Welcome to the year’s final installment of BL Bookrack! This month, Melinda and Michelle take a look at two offerings from the Digital Manga Guild, Climb On To My Shoulders and The Rule of Standing on Tiptoe, as well as Pet On Duty from JManga.
Climb On To My Shoulders | By Yuhki Takada | Digital Manga Guild | Rated T (13+) - Teen computer programmers Trey and Paul want to make a splash with their tic-tac-toe program, but a chance meeting with wheeler-dealer MJ catapults their hobby to a new (questionably stable) level. Can their budding business (or their longtime friendship) survive MJ’s “help”?
This title represents very well the greatest advantage to the Digital Manga Guild, at least for readers. Though it’s probably one of the most interesting and unique BL titles translated into English to date, it’s not difficult to see why Climb On To My Shoulders might have been an unlikely choice for traditional licensing. On one hand, so few of the genre’s usual tropes are present in this book, it’s almost inevitable that it will fall short of some fans’ expectations. And while the absence of those precise elements would doubtlessly make the book more appealing to others, there is one tricky issue that may turn those readers off as well. In the end, it’s hard to say exactly who this story’s audience is, though there’s a lot to recommend it.
While 1960s high school computer nerds may not seem like obvious BL fodder, Climb On To My Shoulders proves they emphatically are, as long as you’re on board for more bromance than sex. As its “Teen” rating suggests, this manga offers virtually no sexual content, but it also steers clear of the syrupy hearts ‘n’ flowers that often accompany teen-rated BL fare.
Unresolved sexual tension and socially-awkward adolescent male bonding are what you’ll get here, written with a level of insightful nuance that sets my UST-loving heart a-flutter. The only caveat here, is that 9th-grader Trey is drawn to resemble a curly-haired elementary schooler (so much so, that it’s part of the plot), inserting a serious element of squick into what would otherwise be one of the best comedic teen love triangles to ever hit the (virtual) shelves.
Frankly, though, the squick is worth it. While pondering Trey’s burgeoning crush on MJ (and Paul’s long-standing devotion to Trey) may be genuinely discomfiting alongside Takada’s cutie-pie artwork, this book is far too compelling and quirky to miss. Thanks, DMG, for making this kind of oddball release possible. I hope to see many more like it. - Review by Melinda Beasi
Pet on Duty | By Nase Yamato | JManga | Rated Mature (18+) - When twenty-something Mizuki loses his job (and subsequently, his housing), he turns to his older brother for help. Unfortunately, all his brother has to offer is a covert existence in his company’s dormitory which doesn’t allow guests. Reduced to life as a forbidden housepet, Mizuki finds himself drifting (much like a real-life cat) towards the dorm’s least friendly resident, his brother’s roommate, Kudou.
Released in print by the now-defunct Boysenberry Books, Pet on Duty represents one of the manga community’s greatest hopes for digital publisher JManga—the license rescue. Though the book is available on the Kindle by way of its Japanese publisher, Libre Shuppan, JManga’s platform makes it once again widely available to new readers.
Is Pet on Duty worth rescuing? My verdict: probably.
There’s nothing special or unusual here, and the book’s house cat metaphor gets old fast (nothing cements an unbalanced seme/uke relationship like the insinuation that the uke is actually a pet). But Mizuki’s relationship with Kudou is genuinely sweet, and the author takes care to avoid the questionably-consensual sex that so often pervades these kinds of titles by consistently making “pet” Mizuki the aggressor in all sexual situations. And though there’s little going on outside of the story’s primary romance, that tends to be a plus in a single-volume manga, where so many authors bite off more than they can chew.
Nase Yamato’s artwork is sweetly expressive, with a mix of reality and fantasy elements that work together surprisingly well. She spends a lot of time on detail around her character’s eyes, giving them a level of real-life shading and contour one rarely encounters in quick-fix romance manga, while also maintaining a kind of doll-like beauty that anchors them firmly in a fantasy space. It’s an effective combination, and it suits her story well.
Though Pet on Duty is far from original, it’s a decidedly enjoyable one-shot, suitable for most fans of the genre. - Review by Melinda Beasi
The Rule of Standing on Tiptoe | By Puku Okuyama | Digital Manga Guild | Rated YA (16+) - Having enjoyed Okuyama’s short story collection Warning! Whispers of Love, I was eager to try The Rule of Standing on Tiptoe, a volume-long one-shot nicely translated/adapted by the DMG group Cynical Pink.
This is the story of a mismatched pair of high-school boys: small and hyper Kosuke—who earns the nickname “Ham-chan” (hamster) through a combination of looks, behavior, and an alternate reading of a character in his name—and tall and popular-with-girls Raku, who has wearied of standing out due to his ethnicity (he’s only half-Japanese) and is therefore disguising himself with hair dye and black contact lenses. They become close friends and, actually, the entirety of the book is basically their interaction as friends up until the moment they decide to become something more, complete with many comedic episodes (many of which are actually funny) and a supporting cast of quirky classmates that put me in mind of Flower of Life, even though they can’t really rival that group for sheer awesomeness.
Overall, the story is very cute and innocent—there’s really no reason this couldn’t qualify for a Teen (13+) rating, though perhaps 16+ is as low as one can currently go for a love story involving two boys. There are a few things about it that could’ve been better, though. The emphasis on comedy frequently calls for Kosuke to behave in an antic and rather immature way, making it difficult to see him as someone who is mature enough to embark upon a relationship. Perhaps it is this lack of romantic tension between the leads that forces Okuyama to employ the old oops-I-tripped-and-fell-on-you maneuver multiple times in order to get her characters to consider smooching one another.
Neither of these issues prevents me from recommending the manga, however, and I think it would probably make an excellent “gateway manga” for anyone interested in BL but averse to explicit content. - Review by Michelle Smith
Review copies provided by the publisher.
Disclosure: Melinda Beasi is currently under contract with Digital Manga Publishing’s Digital Manga Guild, as necessitated for her ongoing report Inside the DMG. Any compensation earned by Melinda in her role as an editor with the DMG will be donated to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.