You'd think that I would have been looking forward to this one, considering that it was a 4-koma comedy all about BL fandom and Seven Seas's first tenuous steps towards licensing the real deal. If only it had more than just one joke.
THE HIGH SCHOOL LIFE OF A FUDANSHI (Fudanshi Koko Seikatsu), by Atami Michinoku. First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2017.
Ryo Sakaguchi has a secret: he loves BL manga. He loves it so much that he ships his classmates, spends all his money on manga and merchandise, and confuses his best friend Nakamura with fandom jargon. Yet he's afraid of others finding out and thinking that he's gay, so he often has to settle for Twitter and lurking in the BL aisles of bookstores. So how is he going to deal with manipulative, openly gay Shiratori, fanatical fujoshi Nishihara, and fellow fudanshi and amateur mangaka Daigo?
There's no reason that a comedy about an ostensibly straight guy obsessed with BL shouldn't work. It's not like the mangaka doesn't know her stuff, as she herself is a BL mangaka. Surely it couldn't be any more awkward than the last time we saw a BL mangaka make a non-BL work about a BL fan, right? It's just a shame that not only does this book repeat the same joke over and over, it makes Ryo out to be kind of a terrible person.
Mind you, he's not terrible all of the time. He's at his best when he's around Nishihara, who was born and raised into a family of fujos. There's not necessarily a lot of humor in their interactions, but Ryo's best qualities come out when he has someone to talk to that he doesn't have to censor himself around. It's also nice to see them not automatically set up as a couple; while there are a few moments where Nishihara gets a bit hopeful, their relationship is purely platonic.
It's too bad then he's lousy to Nakamura. While Nakamura doesn't really get Ryo's interest in BL, he's still willing to listen and do his best to serve as Ryo's conscience. In return, Ryo keeps unwillingly putting Nakamura in homoerotic situations for his own benefit and live-Tweeting stories about him getting groped on trains. I get that somebody has to be the straightman (pun not intended) in this sort of scenario and he serves that purpose well, but his innate decency makes it hard to laugh at him.
What's also hard to laugh at is the only joke this manga has to offer: Ryo likes BL, but isn't gay. Ryo fetishes the BL version of homosexuality, to the point where he ships people around him and forces his friends to participate in suggestive scenarios just so he can ogle, blush, and take pictures. Yet he's also paranoid about being perceived as gay by others, be it at school, at the bookstore, on Twitter, or at Comiket. He also tends to freeze or panic whenever the few openly or ambiguously gay guys in the story hit on him, because why not add a touch of gay panic as well?
In short, Ryo is a hypocritical creep, and it's all in the name of "comedy." It's not even like the mangaka is calling out this sort of behavior, as the only person who tries to stop Ryo is Nakamura and even then it's largely ineffectual. That's not even getting into characters like Shiratori, who when he's not being a manipulative flirt is basically a lisp and a swish away from stereotype. With The High School Life of a Fudanshi, Michinoku is trying to have her cheesecake and eat it too.
At least she's got a knack for character design. Of course, thanks to the 4-koma format it's not like she has to draw them below the waist all that often. Still, they have handsome, square-jawed faces with incredibly expressive eyebrows (of all things) that frequently get swapped out for goofy super-deformed or emoji-style expressions. Since this is a 4-koma that's largely set at school, backgrounds aren't terribly important, which leaves more space for jokes from the background characters in the margins. Honestly, the most charming detail is how much effort Michinoku puts into the covers of the fake BL manga we see. These books are fairly tiny in the panels, but the covers are fully drawn out and covered in little text which itself is loaded with puns and series references.
If this series has a saving grace, it's Lianne Sendar's translation. She can't fix the bigger problems with Ryo, but she can manage to squeeze out as much humor as possible through the dialogue thanks to her bluntly hilarious spin on it and a clear familiarity with modern fujoshi lingo. She also deserves credit for translating the gags hidden in the tiny text on the books in the panel, complete with pun-tastic mangaka names like Banana Luv and Ho-Mo.
Someday we'll get a comedy about BL fan culture that doesn't either mock its fans or excuse their worst behavior in the name of comedy. Until that day, you should continue to ignore this hypocritical fudanshi's high-school life.
This series is published by Seven Seas. It is ongoing in Japan with 4 volumes available. 2 volumes have been released and are currently in print.
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