Monday, February 27, 2023


The only thing worse than a bad BL romance is a bad BL romance that ruins an otherwise good concept for a manga.

LOVE RECIPE, by Kirico Higashizato.  First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2007.


Tomonori Ozawa was hoping to get the journalist job of his dreams, but instead he's working as an editor at a BL magazine.  His duties force him to cross paths with the magazine's most successful mangaka, Sakurako Kakyoin.  It turns out that Kakyoin is a man using a female pen-name, one who is drawn to Ozawa's innate adorableness and determined to turn their professional relationship into a very personal one.  Will Kakyoin ever get the message across to his oblivious editor?  Will Ozawa ever feel comfortable with the world of gay romance?


This is an unusually meta BL manga, in that it's a BL about making BL.  I was surprised by how much I was enjoying it...until all the sexual assault started.  

Love Recipe does try to be kind of serious about the hard work that goes into editing manga.  It's not going to give Bakuman a run for its money, but Higashizato makes it clear how many small, mundane tasks are part of the manga editor experience.  Ozawa is doing things like reviewing reader surveys and looking over drafts.  He even has to figure out which particular font is best to evoke a particular mood in a chapter.  Higashizato manages to wring a lot of decent humor out of these otherwise dry process, creating an effective (if somewhat predictable) workplace comedy.  In a genre that's largely dominated by romantic melodrama, that's actually rather novel.

Alas, the same cannot be said for its notion of romance.

As is so often the case in older BL, the relationship between Ozawa and Kakyoin isn't based on mutual attraction and understanding but instead on one guy forcing himself on the smaller guy until the Stockholm syndrome kicks in.  Worse still, the people around Ozawa are no help.  Kakyoin's maid uniform-wearing assistants mostly coo and squee over their interactions when they're not photographing their boss sexually assaulting his editor as "research" for a scene.  Even Ozawa's boss isn't above using Ozawa as a carrot to motivate the otherwise troublesome Kakyoin.  Much ado is made about how 'moe' Ozawa is and how this makes him irresistible.  Don't hold your breath if you want someone - anyone! - to explain what moe is beyond some nonsense about imagination and emotion.  

As infuriating as I found the romance, I do feel like the professional side of it is a better story that is desperately trying to get out.  Ozawa wasn't familiar in the slightest with BL before he started this job and he makes a genuine effort to understand the material he's working with.  He gives Kakyoin legitimately good constructive advice on his manga (even if he's oblivious that Kakyoin is using said manga to write out his own demented fanfic of their relationship).  He even goes so far as to study Kakyoin's ridiculously large library of doujin (which true to the time period appears to feature characters from Fullmetal Alchemist, Detective Conan, Prince of Tennis, and Hikaru no Go).  He's not always comfortable with BL, but he strives to do his best and Kakyoin recognizes and praises his efforts.  Part of me wishes that Higashizato had their own Ozawa to alter this Love Recipe to take out the rapey seme/uke nonsense and focus more on the metatextual stuff.


I was honestly a little surprised by the art.  The character designs don't stray far from genre conventions; Ozawa is tiny, rounded, and boyishly cute while Kakyoin is tall, gangly, angular, and leering.  Yet Higashizato has a better grasp on anatomy and movement than many of her peers of the time.  There's a lot more women here than you typically see in a BL manga, and while they are equally stylized in look there is a lot of variety.  There's a lot of big comedy reactions, with Ozawa in particular getting some spectacular super-deformed looks of shock.  In comparison, the sex is much more mellow and vague (that is, if you can get past the regular lack of consent).  It mostly consists of half-drawn, mercifully unexplicit snuggles as the two float over a limbo of screentones.


Love Recipe has the ingredients necessary to make a perfectly fun workplace manga about making BL manga and looks decent to boot, but it's all thrown off by its extremely distasteful excuse of a romance.  I don't entirely regret reading it, but I can't say it's worth the effort to hunt it down these days.

This series was published by Digital Manga Press.  This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available.  Both volumes were released and are currently out of print.

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