Oh CJ Michalski. Your manga is always okay at best and you've got a disturbing fondness for shotacon, but I can never fully your work. WHY CAN'T I QUIT YOU?!
THAT WAS GOOD (Gochisosama), by CJ Michalski. First published in 2008 and first published in North America in 2011.
Hiroto was just another nobody working in a convienence store. Then he managed to impress a curious (and hungry) little toddler with his homemade bento, and now he's the live-in housekeeper for the tall, handsome pilot Suguru. All seems to be going well until Suguru's younger brother throws him out. Will Suguru come back in time to save Hiroto from homelessness? Meanwhile, the promiscuous high-school student Youhei falls for the tiny, delicate otaku Takumi. To win him over, Youhei immerses himself into otaku culture and Takumi's favorite series in the hopes of winning him over. Finally, Riku decides to help his twin sister marry the man she loves by becoming the hostage of her fiance's controlling older brother, only for the two to fall in love in turn.
I am totally down for BL that can be heartwarming and fun. There are moments where That Was Good achieves those happy qualities. Alas, they are all too fleeting because Michalski is all too ready to throw it out the window for smut and some more questionable story elements.
This books is definitely front-loaded when it comes to quality. The title story is the stronger of the two, although it falls apart in its second half. It's sweet enough to watch Hiroto and Suguru form a cozy little family unit, even if Michalski rushes through a lot of it. It's a shame then that she has to spoil it with a needless second-act break-up that is resolve through some decidedly creepy means. I mean, what says romance like "I slipped a GPS tracker into your stuff" or long bouts of rough, noisy sex? What makes sense like "my employer's brother can fire me for no good reason because of pissiness and off-screen homophobia?" Still, the moments that are just Hiroto making good food, being a good parent to Suguru's impossibly adorable, coherent toddler, and him and Suguru being casually couple-like (complete with dirty in-jokes!).
"I Love That Half of You" is weaker in many ways. There's not much sense of progress between Youhei and Takumi, and the gag is almost always the same every time: everything Takumi does makes Youhei instantly horny. While it's funny and even a little adorable to watch this tall, strapping young man swoon over this dorky little twink, what's less funny is that Youhei's reaction to these feelings is almost always "attempt to sexually assault Takumi." The second-act break-up here is even more random, and it leads up to a bit of cosplay sex at a Comiket bathroom (which is sexy in theory, but not so much in execution). It's a disappointing result for what could have been fun and playful, but Michalski can never quite let herself get away from those dumber, rapier BL cliches.
Those dumber, rapier cliches come to a head in "Even If I Must Sacrifice Myself," a story that is predicated around rape, mistaken identity, and a hearty helping of Stockholm Syndrome. While Riku's motivation has dramatic appeal, it's quickly forgotten for an extended montage of rape with a few minor kind gestures for good measure. Faster than you can say "problematic," Riku's captor proclaims his affection for no good reason and the two are swiftly married with no time to question what the hell just happened or how utterly psychotic this whole premise is. This story is the most frustrating of the lot, but they all are to some degree. I'll never understand why Michalski is so determined to keep pandering to her audience with some of the worst BL cliches when she's so much better with coming up with fun, light-hearted material.
Thankfully, Michalski's noted fondness for shotacon (or at least suspiciously young-looking ukes) is not present here! While Hiroto and Takumi are smaller and slighter than their blonder, beefier counterparts, they do at least look their ages. While her art has refined some over the years, there are still some moments of questionable anatomy and yaoi hands within these pages. At least the smutty bits are decently drawn, even if she throws them together in a way that feels hopelessly disjointed regardless of how consensual the act may be. She could stand to give her characters a little more space on the page, but otherwise her art is fine.
That Was Good was mostly just OK. There are some good ideas here, but they're ruined by her bad impulses and a completely misguided final story.
This book was published by Digital Manga Publishing. It is currently out of print.