listed in the credits of a new movie and knowing that it was Kaji's long-held dream to become a cameraman, Makoto heads over to Kaji's apartment to congratulate him. Instead, he finds Kaji demoralized by the film industry and caught in an ongoing fight with his lover “Iku,” who has left him yet again. But he also meets a bunch of Kaji's college friends, two of whom are married and expecting. This Iku resurfaces for the birth, and he and Kaji passionately make up…in front of Makoto, who is shocked to discover that “Iku” is male and his cousin is gay. Oh yeah, and so is the charismatic Nakamura, who takes a very special shine to the innocent Makoto.

The next chapter abruptly turns back the clock to Kaji's first year of college. He doesn't like school and is seriously considering dropping out. However, curiosity gets the better of him when he sees a man in a teddy bear suit eating croquettes in the cafeteria and finds out that bear guy is a member of the film club. He figures he likes movies well enough, but what he really wants to know is: What manner of students are they? Kaji finds out soon enough and becomes embroiled in their personal lives nearly as fast. The gay Kujirai and Takasaki (bear guy) have been friends since childhood, and Takasaki is infuriated by the fact that Kujirai, whom he loves more than anyone in the world, seems willing to jump into bed with anyone (and everyone) except him. Kujirai is a standard Yugi Yamada character type, and his laissez faire attitude toward life is certain to conceal depths of drama. Sure enough, it turns out that Kujirai bears a grudge against Takasaki's dad, who he believes ruined his mother, and Takasaki himself is in turn sullied by association. But when the elderly man dies, they discover that they are actually half-brothers!

Nakamura, for his part, has adored Kaji since they met on a crowded train on the morning before the first day of college. But he's never had any friends, and he doesn't know how to deal. When confronted with trouble, he has a tendency to morph into a geeky four-eyes (complete with spirals on this glasses) who spouts obscure film trivia. Even though he eventually admits to Kujirai that he is in love, he would rather just avoid Kaji. Kaji, for his part, secretly overhears but does noting. But things do not come a head until the second volume until Nakamura is forced to bring Kaji back into the film club's orbit as they prepare their own amateur film for the school festival. Yamazaki, who has joined as well just because she wants to be close to Kaji, soon realizes that she is competing with Nakamura for Kaji's affections, throws a fit and indirectly manages to bring the two men together at last. They are outed dramatically on the day of the festival when Miki's sexually explicit videotape of their assignation, which she took without their knowledge, is screened instead of their production. This is, by the way, a great use of a yaoi fangirl supporting character. Her tastes aren't just there to affirm those of the reader's but rather ultimately become the source of a pivotal plot point.

Suffice it to say that all's well that ends well. The final chapter returns the reader to Makoto, whose loyalty to his cousin has not been compromised by what he has learned about the man's personal life. Kaji and Nakamura, for their part, survive their latest spousal tiff, and the story ends on a whimsical scene where Makoto receives a lighthearted postcard from Kujirai, who has reunited with Takasaki at last. A bonus but basically forgettable one-shot about a boy and his old basketball sempai rounds out the volume.

Even though it is one of her earliest, Don't Blame Me, nearly ten years later, continues to be one of Yamada's best. It demonstrates tremendous thematic range, from lowbrow comedy to subtle irony to serious emotional tribulation, and all of it is effective. She also sustains a large cast of interesting, complex characters with admirable skill. And though she writes them into adulthood, she does not elide the fact that life is not just a bed of roses and that love demands a lifetime's worth of continued investment. Indeed, if this series has any weakness at all, it would be the art, which is definitely an acquired taste and betrays occasional, amateurish sequencing. All in all, though, this series is highly recommended to anyone who likes slice-of-life manga…particularly to those who do not normally read BL. Yamada stretches the genre to its limits, and the results are simply not to be missed.

Production Info:
Overall : A
Story : A+
Art : B-

+ Interesting (and sexy!) characters, a complex, well-conceived plot, and plenty of laughs to lighten up the angsty bits.
A weak bonus story in volume two and artwork that remains a bit amateurish.

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