Year in Yaoi: Junjou Romantica Volume 1

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I am very biased as far as Junjou Romantica is concerned.  It was the very first yaoi anime I was introduced to, so it holds a special sort of nostalgia.  There are some themes within the series (anime and manga) that people don’t care for.  I can understand that.  I’m not going to say their views are wrong or misguided.  Everyone sees things differently.  I’m going to talk about what I like and don’t like about the series; it isn’t necessarily what others like or don’t like.

Just my two cents before we get started.

Junjou Romantica is a romantic comedy yaoi written by Shungiki Nakamura.  It does have a “mature” rating and includes sexual scenes and situations (one of the reasons I love it!).  The manga is much more details in these aspects than the anime.  Just saying.

The story starts with Misaki Takahashi, a high school senior nearly set to take his college entrance exams.  Since Misaki is a bit low on the pre-tests, his brother, Takahiro, suggests that his best friend–esteemed novelist Akihiko Usami–tutor Misaki.  At the first tutoring session, Misaki discovers that Akihiko (whom has the nickname Usagi) is also the author of several boys-love novels, and they use Takahiro as the love interest.  This revelation causes some friction between Misaki, who thinks his brother is being used, and Usagi, who only uses the writings to act out fantasies he’s unable to perform in real life.

This is when it get iffy.  Misaki tells Usagi to leave his brother alone, and that any other guy would suffice for his affection.  Usagi sees that as an invitation.  The resulting scene is sketchy in its definition of consent.  Either way, this adds to the rocky relationship these two share.  They put that aside, though, and focus on getting ready for the college entrance exam.

Misaki quickly improves under Usagi’s teaching.  During their time together, Misaki is able to understand that Usagi’s love for Takahiro is unrequited, and he sees the pity and sadness Usagi has.  An admiration forms in Misaki, and he starts to look forward to seeing his sensei.

That is, until Takahiro tells them both he’s decided to get married.  Usagi, used to putting Takahiro’s feelings first, congratulates them and says he’s so happy.  Misaki, on the other hand, can’t fathom how his brother could fail to notice Usagi’s feelings of love.  He’s heartbroken, for Usagi’s sake.

The scene between Misaki and Usagi after the announcement is what cements this story and the characters in my heart.  It’s so touching, so heart wrenching, so beautiful.  Misaki, filled to the brim with sympathy for Usagi, cries at the unfairness of it all.  Usagi, baffled that this kid ten years his junior was able to see his true feelings, allows himself to break down and cry.  They hold each other in the snow.  Misaki thinks about how special Usagi is, and how wonderful it would be if Usagi could love him instead.

That’s the end of the first act.  To me, this is perfection.  I love everything about the characters, their dynamics, their flaws, their interactions.  Misaki is so sweet and innocent; his feelings for Usagi are so overpowering that they scare him.  Usagi is driven and forceful, and yet he’s terrified he’ll lose Misaki in the same way he lost Takahiro.  Both approach the relationship from different angles, and it causes a lot of drama and confusion (and humor).

The second act picks up with Misaki living with Usagi.  Takahiro had a sudden transfer for his job, so Usagi volunteered to let Misaki live with him for his four years of college.  Again, the line of consent blurs.  The reader is aware that Misaki loves Usagi deeply.  Usagi assumes Misaki loves him (as Usagi is very egotistical and selfish).  Still, Misaki does put up some resistance to Usagi’s advances, mostly because he’s afraid Usagi is using him as a substitute for his brother.

It gets worse when Misaki makes a friend at school.  Usagi can’t stand the idea of any other man getting close to Misaki.  Misaki finally breaks down, yelling at Usagi that he won’t be a substitute–Misaki can’t see how Usagi could get over loving Takahiro so quickly.  Usagi confesses that as soon as Misaki cried on his behalf, his heart was swayed.  He’s loved Misaki ever since.  And he won’t sit by and let someone he loves be taken away again.

Deep inside these two, there is a beautiful relationship.  Their communication–or lack there of–is often the catalyst for the drama that ensues.  Since this is a romantic comedy, not a romantic drama, it’s best to take the conflicts lightly.  It’s easy to get frustrated at them when they don’t say what they mean, but it’s all for the sake of the laugh when things ultimately wind up in chaos.

