Manga Review: Junjo Romantica (vol 1)

"As I felt his tears fall on my shoulder... an uncontrollable emotion began to swell inside of me.  I thought to myself 'If only I could be with him forever.  If only I could become special to him.'" - Misaki

"Junjo Romantica" is a series that I never expected to enjoy as much as I do.  As of the time of this review, only four volumes have been released so far in the US, so I do not know how the whole thing turns out.  The books (so far at least) revolve around two couples.  Usami and Misaki are the leads in the "Junjo Romantica" chapters and Hiroki and Nowaki are in the "Junjo Egoist" chapters.  Volume one starts out by introducing us to Misaki Takahashi, a young man who needs a tutor to help him score high enough to go to the university of his choice.  His tutor is none other than the award winning novelist Akihiko Usami, Misaki's older brother Takahiro's best friend.  Usami has had a crush on Takahiro for many years, but has never told him because Takahiro is too precious to him to risk losing as a friend.  It doesn't take Misaki long to find out about Usami's feelings after he comes across Usami's line of boys love novels that he writes under a pen name.  The leads of the novels are named "Akihiko" and "Takahiro" and feature the characters in a number of erotic scenes!  Misaki freaks out (get used to this) and demands that Usami stop writing smut about his brother.  Usami responds by turning his attentions on Misaki, much to Misaki's disdain.  And thus begins "Junjo Romantica".  But that is just the beginning.  Add in Takahiro's engagement to his girlfriend, Misaki starting college and coming to live with Usami, and Usami changing the co-star in his novels from "Takahiro" to "Misaki", and you can see how much fun this series really is.  In this book, "Junjo Egoist" is set several years earlier and follows Usami's childhood friend Hiroki.  Now Hiroki has also harbored a secret crush, but his unrequited love is for Usami, who only has eyes for Takahiro (and also like Takahiro, has no idea that Hiroki feels that way for him).  His story picks up at a low point is his life, which just may turn around when he is asked to tutor a young man named Nowaki.

This series is so much fun to read.  Everything is so over the top, from Usami's interesting personality and habits (his bedroom is like a toy store and he treats his oversized teddy bear Suzuki as if it is a person) to Misaki's freak outs (I never tire of his expressions, he's such a spaz), but it is so funny.  The story here is really good as well, and I love how the "Romantica" and "Egoist" chapters are connected.  The timeline can sometimes be confusing, but it usually doesn't take too long to figure out.  And I think it's just really neat that Hiroki is Misaki's college professor and the whole back story between Hiroki and Usami is so compelling.  However, even though I adore this series, there are some problems with it as well.  The translation in some parts is kind of clunky (such as when Misaki calls Usami his "profethor") and I don't really like the dubious consent on Misaki's part during his sexual encounters with Usami.  The art is a very unique style that does grow on you, although sometimes the characters heads are a little small and their hands are a little big.  The parts that bothered me were really minor on the whole, though, and didn't stop me from loving this series.  My favorite character is Usami because he is just so strange.  I love his dynamic with Misaki; they are hysterical in their scenes together and their relationship really grows from the point they start at in here in volume one.  I also like the "Junjo Egoist" chapters, but they are never as interesting to me as the "Romantica" chapters.

All in all, this was a very strong start for the series.  It really gave the author a lot to work with in future volumes, and it never fails to leave a smile on my face when I read through it.  There is so much history to the characters, and every volume only ends up developing them further.  This book has a lot going on during it, but by the end I really felt like I knew the characters, which I always appreciate.  And even though there is a lot of humor in this book, there are also quite a few surprisingly tender moments.  You never know quite what to expect as you read through, which definitely keeps it interesting.  Based on the description I read online for this book, I thought it was going to be a quick, fun read.  It was definitely a great purchase, but turned out to be so much more than I expected, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

- Liz