Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sasaki and Miyano
Miyano doesn't worry about much in his day-to-day life beyond keeping his love of BL manga a secret at school and the fact that his face is far too “pretty” for a boy, in his opinion. Things begin to change, though, when he witnesses a fight and an older student named Sasaki comes to the rescue, breaking it up. All of a sudden Sasaki wants to spend a lot of time with Miyano, and he's even interested in reading some of his BL manga. Is there a real-life love story beginning to unfold? And is Miyano at all aware of it?
From the synopsis on the back cover of the book or on any number of retail websites, the first volume of Sasaki and Miyano seems rife with pitfalls. Not only is it about a boy who secretly loves BL, but it also seems to feature a one-sided romance and a setup that more easily lends itself to cheap jokes about homoerotic romances with a dash of homophobia as “humor.” Fortunately for all of us, that, as it turns out, is emphatically not what Sasaki and Miyano is. While it certainly does feature the aforementioned plot elements, the story itself is sweet at heart and features impressively few of the sort of gags that can turn manga about a fudanshi into something that feels more mean than funny.
The story revolves around two high school boys, the eponymous Miyano and Sasaki. Miyano is a first-year whose only quirk is his love of BL manga and dramas – he's otherwise unremarkable in the pantheon of his class. He does have a face that's more traditionally feminine than masculine, which causes him some angst, but on the whole he's just gliding along through his high school life. Sasaki is a year older and his looks get him branded as a delinquent, although that's not the case. In fact, when he encounters Miyano trying to find someone to break up a fight, he offers to handle it himself – and promptly gets beaten up for his attempt. Later when Miyano attempts to thank him for intervening, Sasaki uses the opportunity to become friends with the younger boy, because he's a little confused by his reaction to him.
As far as Sasaki goes, the story is largely about him coming to understand his own sexual orientation. The implication is that he's always assumed that he's attracted to girls because that's what's considered normal, but meeting Miyano hits him like a ton of hearts and suddenly he's forced to reconsider. He's not freaked out, but he is a bit confused. He's also totally willing to try to figure out what his feelings are and to gently pursue his crush. The discovery that Miyano is a fan of BL and his willingness to lend Sasaki volumes seems to help Sasaki to a degree; at the very least, the books are proof that such romance exists and that Miyano isn't averse to it in a fictional setting.
This is, of course, the stickiest bit of the plot. Miyano doesn't go around loudly proclaiming that he's not gay, he just likes homoerotic love stories, which is a major plus. He does make similar comments twice in the book, but he's also clearly not homophobic, and it seems more that he's oblivious to Sasaki's feelings in the manner of all good manga romance protagonists. (And in this case, Sasaki's still trying to figure it out, so it feels less ridiculous than the trope can sometimes be.) Most of the conflict appears to be on Sasaki's side at this point, not because he's opposed to the discovery that he has a crush on Miyano, but because he's just never thought it was something that he'd experience, and he's being forced to reconfigure his view of himself, or at least one facet of himself. Again, there's no apparent homophobia; it's just a new thing and he's confused. He's also afraid that Miyano will reject him entirely if and when he figures things out, which is valid because sometimes that happens, regardless of orientation, and also because at one point Sasaki half-jokingly asked him out and Miyano said no. Again, not with any disgust, but more as if he assumed Sasaki was fully joking, which at the time Sasaki allowed without comment.
An interesting element of the book is the way that Shō Harusono uses the art. The manga flips between four-panel style and more traditional manga format, and there's a distinct difference between when each is used. The four-panel pages are for the lighter pieces of the plot – and are usually from Miyano's perspective. Traditional manga setup is for the more serious parts, more typically from Sasaki's point of view. This not only shows that the author is being very deliberate about what's being presented and how, but also gives us a good idea of each boy's interior life: Sasaki is currently in a much more thoughtful phase while Miyano is still just coasting along, doing his thing. As far as visual cues for story tone, it works very well.
Sasaki and Miyano is another very short volume, around 150 pages, but it uses those pages well. It would have been nice to have a longer book because the story really is engaging, but this feels like one of those series where you take what you can get – because despite some missteps, what you get is a very enjoyable book.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Format of manga helps convey character details, surprisingly sweet and largely non-problematic.
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