Challengers 4

August 1, 2011

Hinako Takanaga – DramaQueen – 2007 – 4 volumes

There’s slightly more of the Morinaga/Souichi situation in this volume as Tatsumi’s little sister calls him back to Nagoya out of worry for Souichi. Souichi has been ponderous since Morinaga’s confession (unbeknownst to the others), and Kanako also spotted Morinaga kissing Souichi in the middle of a drunken stupor during a moment of weakness. Kanako suspects Souichi may be gay. Tatsumi and Kurokawa don’t know how to break it to her how terribly, terribly wrong she really is, especially without revealing the nature of their relationship.

In Challengers, the notion of Souichi being gay is indeed a massive misconception. But I love that Kanako won’t be convinced otherwise, even by a begging Souichi, and I also love that she seems to be the only character that completely ignores his terrible temper. Kanako has an awesome grasp of her brother’s feelings.

After this, Kurokawa and Tatsumi’s relationship is put to the test in a 3-part finale that includes such trials as having to choose between work and love and a woman trying her best to woo Kurokawa. The first chapter was funnier, but the finale is pretty great as far as Kurokawa and Tatsumi moments go. I loved that Tatsumi was mostly oblivious to the intent of the woman, even when she started coming over to their apartment every day with snacks for Kurokawa. I also loved the gentle way that Kurokawa had to break to Tatsumi that, yes, moving to America to work would probably split them up, and that Tatsumi hadn’t considered their relationship at all.

But Challengers is a sweet, light, and fun manga, and after an epic kiss-off scene from an unlikely character, everyone gets to be happy.

Well, everyone but Souichi. The scene where Kurokawa hangs up on him is one of my favorites in the series.

It sounds like the magazine that ran Challengers folded, and Takanaga was allowed to complete Challengers and then started The Tyrant Falls in Love due to what must have been Souichi’s overwhelming popularity. Takanaga admits at one point that Kurokawa, the main character, actually ranks third in popularity among readers, behind Souichi and Isogai. That sounds about right.

But now that you’ve finished this, go read Tyrant. This series was pretty good, good enough that I read almost all four volumes in one sitting. But it’s not nearly as good as Tyrant. Tyrant is amazing, but in order to understand it fully, you do need the background on Souichi and Morinaga that’s offered in Challengers.

EDIT: And apparently I can’t be bothered to remember the name of the character I love so much. Souichi, not Shuichi. Difficult to remember that, though, after all the “Sempai! Sempai!”

10 Responses to “Challengers 4”

  1. P-chan Says:

    I told you, I told you! The beginning of Tyrant is a rape, and it’s hard to stomache. But having read Challengers certainly helps the enjoyment of it quite a bit. I think a lot of Challengers problems stem from 2 facts. 1) it was Takanaga’s first manga. She’s rather good now, but her early stuff pales in comparison to her later works. 2) Challengers came out at a rather difficult type in BL. The cementing of the that stupid seme-uke sterotype we will probaby have to live with in BL forever, most of the standard formulas, and a lot of interference based on what publishers wanted and what they thought consumers wanted versus what mangaka wanted.

    I think if she wrote challengers NOW it would a million times better than it is. Some of those rejected ideas from volume 2 probably would have helped too. Challengers in SPACE!! XD

  2. Connie Says:

    The reject episode of Challengers was pretty amazing. I felt bad that she apologized so much for it, because it was a pretty interesting look into the editorial process. Talking her way through the 97-volume version of Challengers was my favorite, but the idea of soliciting ideas from her brother and others was fairly entertaining. Especially when the ideas were so off-the-wall. I loved that BL in space was beyond the imagination of the editor.

    I knew Challengers was her debut, but I didn’t realize it was from all the way in 1995! I figured a lot of the rough character stuff was just from it being her first, but I can see what you say about some of it being a product of the time. You got me thinking about the seme-uke stereotype, too. It is fairly depressing that you can tell the dynamics of the relationship just by looking at the cover of the book and seeing which one has light hair. My BL reading habits tend to be cyclical, where I’ll read something good and follow it up with a ton of other books, but inevitably get bored after awhile since the relationships in all of them are so similar. I like that about Tyrant too, that the usual stereotype is only present during the sex scenes, but much of the humor and banter between the two tends to break that mold.

  3. P-chan Says:

    Probably because of this stereotype, I love great ukes. There are a lot of spineless, wimpy, crybaby ukes full of “innocence” (read: sheer stupidity) that great on my nerves to no end. Tatsumi gets away with it cause I can feel like it’s his “eccentric genius” qualities shining through. In that regard, Souichi and Tatsumi really are brothers. They are just extreme opposites of the spectrum. Kanako is the normal human being in the middle (she must get it from their mom, cause their dad is anything but normal).