That’s basically how the manga continues.  Misaki misunderstands something, Usagi gets jealous, they fight and make up.  But there are still some amazingly touching scenes with these two characters, and I adore every moment they have together.

That concludes act two.  The third act switches gears.  The author, Shungiku Nakamura, gives each of the series’ pairings a nickname.  The relationship between Misaki and Usagi is called “Romantica.”  The next couple featured is “Egoist.”  The next few acts are “Egoist Act 1” and “Egoist Act 2.”

“Egoist” features Usagi’s best friend growing up, Hiroki Kamijou.  Kamijou has had feeling for Usagi for most of his life, and was unable to accept Usagi’s love for Takahiro.  Unlike Usagi who was able to think only of Takahiro’s happiness over his own, Kamijou turned bitter and full of self pity.  He convinces Usagi to sleep with him blindfolded, enabling Usagi to iamgine he is actually with Takahiro.  The situation basically ruins their freindship–Usagi thinking he’s soiled Takahiro’s image in his mind, Kamijou devastated that Usagi wasn’t able to develop feelings for him.

On the day when Kamijou realizes he’s lost Usagi forever, he runs into a mysterious man at the park.  The young man is Nowaki Kusama, an orphan, who falls in love with Kamijou on the spot.  In order to spend more time together, Nowaki begs Kamijou to tutor him so he can get into college (a reoccurring theme in the series).  Nowaki is able to piece together why Kamijou was so unhappy that day in the park, he realizes that Kamijou loves Usagi.

When Usagi stops by to visit one day, Nowaki flies into a fit or rage, saying that Kamijou was his now.  The two have a bit of a scuffle and Nowaki confesses how he’s loved Kamijou from first sight.  The two have sex and Kamijou is filled with new emotions, ones he’d never thought he’d feel for someone other than Usagi.

Act two picks up with “Egoist” as Kamijou spies on Nowaki at work.  Kamijou is very shy with his feelings–which is typical of the uke of the couple–so he doesn’t want Nowaki to realize how deeply he’s fallen in love.

While spying, Kamijou runs into Usagi, and the two are able to interact like a normal friends.  Kamijou is kind of shocked how his heart has moved on.  Of course, Nowaki sees them together, and instead of explaining the innocence behind the encounter, Kamijou flees the scene.

Later, he tries to call Nowaki, but there’s no answer.  When Nowaki finally comes around, they sit in awkward silence.  Finally, Kamijou confesses to just running into Usagi by accident and that there are no longer romantic feelings between them.  Nowaki says he is confused because he’s noticed that Kamijou spies on him at work.  Kamijou freaks out, totally embarrassed.  Nowaki asks if that means Kamijou really does care.  Kamijou says he does.

Once again, the break down of communication is the cause of all the drama.  This romantic entanglement is very similar to that between Usagi and Misaki.  Because of that, this couple is less appealing to me.  Later, they bloom a bit more and develop in a slightly different direction, so there is a redeeming factor in their relationship.

That ends act four.  Before the manga ends, there’s a small “Romantica Act 2.5” where Misaki is suffering from a slight fever.  This is a flashback, back before Misaki  has moved in with Usagi, but after Takahiro married his wife.  Misaki is alone and sick when Usagi comes to check on him.  Ready to drop off the fruit basket and leave, Usagi is suddenly made aware that Misaki is looking for apartments.  He offers for Misaki to come and live with him.  Misaki doesn’t want to be a bother.  Usagi insists he never would have brought it up if he didn’t want it.

This is sweet because you get to see more about the death of Misaki’s parents and how much that has wounded him.  Usagi seems to instinctively see how lonely Misaki is.  This is the first time within the story where you see Usagi do something kind and considerate.  He only seems to do those types of things in regard to Misaki.  He doesn’t give a damn about anyone else.

The concludes the first volume of Junjou Romantica.  It’s a great start to a wonderful series and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys yaoi!

 

 

 

 

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