Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
When Izumi Sena was a little boy, he accompanied his famous parents to the set of a commercial they were filming. This put him in the right place at the right time to substitute for an actor who couldn't make it...as a girl. Ten years later, Izumi hasn't forgotten the traumatic experience of being on-screen and he's eschewed his family's showbiz lifestyle to embrace the Way of the Otaku. Unfortunately for him, not only do his parents want him to go into the family business, but the boy he acted opposite in the commercial has grown up to be mega superstar Ryoma Ichijo, who has never forgotten the “girl” from the commercial. Can there be a road to true love for these two resisting souls? And even if there could, would Izumi's doting older brother allow it?
There's an established trope in the romance genre, whether the story is about a gay couple or a straight one: at the outset of the relationship, one or the other of the prospective partners will announce that they hate the other one. Eiki Eiki and Taishi Zaou's Love Stage does do that, but in an unusual way – Ryoma Ichijo first loves Izumi before announcing he hates him before realizing that no, he really does love him. That sort of over-the-top silliness is a key factor in this anticipated release which received an anime adaptation in 2013, and help to make it an enjoyable read even as it dabbles in some nonconsensual moments.
The story revolves around Izumi Sena, the younger son of a showbiz power couple who also run a talent/production agency, Sena Pro. Unlike his parents or older brother Shogo, Izumi has no interest in going into show business. He had a bad experience as a little boy when his mother volunteered him to fill in for a girl who couldn't make a shoot, and now Izumi just wants to be a manga artist and create stories like his beloved magical girl series Lala Lulu. There's only one problem with this: he can't draw worth a damn. His family, and more specifically Rei, the manager of Sena Pro, are fully aware of the issue, but Izumi remains stubborn, refusing to go to voice lessons or auditions or anything. All of that changes when the company that shot the traumatic commercial ten years ago announces that they want to do a sequel with the same actors. Izumi's mother desperately wants to act with current heartthrob and megastar Ryoma Ichijo, who just so happened to be the little boy Izumi acted opposite all those years ago, and Izumi finds himself bribed into agreeing to cross-dress once more. But there's a major complication: Ryoma has been carrying a torch for the “girl” he met at the shoot, and desperately wants to see Izumi again to profess his love for “her.” As you might imagine, things get complicated from there.
A large part of the appeal of this volume is the characters themselves. Both Ryoma and Izumi are blindly wandering around their own lives, Ryoma trying to prove to himself that he can be just as famous an actor as someone from a showbiz family (something that is clearly a pet peeve of his) while nurturing his crush, and Izumi is sort of ambling around without a lot of purpose to his life. He decides sort of abruptly midway through the volume that he's going to become a mangaka, and to his credit, once he makes that decision he gives it his all. It's just too bad his all isn't very good, something he is blissfully unaware of. And that actually doesn't matter yet, because his aspirations serve as a sort of safety net for him after he gets back in contact with Ryoma. Ryoma really throws him, and the feeling is mutual, because once Ryoma finds out that his love is a boy, he's totally shaken up. That's simultaneously funny, creepy, and kind of heartwarming – funny because he really does have a major freak-out, creepy because he thinks that by stripping Izumi he'll be “cured” of his infatuation, and heartwarming because he does fairly quickly come to the realization that he loves Izumi no matter what he's got in his underwear.
Emotionally, there's a lot going on in this book, and in order to get the story started, there really has to be. Eiki Eiki keeps it from feeling overwhelming, primarily by use of the character Shogo, Izumi's doting older brother. Shogo, based on the author's own brother Daigo, is the lead singer in a popular band, and there are definite hints that he and Rei might be in or have had a relationship. Shogo's one concern is Izumi, and he has no problem bribing him with Lala Lulu merchandise if he thinks it'll help bring him out of his shell. Shogo seems like he'll be instrumental in Ryoma and Izumi's relationship, if only because if Ryoma wants it to work he'll have to get Shogo's approval.
Taishi Zaou has a distinctive style with a very specific look to faces and a generally clean feeling. The book is very easy to read visually, and SuBLime's adaptation is mostly good. I am not sold on Izumi using the phrase “totes adorbs,” as it doesn't feel like it fits the character, but apart from that, it reads believably and well. The one nonconsensual scene will be problematic for some readers, but if you don't mind that or can overlook it, this appears to the start of a very fun, and funny, BL series about a misunderstanding bringing two guys together.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Attractive art, Shogo is a great character. Ryoma's not-so-inner turmoil is fun, as is Izumi's “art.”
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