Of course, as with every year 2015 brought yet another slow trickle of new yaoi titles. Many considered this one of their most anticipated manga titles. For me, though, this was one of my most dreaded ones.
THE WORLD'S GREATEST FIRST LOVE: THE CASE OF RITSU ONODERA (Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi: Onodera Ritsu no Baai), by Shungiku Nakamura. First published in 2006 and first published in North America in 2015.
Ritsu Onodera is an up-and-coming editor, but he's eager to prove that his success isn't due to him being the CEO's son. That's what leads him to take a job with Marakawa Publishing, even if it means serving as an editor for a shoujo magazine. Just because he's totally cynical towards love due to a messy breakup with his high school sempai doesn't mean that he can't find fulfillment in counting reader postcards and bugging mangaka about their schedules. What Ritsu couldn't have expected was that his sempai grew up to become his hard-ass editor-in-chief Takano. It turns out that Takano is also still bitter about their breakup, so he's decided that he's going to make Ritsu admit he still loves him - whether he likes it or not!
Back in February I declared Junjo Romantica to be the worst yaoi manga I have ever read, so you can only imagine how unexcited I was to learn that SuBLime was putting out more of her work. Of course, every book I review gets the benefit of the doubt and this one was no exception. After reading this first volume, I can safely say that it is better than Junjo. That may not be a high hurtle to tackle and that doesn't mean that this is a good series by any means, just an improvement.
The strongest element of this story is easily all the behind-the-scenes stuff at the magazine office. Nakamura is clearly drawing on her own experiences during these parts, and had she focused more on them this could have been the shonen-ai equivalent of something like Bakuman. I also like Ritsu for the most part. His focus and drive to succeed gives the story some forward momentum that isn't related to romance. I can even get behind the notion of Ritsu and Takano both being burned by their high school breakup years later because both remember it ending differently. In a better writer's hand, that kind of set up could become great romantic farce. Unfortunately, that's where all the good qualities end.
The moment that Takano reveals his past, Nakamura reverts right back to all the awful tendencies that made Junjo such a trainwreck. The tough-but-fair boss becomes a manipulative creepy seme who molests first and ask questions later, and Ritsu becomes a shrill, paranoid, jealous uke who is deeply in denial about his own feelings. It doesn't help that Nakamura is a firm believer in the Takahashi brand of romance where the more a couple quarrels, the more they are presumed to be in love. Ritsu and Takano's working relationship was strained enough before this revelation, but afterwards it becomes outright intolerable. We can't even escape once Ritsu leaves the office as Takano just so happens to be Ritsu's next door neighbor. That means he can molest him off-hours, guaranteeing that the discomfort never stops.
It's a shame that even when she tries to stretch herself as a writer, Nakamura can't help but fall back into her old habits when it comes to romance. She's ignoring all the good parts of the story so she can focus on all the clichéd, annoying ones. In doing so, she's essentially derailing the whole story before it can really get going.
I will grant Nakamura this much: the artwork here is considerably better than that on display in Junjo. Her character designs are still too overly stylized and flat for my taste, but they're mostly proportionate and better detailed than before. They're even shaded now! Now they're more in line with what you usually see in yaoi art. Of course, it would help if she didn't draw attention to the weird faces by focusing almost claustrophobically close to them in the panels. Still, her panels are cleaner in style, easier to follow on the page, and are no longer drowning in screentone. Again, she'll never be a great artist, but she has at least matured into a middling one.
World's Greatest First Love is a step forward for its creator, but that's not necessarily saying all that much. There are some positives, but most of them are early on and get cancelled out once the romance gets going. It doesn't live up to the hype, but it fits in fairly well with the vast sea of middling yaoi releases.
This series is published by Viz under the SuBLime imprint. This series is ongoing in Japan with 9 volumes available. 3 volumes have been published and all are currently in print.
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