Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Sadistic Boyfriend
Chiaki has managed to get into her dream high school – the prestigious Otomegawa, stronghold of the wealthy. As a high schooler, she's expected to live in the dorms (and eat their fabulous food), but when she arrives she's forced to participate in a lottery for the “honor” of rooming with the headmistress' grandson – and she wins! Chiaki's not thrilled about rooming with a boy, even in a spacious penthouse, and things only get worse when he pins her to the bed and kisses her. Is this the end for Chiaki's dreamed-of school life?
If you're familiar with Yuna Anisaki as a manga artist, My Sadistic Boyfriend won't come as any surprise. A staple of racy shoujo magazines in the early 2000s, Anisaki belongs to the same school of romance as Mayu Shinjo (Sensual Phrase) and Haruko Kurumatani (Ani-Imo), along with other creators who were active in the magazines Cheese! and Sho-Comi when they were a bit spicier than their current incarnations. Given that this title dates to 2008, readers can expect a story more in line with that period of shoujo publication, and that's not going to work for all readers of the romance genre.
What that means is that “consent” is not a major theme in this book, and the central conceit – that heroine Chiaki is forced to room with Katsuho, the romantically aggressive school prince – is largely based around him kissing her forcefully or pinning her to walls or beds or whatever happens to be handy. While this is still a staple of some shoujo romances (Makino's Defying Kurosaki-kun, currently being published in English by Kodansha as a digital-first title comes to mind), the aesthetic is much more sexual than sensual or romantic, which definitely gives the book some troubling overtones. Add in lines like “your eyes were asking for it” and other similar statements made by Katsuho and you have a romance that's firmly Old School in its approach.
That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing within the genre. It's a very established branch of romance that has its fans, and if that's your brand of romance fantasy, that's fine. The problem with it even within the context of its romance subgenre is that it isn't especially well done. Chiaki's willpower is virtually nonexistent, making her a very passive participant in the entire situation. The issue with this is that it's hard to see her as a character, or even a blank-slate for the reader to put themself in, because the vestiges of personality that she does evince are limited to vague surprise and vague alarm. There is a great moment when she gets stuck on the fact that everyone at school as a few classmates they use the honorific “sama” for, denoting greater respect than you'd usually give someone your own age in a school setting (at least if you weren't being sarcastic), largely because she can't quite imagine Katsuho being worthy of it. This is sadly undermined scarcely thirty pages later when she decides that him kissing her has made her fall in love with him, which is much more typical of her thoughts and actions in the book.
Again, the insta-love aspect of the volume isn't itself the problem; there's plenty of established precedent for that in YA romance all over the world. That he immediately fell in love with her is a decently believable way to excuse his behavior towards her within genre conventions (remembering that romance doesn't have to adhere to real life), and several of his non-sexual actions in the latter half of the book do support that, most notably his performance in the tennis game in chapters three and four. Largely, however, he doesn't do anything to make Chiaki fall for him beyond lots of make-out sessions. Now, this is a seven-volume series, and it is entirely possible that in later books Chiaki learns the difference between sexual desire (which this is her first brush with) and love and that this book is simply an attempt to hook the reader with smutty content. As of this volume, however, Chiaki's declaration feels like it comes out of nowhere and is simply to allow author Momoshiro to move the characters ahead in their physical relationship without resorting to full-on nonconsensual actions.
Perhaps more at issue is the pacing of the volume. Events move at a rapid pace, with a jump from Chiaki's first three days at school to a school trip with no real sense of how much time has passed between the two events. Days 1 – 3 are also unevenly described, with the end of the first day rushed through and a feeling that day three may be day ten or something, based on the progress of the plot. Simply put, the timeline feels unnaturally accelerated, even for an instant love story, and that makes it even harder to get behind Chiaki's and Katsuho's relationship.
Fortunately, Anisaki's artwork is very attractive. While characters in closeup can look a little cross-eyed, her lines are clean and she draws a decent variety of character designs. Chiaki's school trip roommate is an impressive tribute to Aim for the Ace!, and the pages are laid out so that there is no real confusion about panel or speech bubble order. The translation is likewise smooth and easy to read, lacking an over dependency on slang or other dated language that will serve it well in the long run.
My Sadistic Boyfriend is a niche title. If less-than-fully-consensual romance is your preferred subgenre, you'll definitely get more enjoyment out of this than otherwise, but it's still hampered by a lack of character development and awkward pacing. Given that most titles in this particular subgenre released in English are BL, readers who are looking for a different option may want to give this a second volume to see if it improves, but if you're not a fan of the story type to begin with, this title is one you can easily pass by.
Overall : C
Story : D
Art : B
+ Nice art, good translation, might be enticing for fans of its specific fetish
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