    Because there really is a lot of great stuff in BL, I’ve resigned myself to accept the stereotype as just part of the genre, but I do keep a list of really great ukes I find in BL, just so I remember to support the artist and buy their manga.

    Chihaya from Yun Kouga’s Earthian is a great example although it takes awhile to see past his painfully stereotypical uke behavior. I will buy volume 4 if I can ever find it for under $30. The OVA pissed me off for derailing his character development.

    Another series I buy every volume of, which confuses my friends to no end, is Junjo Romantica for that very reason. While Usami is creepy when he isn’t adorable and Misaki’s selective obvliviousness and extreme levels of denial are equally annoying and hilarious, JR earned my love for the Terrorist pairing’s Shinobu, a character that nobody other than me seems to be able to stand.

    He’s a rich young man (as in like how Ciel from Black Butler is a rich young boy and Mio from Skip Beat is a rich young lady) in a forbidden relationship with a much older man and he’s insecure and passionate and scared. He snarks to hide how bewildered he really is and his character can basically be summed up by the word “sincere.” I find him hilarious and adorable in the same way I loved the boys from Little Butterfly.

    While most non-hardcore fans overlook these series there are some real gems that can make the mountains of cardboard ukes almost worth it.

    Also, hair color? I always found the characters’ body types much more telling. . .

  4. Connie Says:

    True, body type is a dead giveaway, too. I just flipped through a stack on my floor where it was a giveaway 100% of the time. I think the only exception to that rule would be if the artist isn’t good enough to draw more than one body type. But those should probably be skipped, anyway.

    I’ve been meaning to read Junjo Romantica. It’s been suggested by a few people that I would like it, and unusual relationship dynamics are a big bonus for me. Plus, I’m usually a big fan of multi-volume BL series. I’m surprised to see that the volumes aren’t ridiculously expensive secondhand, so that’ll probably be the next series I pick up.

    I think the only non-traditional uke I can think of off the top of my head was in Totally Captivated. Both of the characters in the main relationship had surprisingly dominant personalities. But it’s been a while since I’ve read that, so maybe I’ve forgotten some of the details. I just remember that it was ridiculously good.

    I would agree that Souichi and Tatsumi share some unlikely personality parallels for how different they seem initially. It is a shame that Souichi’s personality is wasted on the uke stereotype, but it’s true that it’s easier to forgive in his case. It is pretty funny to see him over-analyze everything to find a reason to be angry after the fact, usually while in the shower. In terms of the Tatsumi family, I did love that all three Tatsumi males were different types of hardcore scientists. And I would dearly love to see a Kanako sequel series set a few years in the future, but I think that is extraordinarily unlikely. More likely is a follow-up concerning the creepy relationship that Morinaga’s brother is in. Sadly, I would probably read it simply out of love for Hinako Takanaga.

  5. P-chan Says:

    Actually, I want a series about Isaka. Maybe Isaka, Kanako, and Kurokawa’s mom can get together and have a mini-series about the straights of the Challangers/Tyrant universe. Maybe Morinaga’s gay bartender friend can have a cameo.

    Junjo Romantica is a series I actually find hard to recommend, even though I buy every volume and persoally enjoy it. I’m not sure how you feel about the anime topic, but if you aren’t adverse to it, I definitely recommend seeing the first couple episodes first. Mostly because Nakamura’s art is actually a little . . . weird for the first 4-5 volumes or so. Junjou Romantica (the manga) is pretty explicit from chapter 1, but sometimes the proportions are so bad your’e not even sure what’s happening, which is fine if you’re the type to just skip over them.

    Also, the pagelayouts are messy until said 4-5 volumes. In some ways Junjou Romantica is the perfect example of Nakamura’s development as an artist, but you’re porbably not going to care about that if you don’t like her already. The anime solves that problem by 1) obviously not having page layouts and 2) having cleaned up character designs based on her later art. I recommend seeing the first 4 episodes (or at least 3, soyou meet the second couple). The first two episodes are available streamed by the stateside licensor for free on youtube.

    As far as good points about the series that I DO enjoy, I’d say I like how it has three completely different couples. Because chances are you’ll like 1 out of three. Also, the theme of the manga is second love, where at least one partner and loved and lost and the series has them learning to get over it and find new happiness. And then it has them running into general problems couples face and having them learn to work things out between themselves and their partners.The series is also pretty funny. I’m not even sure if you’ll like Junjo Romantica (the series or the couple), but you might like Egoist and Terrorist) (the second couple introduced in the first volume, and the third couple introduced in the fifth)

  6. Connie Says:

    Hmm, thanks for the explanation. I think I will check out the anime first, since it’s easily available. I don’t watch much anime, but if the adaptation is good I’m all about watching the first episodes of Junjo Romantica to see if I’ll like it. Unfortunately, I don’t have much of a stomach for the sex scenes in what little BL anime I’ve seen, but I can easily skip those if it’s not working for me and not hold it against the manga.

