Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
High School Life of a Fudanshi
Ryo Sakaguchi is just your average, everyday high school boy – with one exception. He's a fudanshi, a male fan of BL manga, and he doesn't bother to hide it. But being a male fan in a female-oriented genre's not always easy, and Ryo struggles with the basics of his fandom in everything from buying books to just feeling left out.
If you distill it down to its most basic message, The High School Life of a Fudanshi is about all of the issues that come with being the “wrong” gender for a fandom. That's something plenty of people have experienced, from just not fitting in with the group to outright prejudice and hostility. Humor can often be an effective way to handle situations like this, but as always, humor is a subjective thing, perhaps moreso than other genres. The result is that the first volume of Michinoku Atami's series is the kind of book where you feel kind of bad about every time that you laugh, even though it improves over the course of the volume.
The protagonist of the story is high school boy Ryo Sakaguchi, or Gucchi to his friends. Ryo's a fudanshi, the male equivalent of a fujoshi, a very enthusiastic reader of BL manga. (The first volume limits itself to manga, although anime is briefly mentioned.) Ryo's torn between being vaguely ashamed of his hobby and totally unabashed about it, and the root of this conflict is how the rest of the world judges him for being a straight male who enjoys reading fantasies about gay men.
Some parts of this concept come off fairly well. As one of the other characters says, if girls can read shounen, why can't boys read BL, which is emphatically not targeted toward them? Of course, the issue is caught up in outdated notions about sexuality, but in the book it's presented more as a problem of “that's not for you.” So Ryo has trouble going into bookstores to pick up the latest volumes without people loudly questioning his sexual orientation, or getting doujinshi at Comike(t) because they think he's buying the book to sell at an inflated price later. Those are understandable problems, and for the most part, these jokes are handled decently.
At the same time, there are definite problems with the “I'm not gay” aspect of the book. Although we can agree that loudly discussing a stranger's sexual orientation is rude, the author doesn't seem aware that Ryo's fantasizing extends to watching for what he perceives to be homosexual couples on the train falls into exactly the same category. Fortunately, it's a joke that starts to fade as the volume goes on, with more focus on Ryo having to convince people he's a serious BL fan and his own horror at discovering that someone is writing explicit doujinshi about two of his school friends, but it makes the first part of the book a less appealing read.
It's worth mentioning that Michinoku Atami is a BL mangaka, although this is her first English-translated series. This puts The High School Life of a Fudanshi in the same general category as Kiss Him, Not Me by Junko, along with My Girlfriend's a Geek to the degree that the creator is very familiar with the tropes of the BL genre and the behavior of its fans. As with the humor, this works in the story's favor in some cases, such as when Ryo tries to explain to his friend Nakamura why he needs to buy several copies of the same book from different stores to get all of the extras, and Nakamura utterly fails to understand. Other jokes, like Ryo live-tweeting Nakamura getting groped on the train, are far less appealing, and the portrayal of “queen” Shiratori, the series' one gay character, tends to be very uncomfortable. Some gags, like the names of the BL authors Ryo reads, which include Banana Luv and Ho Mo, walk a very fine line between sounding real and sounding just plain shameful.
As might be expected, the book is written in 4-koma format, with collections of strips on a theme put into chapters. This works well for the style of the jokes, which are more reliant on situations and gags than an ongoing plot, and Atami makes good use of the format in general. Her art is very clear and clean, with all characters major and minor having their own distinct looks, which is always impressive. Seven Seas' translation reads well, although there are a few scenes where a cultural note or two would have been helpful.
The High School Life of a Fudanshi's first volume struggles with being funny without too much cruelty. Ryo is obnoxious, but no more so than other rabid fujoshi who have been portrayed in similar manga before; the only real difference is that he's a fudanshi. If that tickles your funny bone and you don't mind some mean humor, this isn't a bad read. But it's definitely going to push some buttons, so perhaps skim through it before you buy.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B
+ Theme of liking something outside your demographic has potential, some jokes work, art is nice
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