Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Hitorijime My Hero
Masahiro's neglectful mother has left him at loose ends for most of his life, as well as with a firm disbelief in heroes, because none ever came to save him. By middle school he's fallen in with a group of thugs who use him as a gofer just so that he has a place to belong. But then one day Kousuke Ohshiba appears on the scene – a sort of vigilante who takes down ne'er-do-wells and liberates Masahiro from his gang's grasp. Is it okay for Masahiro to trust that Kousuke will be there for him? And isn't it a problem when Kousuke turns out to be one of his high school teachers?
The title Hitorijime My Hero may be familiar to some people already based on its 2017 anime adaptation, and I have to admit that that may be the better introduction to the story as of this writing. That's largely because the manga is a sequel to Memeco Arii's previous work, Hitorijime Boyfriend, with the protagonists of this second (longer) series functioning as side characters in the first. The anime version's first few episodes actually adapt Hitorijime Boyfriend before delving into the sequel, and that allows us to get to know quite a few of the characters in Hitorijime My Hero. Without that knowledge, there's a definite sense that we're missing something, and since that “something” largely involves Masahiro's friend group, it's a bit of a problem. It's most glaring in that we're clearly supposed to know much more about Asaya, Kousuke's younger brother's boyfriend, and given that he plays a fairly large role in the story, it really is an issue.
That aside, the other factor that might turn some readers off from this BL series is the fact that not only is there a twelve-year age gap between the protagonists, but Kousuke is also Masahiro's teacher. While he certainly wasn't when they first met, which does smooth over some of the potential issues, there has always been a power imbalance in their relationship, in part because Masahiro has been specifically (albeit unconsciously) looking for an adult he can look up to. (I hesitate to say “authority figure” because that doesn't seem to be strictly the case here.) Masahiro's being “raised” by his single mother, who appears to be a sex worker of some kind. While this is hardly new in manga (the male protagonist of Toradora!'s mother is a similar, yet much more sympathetic, character), Masahiro's mom is spectacularly neglectful, and he's essentially grown up in squalor. She also tends to bring clients home to have sex with, apparently not caring if her son is there or not, or if he has anywhere to go should he come home while she's working. This is what drives Masahiro to seek companionship in a gang of small-time thugs, something he recognizes as not great, but also sees as his only real option, because at least these guys pretend to care about him. When Kousuke, in his pre-teacher persona as “the bear killer,” a thug-destroyer, takes out Masahiro's gang, the boy finds himself at a loss. Ultimately this leads to him befriending Kousuke's brother Kensuke and getting taken under their collective wing, and he comes to see Kousuke as someone he can trust.
Even if we set aside power-balance issues, Arii doesn't do a terrific job of showing that Masahiro has a crush on Kousuke. Kousuke himself is much more obvious, at least to the reader, although he could definitely use a few tips on how to express himself clearly to the guy he likes. While there is clear progress made in this first volume on the romance front, it feels as if it happens a bit too quickly and without quite enough context or consent to really work. Not that the romance needs to be a slow burn, but more exploration of Masahiro's feelings would have gone a long way in this particular case, as well as a bit more patience on Kousuke's part.
Despite how this may sound, Hitorijime My Hero is in no way explicit, and even the kissing is relatively tame, more on the level of your average shoujo romance than much of the BL published in English. Arii relies on implication rather than in-your-face sex scenes, and that works for the story. It also gives the art time to improve, as it does throughout the volume with the exception of the Ohshiba family cat, who is one of the worst-drawn cats I've personally encountered in manga. Arii in general has some problems with proportions and profiles, but the pages are well-laid out and easy to follow. There's also a nice balance of gray, white, and black spaces used, which also makes for comfortable reading.
If you've already seen the anime, Hitorijime My Hero may be a more accessible story, but readers coming into it cold could find themselves feeling a little lost. Although it is possible to understand the story, a lot of nuance is missing, and that can make this a bit frustrating to read. Given how things improve over the course of the volume, however, it does seem likely that the series will get better as it gets further away from its predecessor, so if you enjoyed the anime or are willing to give this some time, it may turn out that this first volume is the weakest in a decent series.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C+
+ Story and art improve as book goes on
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