Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The World's Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera
Ritsu Onodera has issues. A bad break-up with his first love in high school has made him cynical and hard-hearted and he's forced to leave his dream job at the family publishing company when he hears people gossiping that he's not actually any good at his job, just gliding along on the family name. All of this leads to him taking a new job at a different publisher, who promptly sticks him in the shoujo manga department, which he has no interest in. To make things worse, his new boss is his first love, who seems to have been equally scarred by their break-up, even if he sees it totally differently than Ritsu does. Can Ritsu resist his charms and survive in the world of shoujo manga?
In the world of manga about manga, most titles focus on the creators themselves, giving us a picture of what it's like to work on a deadline and the pressure that creators face. In Shungiku Nakamura's The World's Greatest First Love, we approach the story from the editors' side, which makes this an interesting title even without the BL factor.
The story follows young editor Ritsu Onodera. He loves literature and rather than aspiring to write it himself, he wants to help guide authors to greatness, sort of like one of the protagonists of Katsura Izumi's yaoi novel series The Guilty. Ritsu's actually had some success right out of college working for his father's company, Onodera Publishing, but he begins to hear rumors that his authors would do fine without him and he's only succeeding because he's the son of the owner. Stung, Ritsu decides that he's going to prove his worth another way: he quits his job and gets hired by Marukawa Publishing, where he'll show everyone that he's a good editor without Daddy's influence. Unfortunately for his plans, Ritsu gets assigned to the shoujo manga imprint, something he knows nothing, and cares nothing, about. Even worse? His first love, the man who crushed his heart back in high school and rendered him terminally cynical, is his new boss.
While The World's Greatest First Love is a love story and certainly spends time developing that plot, it is not exclusively a romance, spending time focusing on both Ritsu's learning process and how good Takano is at it. Ritsu still finds himself berated for his family's work, particularly by his abrasive over-boss, Yokozawa. But Yokozawa seems to hold more than just his family name against Ritsu, neatly tying the work and love plots together. Yokozawa is close with Takano (just how close isn't clear), and he blames Ritsu for Takano's own emotional problems. According to Takano, it was Ritsu who dumped him instead of the other way around, which is how Ritsu remembers it. And while Ritsu is very uncomfortable with Takano being back in his life, Takano appears to still be in love with Ritsu – and he's determined to rekindle the feeling in the other man's heart. This works amusingly well with the shoujo manga that the two are editing, with both of them making comments about their lives bearing a resemblance to certain stock shoujo plot points. Ritsu, who's never read shoujo before, is kind of horrified. Takano seems to think it's funny, and a moment in the flashback chapter at the end of the book hints that he may have had a fondness for syrupy shoujo goodness back in high school.
The World's Greatest First Love shares something less pleasant than some tropes with shoujo, however, and that is a nonconsensual element to the romance. Takano's determination to make Ritsu fall for him seems in part to force the other man to remember that they once had a sexual relationship, and while this mostly involves him forcing kisses on Ritsu, it also results in one very uncomfortable scene where he brings Ritsu to orgasm despite the fact that Ritsu is yelling no and physically fighting him off the whole time. This is relatively standard in the BL genre, and Nakamura is not a particularly explicit artist, so this is, in all fairness, not as disturbing as it could be. But if you prefer your romances to be fully consensual, this is a fly in the ointment. (The sex scene in the flashback is both more explicit and consensual.)
Nakamura's art tends towards the crowded and toned, which is sort of amusing since both of those are issues brought up by Ritsu and Takano about the manga they're editing. It does read smoothly for the most part, and Takano draws some very funny surprised faces, especially on Ritsu. Bodies don't look quite put together right, especially in some of the raunchier scenes, and at times it can be difficult to tell Yokozawa and Takano apart. Other than that, this book has readable art with fairly handsome men and a smooth translation into English, which includes Nakamura's manga business notes.
The World's Greatest First Love: The Case of Ritsu Onodera is, despite its problems, a really enjoyable read. It's easy to get a feel for the characters even when they can't understand each other and shoujo manga makes a fun (and surprisingly apt) background for the story to unfold against. It does fall into some of the less good traps of BL, but whether you're already a fan of Nakamura or not, this may be a first love worth getting behind.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Good combination of a BL love story and a manga insider plot. Great funny faces, interesting characters.
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