Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Keiichi and Masayuki are high school seniors and best friends, despite the fact that Keiichi is serious and hard-working while Masayuki's a wealthy flirt. One day Keiichi snags his gym pants from home without realizing that his older sister left her pantyhose inside them, and when Masayuki rushes him to the nurse's office to avoid humiliation, he realizes that Keiichi has really nice legs – his major turn-on. Can the two boys maintain their friendship when Masayuki is suddenly lusting after his best friend's legs?
As far as contrived premises go, “boy doesn't realize his older sister borrowed his gym clothes and left her pantyhose in his pants” is definitely up there. It gets even stranger when said boy's best friend's turn-on turns out to be black pantyhose-clad legs, with the result that when he sees his friend's gams he falls madly in lust with them. But that's the base story behind Jackass!, Scarlet Beriko's latest English-language release, and it leads to a surprisingly good tale about two young men figuring out who it is that they really love.
The protagonist of the book is Keiichi, a high school third year living with his older sister. He feels conflicted about her taking care of all of the household expenses, so he works hard to contribute and has decided not to go to college in order to be less of a financial burden on her. This is the opposite of what his sister wants, but Keiichi can't bring himself to listen to her. His seriousness is lightened somewhat by his best friend Masayuki, whom he sees as something of a rich playboy stereotype. Masayuki always has a girl in the wings and teases Keiichi about his lack of a girlfriend, although later he admits that the “stuff that comes after touching” isn't something he particularly enjoys. As previously mentioned, all of that changes when Masayuki sees Keiichi's legs in black pantyhose. Suddenly Masayuki is trying to pursue a totally different kind of relationship, seeming to think that the boys can be best buds with benefits without any issues.
That's emphatically not the case for Keiichi, who is totally unnerved by the emotions Masayuki's sexual advances stir in him. It's important to note that he's not uncomfortable with the idea of being homosexual; his other closest friend has been open about his homosexuality since the two of them were in elementary school, and they talk frankly about his love life. It's more that Keiichi never expected to have romantic or sexual feelings for Masayuki specifically, and he's not sure how to handle the change in their friendship, especially since Masayuki has an admitted reputation as a player. Even if he allows their sexual encounters to continue, there's no guarantee that Masayuki will ever see him as a viable romance, and that's not something Keiichi wants to face.
For his part, Masayuki is less outwardly uncomfortable, but still clearly upset by what's going on. In his case it seems to stem from two things: his lack of experience with romantic emotions (all encounters having been strictly physical thus far) and his fear of the way his relationship with Keiichi is changing. To Masayuki, it feels safest to indulge himself sexually while maintaining the same kind of friendship as before, and he can't understand why that isn't working. By the second half of the book, it becomes apparent that he is aware that he has warmer feelings for Keiichi and simply can't bring himself to admit it, hiding behind his usual façade of easy physicality.
What makes this book work is that both lead characters have to change and acknowledge that there are stronger emotions at play than either of them are initially comfortable with. While Keiichi, with his friend's help, comes to realize it first, he also knows Masayuki well enough to be able to confront him with his own coping mechanisms before he puts them into play. It's really Masayuki who then has to prove to Keiichi that he won't run away just because hearts are involved; he may be the more outwardly cynical, but he's also ultimately the one who has to give. That there are two other romances intertwined with Keiichi's and Masayuki also gives us something to compare their journey to – there's the friend involved with the school nurse, showing us an established couple that still has their insecurities and issues, and the classmate who can't come out even to himself and his slow acceptance of who he is, mirroring Keiichi and Masayuki's trajectory but without someone to make that discovery with.
Although Jackass! is her first wide-spread English release (two other titles are available on the digital manga platform Renta!), it does feel a bit as if we're missing some prologue where we initially met the characters. Quick research does not indicate that this is the case, and a few of the pieces are filled in as the volume goes on, but we're definitely still left with a few questions about the characters' pasts when the book ends. It doesn't really take away from the reading experience, but if you're a worrier over details, it is a bit annoying.
The art is very attractive, and each character is distinct while all having eyelashes you could sweep the floor with. While there's a fair amount of (nonpenetrative) sex, the book isn't hugely explicit until the very end, and even then it's less so than other SuBLime titles, such as Ten Count or Finder. Ultimately this is a more emotional story that grows out of a sexual one, with a focus on the conflicted feelings of the protagonists more than their insatiable lust for each other. It's a nice one, largely devoid of the troubling tropes many BL titles play into, and that makes this an overall satisfying book.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Good emotional storyline to go with the physical one, doesn't feed into the more harmful aspects of BL, nice art
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