Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
I'm Looking for Serious Love!
Kyouhei has just moved to Tokyo from the countryside for college, and, doing his best to be polite, he knocks on his neighbor's door to introduce himself. That neighbor turns out to be Tomohiro, and he's not impressed by Kyouhei's old-fashioned manners. The two couldn't have a worse first impression of each other, but when Tomohiro needs the younger man's help, they start to form a bond. Is there any hope for a relationship between an earnest and serious country boy and his cynical city neighbor?
While I always glance at the content warnings for a volume of manga, they rarely make much of an impression, unless it's one of Viz's sarcastic ones. But the warning on the back of Tokyopop's release of Shoko Rakuta's single-volume BL manga I'm Looking for Serious Love! did impress me with its specificity. Not content with just “this manga contains sexual situations” or something similar, the warning details precisely what might be an issue about those situations for some readers: dubious consent, stalking, and the use of drugs/aphrodisiacs. While the other, more basic issues are also listed (nudity, explicit sex), the actual labeling of the problematic elements is both striking and more useful than these warnings typically are. While not everyone will feel that such warnings are merited, for those with issues around such content, they can be the key to avoiding feeling uncomfortable reading something for fun.
And the warnings are merited – all of those things do, in fact, show up in the book. Generally speaking, the volume is far less explicit than many of SuBLime's BL releases, but until nearly the end of the book, Kyouhei isn't 100% on board with what happens to him. Mostly that's because he feels completely out of his depth for much of the book. When we first meet him, he's newly-arrived in Tokyo to go to college, an ambition he's harbored for most of his life. Kyouhei grew up in the countryside in a small town with his extended family, and while he'll be the first to tell you that it was an idyllic childhood, he's ready to spread his wings a bit. That said, it takes a while to adjust to a new place, and Kyouhei, primarily raised by his grandmother, comes off as being miserably cheap and old-fashioned in the big city. (His one good friend continually feeds him portions of his lunch to supplement the plain udon Kyouhei typically gets.) So when Kyouhei follows his grandmother's advice and knocks on his neighbor's door with a gift, the response is somewhat less gracious than he's been raised to expect.
This neighbor is Tomohiro, a student two years ahead of Kyouhei at the same college. Kyouhei is horrified not only by Tomohiro's rude behavior, but also by the fact that he's got a girl in his apartment, a one-night stand, even. The two are immediately oil and water together (or perhaps vinegar and baking soda), a reaction at least partially fueled by their mutual preconceptions and prejudices against people from either rural or urban environments. That slots this book into the “enemies to lovers” romance trope, although the former seems to be much more on Kyouhei's part than Tomohiro's.
If there's a major flaw to be found in this single-volume story, it's that with only the one book to tell it, the plot suffers from feeling like it's stuck on fast-forward. There simply isn't enough space to fully develop the relationships, and while that mostly goes for the main one, it's also true of Kyouhei's relationships with his new best friend and his old friend/boyfriend from home. The latter, a slightly older man named Yuuta, could have been an interesting counterpoint to the developing relationship with Tomohiro, since Kyouhei wasn't fully consenting to either in the beginning. The revelation that Yuuta sexually abused Kyouhei when they were younger, ostensibly in the name of “love” and while extorting him to keep it secret, gives us insight into why Kyouhei initially feels powerless to resist Tomohiro's advances, especially since both encounters involve the same sex act. But instead of exploring this, Rakuta chooses to allow Yuuta to be redeemed by Kyouhei's loving grandmother while Kyouhei himself never learns to say no.
These issues are in the realm of deal-breakers for some readers, content warnings notwithstanding. That Kyouhei does seem to come to love (or at least really like) Tomohiro may be too little too late, and the fact that Tomohiro recognizes that he's in love with his neighbor fairly early on doesn't excuse his behavior. Interestingly, he does seem to have some manner of respect for Kyouhei's bodily autonomy, particularly as the book goes on, and he's much less of a possessive creep than Yuuta. This is dim praise, however, although it isn't particularly unusual in certain romance subgenres, manga and romance novels alike. But if it's not your favorite flavor of BL, this may not be the book for you.
I'm Looking for Serious Love! never really lives up to its title. Ostensibly (or at least per the back copy) it's meant to describe the differences in attitude between Kyouhei and Tomohiro, with the former holding out for something serious and real and the latter sleeping around. In practice it's more like Tomohiro discovering that that's what he wants and Kyouhei just sort of going along with things. Both story and art are – consent issues aside – stolidly unremarkable, and while it has some fun moments, like a naïve Kyouhei thinking that a box of strawberry-flavored condoms are candy, it ultimately just sort of is. Even if the content isn't an issue for you, the book is firmly mediocre, something you'd pick up if you ran out of other things in the genre to read, because it's better than nothing – more or less.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : C
+ Some funny moments, Granny's a good character.
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