At a time when anthology fatigue threatens BL readers everywhere, Momoko Tenzen delivers a charming collection full of surprises and subtleties.
Writer/Artist: Momoko Tenzen
Translation: Sachiko Sato
Adaptation: Sachiko Sato
What They Say
Hiroto, a student at an all-boys' school, listens as his childhood friend, Satoshi, confesses that he is falling in love with Nao, an upperclassman in their school club. But Hiroto is perplexed that the object of Satoshi's affections is Nao - the same Nao with whom Hiroto spent an evening!
Adhering to their new standard, this book comes without JUNE's once-standard dust jacket but remains the large A5 size. JUNE does a nice job mimicking the original cover, right on down to the fonts, but the frills can be a little overbearing, especially with all the pink (and I'm all for reducing any obstructions to Momoko Tenzen's lovely cover art). The script reads very well with no trouble spots, and what appears to be a new practice of leaving in various ellipses, particularly those pauses at the start of a speech bubble, is a pleasant surprise. SFX are subtitled in complimenting fonts as per the usual, and I saw no missed text, obvious mistakes, or typos. This is definitely among JUNE's better books to date. Tenzen's artwork is an exquisite mix of the expressive and subtle. There are a couple of older pieces in here, but the newer stories are circa 2005 - when I find her character art to be most captivating. Art reproduction looks good, with clean lines and dark inks.
I love how Unsophisticated and Rude begins: with a test of friendship and a confession that appears at first glance to be the old best friend-turned love interest stand-by but quickly surprises. To say any more would ruin the read, but this high school story about choosing between a best friend and a crush comes with a variety of twists surprisingly well fleshed out given the page count. Going in a direction I didn't expect – not once, but twice – speaks volumes to either a well-crafted short story or the pitfalls of becoming a jaded reader. Either way, however, it appears high school was a lot longer ago than I'd realized. This is a story full of subtleties and surprises; not only of the plot twist variety, but also in how it manipulates your feelings afterwards.
Pretender is the sort of story I'd expect to dislike in the hands of another artist. It takes a premise that could easily feel phony and makes it genuine. Katase and Manaka are characters that might otherwise be smug and broody but are simply adorable instead. The "trial period" relationship and the vague master-servant association between them are so unnecessary that it nearly hurts just to watch them go through with it, but what makes this story work are how honest and straightforward they are. Watching Katase try so hard to discourage Manaka in the bedroom, or seeing his resigned expression in the stairwell will win over any skeptic.
Midori Vivid in My Eyes is the longest piece in the book and tells the story of what happens when college student Takamiya suddenly finds himself with an admirer. It starts out a little silly, especially when it plays to Sonoda's odd behaviors, but by the end it's quite a tender romance. On the surface there are fewer emotional subtleties at work, but this story, too, has a small twist; while it's nothing that changes the plot, it practically demands a second reading – one that will show Sonoda's attentions in a new light. This is perhaps more poignant for older readers, however.
Second chances are hard to come by in general, and even more difficult in matters of love. Second Love is the story of Haruno and Uenaga, former friends who meet again at a class reunion. Once as close as can be, a traumatic event came between them. Now, when Uenaga seeks forgiveness, Haruno can't even remember who he is. Their new relationship is not as intricate as the premise might allow – a short page count dwells more on what's missing from the past than weaving deliciously angsty complications for what's re-developing – but there is redemption in the sad sort of beauty that is recognizing the mistakes of youth.
I Want To Be Your Number One is by no means a bad story but it's a very early "paint-by-number" work and feels out of place in a book filled with more mature pieces. This is a simple story of childhood friends and their unrequited love. Any regular reader of BL already knows these characters and will expect them to eventually find their way to understanding. It's well-written and certainly exhibits the sort of flair that Tenzen will later perfect, but it's not why you'll re-read this book.
I have the kind of love for Momoko Tenzen's work that disappoints terribly when a story doesn't measure up to what I know she can do. Thankfully, this is not one of those times. The worst story in this book is an old piece; it's only real fault being that it's old. The rest are surprisingly charming, full of the honest emotions of uncomplicated characters in complicated situations. The newer selections especially delight in their own subtleties while avoid being vague or open-ended. Managing to surprise despite a palette of standard premises and achieving that elusive sense of finality in the short story medium are hardly the only reasons to recommend this anthology, but they're the most impressive.