It was inevitable that I would cover some BL manga this month, so if I must then I want to talk about ones worth talking about like today's example.
MR. MINI MART (Konbini-kun), by Junko. First published in 2011 and first published in North America in 2014.
Thanks to years of bullying, Nakaba has spent most of his teen years as a recluse. As a way to try to bring him out of his shell, his family gets him a job as a clerk at a local convienence store. The only problem is Yanai, another clerk with a rough face and an even rougher tongue who rubs Nakaba the wrong way. When the two start to bond over a stray cat, they learn that their feelings may run deeper than mere friendship...
I wasn't crazy about Kiss Him, Not Me!, but I was curious to see what Junko's BL manga was like. If Mr. Mini Mart is any indication, she's a rather underrated mangaka. It may be a small and simple story, but it's told with sincerity, heart, and the occasional flash of snarky humor.
The true heart of the story is the friendship between Nakaba and Yanai, and on that front Junko absolutely excels. She rushes a bit to make these boys in the first place and to get them in bed afterwards, but the rest of the time is simply watching these two bond in a very naturalistic and supportive sort of way. This feeling is only enhanced by Melissa Goldberg's translation, which gives the dialogue a casual touch that makes it feel like stuff that teen boys might actually say to one another outside of BL manga, and the shift from friends to lovers feels all the smoother for it.
The supportiveness between them is important, as Mr. Mini Mart is also a story about bullying. While it's not going to be replacing anything like A Silent Voice any time soon, I do feel Junko deals with the bullying and the emotional toll it takes on Nakaba seriously without playing it for pure melodrama. Nakaba's bullies aren't cartoonish brutes but instead ordinary kids who took their ignorance, arrogance, and homophobia too far in the name of a "prank." Meanwhile, Nakaba was so traumatized by the event that the mere sight of them shuts him down with a panic attack and even around Yanai he tends to treat his own emotions as a burden upon others.
That's why its so heartwarming to see Yanai support him without being patronizing. He explains himself clearly, shuts downs Nakaba's attempts at self-deprecation, and demonstrates in both word and deed how much he cares for him. He's not above roughing up Nakaba's bullies, but he does it out of legitimate offense at their behavior and not simply to win Nakaba's gratitude. He also doesn't suffer the usual sort of sexual orientation crisis that is all too common in BL. If anything, he takes his bisexuality in stride and accepts his own feelings for Nakaba with barely a thought. It's an approach that can be applied to the entire manga, and that's why it's so wonderful.
While I'll never quite get used to the giant lips Junko draws on all her characters, I do think she's a talented artist. Her character designs aren't very fancy, but their faces are incredibly emotive. In comparison, the rest of the manga is rather plain. The backgrounds are quite minimalist, there's only a smattering of screentones, and she generally keeps her panels focused nice and tightly on those wonderful faces (at least, until the boys starting getting physical). Still, this less-is-more approach works.
It kills me that Mr. Mini Mart is so hard to get these days because it's such an easy recommendation. Its sincere and beautiful in an understated sort of way, and even those who weren't already Junko fans or BL readers will likely find a lot to enjoy here.
This book is published by Digital Manga Publishing. It is currently out of print.