Central Park Media might have been the first manga publisher to tackle BL, but DMP became famous for publishing nothing but BL, starting with the very book I'll be reviewing today.
ONLY THE RING FINGERS KNOWS (Sono Yubi Dake ga Shitte Iru), based on the light novel series by Satoru Kannagi with art by Hotaru Odagiri. First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2004.
No one could be more handsome or perfect than Yuichi Kazuki. That's what Wataru presumes, at least until he encounters Yuichi one day in the bathroom. Yuichi is haughty and rude to him, and by accident the two exchange one another's rings. The rings are a school trend that indicate one's relationship status, one where best friends and couples exchange identical pairs of rings, and the coincidence sets the rumor mill churning. The more that the two interact, the more Wataru finds himself fascinated by Yuichi and the possibility that his cold demeanor hides a much stronger emotion.
Only the Ring Finger Knows is a BL that draws strongly on the genre's roots in shojo. The private school setting, the conceit of the rings, a hot-and-cold relationship between the BMOC and a total nobody - it's all there. It's not the kind of melodrama I personally care for, but it's definitely the kind that's built on a firm literary foundation.
All that being said, I never bought into the romance for a minute because I found Yuichi insufferable. I've never cared much for tsunderes and he's an especially rude and self-righteous example who despairs over being so perfect and talented. I can't blame Wataru for being so frustrated by his hot-and-cold behavior, even if I don't understand why he finds it so compelling. Speaking of poor Wataru, he starts off as a perfectly normal kid but as the story progresses his personality gets subsumed by Yuichi as well.
Because this is pretty traditional BL melodrama, you can predict pretty much every single story beat. You've got a short, emotional boy falling for a taller, more aloof one who refuses to ever explain himself. You've got the "I can't be in love with him, we're both boys" moment. You've got a late story misunderstanding with a female relative, and it all ends with a confession, kisses, and an explosion of flowers. It's fitting that this started as a light novel series because it's very much by-the-book. It's the sort of romance that will thrill teenage readers but cannot stand up well to adult scrutiny or the passage of time.
This was only a couple of years before Odagiri started The Betrayal Knows My Name, so there's not a lot of radical differences between the art of Ring Finger and that series. All the characters are spindly and scrawny with sharply pointed chins and enormous, heavy-lidded eyes. Her pages still tend to be a mess, with panels and speech bubbles scattered almost at random. If I must cite a positive, it's that the overall aesthetic of this book is not as excessive and goth as Betrayal. This book is comparatively restrained, with only a few sprays of symbolic flowers at moments of high drama and a minimum of screentones.
This book was published by Digital Manga Press. It is currently out of print.