    Watching the anime will give me a good idea whether or not I’ll like the story enough to commit to picking up all the volumes used, too. Thanks for the warning about the art, too. I can overlook it if I know it’s going to get better later, but it’s a shame it’s so rough in the early volumes. I have a pretty high tolerance for certain types of bad proportions, though I’m less forgiving about page layouts.

    I am intrigued by the good points you mention, though. The theme of second love sounds really fun, and I’m also kind of interested in seeing how it develops three different couples. Sometimes that goes badly, but it’s as you say, there’s probably something in there I’ll like.

  7. P-chan Says:

    I would definitely see episode 1-4 before reading the manga. There are some very short dub-con moments in early Junjo Romantica (which get my respect for being adressed later on by the parties invovlved).

    I hate telling people to read scanlations of manga if it’s available stateside, but I would read the scanlations. Volumes 2 and 3 are impossible to find and EXTREMELY expensive. I was lucky to find volumes with printing errors so they were within budget-range. For any series of mine that no longer has a English publisher and people shamelessly overcharge for them ($100 for 1 volume?!), I feel I can say without guilt that you should read the scanlations. Hopefully June will pick up the license (and novels), since they already have her rather interesting Hybrid Child.

    On the topic of anime, I’ve been literally reading manga for as long as I’ve been able to read (I remember buying CLAMP, St. Tail, and Cardcapter Sakura at 5-6 years of age), and been watching anime even longer than that. But I have no tolerance for crappy adaptions. Series like Maid-sama, SA, and Skip Beat got terrible adaptions, but occaisonally a really good adaption comes out and I absoluetly have to have it. Itazura na Kiss is one example.

    Another one I absolutely have to reccomend is Lovely Complex. It came out when I was still in high school, and it was what convinced me to buy the manga. Risa cries a lot in the story, but I remember I was crying with her every time. And hearing Osaka-ben gave the story a extra bit of flavor. Also Pretear and Angelic Layer had superior anime versions.

    I’m also fond of anime originals since they seem to suck less in general (or maybe that’s because they have nothing to compare to?) Really good shoujo anime that I like (and definitely reccomend) is The Vision of Escflowne (which is a shounen mecha fantasy that plays out like a shoujo high school romance), and my all-time favorite Princess Tutu – which has a manga which is sooo bad in comparison I pretend our copies on the shelf don’t exist.

    Coming back to Challengers, I love Souichi so much but he’s always felt a little familiar. When I was re-reading Eroica because of your post on it, I couldn’t help think, “Isn’t the Tyrant a little like the Major?” What do you think?

    Also, on the The Demon’s Secert – i think it was on Albris Books or Deep Discount. Also, how do magically find your manga so quickly? Especially when they’re out of print. I want my own copy of Pet Shop of Horrors! And you have to review Please Save My Earth eventually too! (is that why you never got to it?)

  8. Connie Says:

    I might take your good advice about the first part. You do have a point about that. JManga has it listed, and I’d love to buy it from them, but for some reason it’s listed and unavailable. They keep sliding it up the list as a new release too, and I click every week hoping they’ve finally added it. I’ll buy it from them when they do, but… you know.

    I more or less agree with you about the bad adaptations, and that’s one of the reasons I watch so little anime now. I generally will pick up an anime if I really, really love the manga, but I’ve had such bad luck. It doesn’t help that I don’t research this stuff. For instance, I probably would have picked up an English release of the Skip Beat anime out of love for that series, but I’m glad that didn’t happen now (also, I just noticed volumes of Skip Beat are going out of print in English, and that’s a travesty). I did like the Lovely Complex manga a lot though, and I’m happy to hear that it got a good adaptation. I should also watch Angelic Layer and Princess Tutu. I bought the manga for the latter after hearing so much praise for the anime, and that didn’t work out well for me, but it’s such a cute idea, and I know I would love the anime. I own Angelic Layer, but I think I bought it with something else that was awful, and never wound up watching it. I’ve heard it’s really good though, and I should just watch my copy.

    I think you’re right about Souichi being a lot like the Major, and that just put a whole new wonderful spin on that series for me. Both series, actually. I think they work in opposite directions, though. Souichi becomes slightly more accessible as a character the more Tyrant goes on, whereas the Major seems the most flexible at the beginning of Eroica, then hardens into himself after the first several volumes, keeping some eccentricities around for good measure. I love that the first Eroica story I thought of when I pondered the similarities between Souichi and the Major was the spinoff Der Freischutz, which is where the Major gets to do his cold-blooded spy thing and ruthlessly pursue his enemy.

    While re-reading Bronze, I couldn’t help but see shades of the relationship dynamics in Tyrant in the interactions between Koji and Izumi. I thought I might just be seeing things that weren’t there though, since the long chase is just one type of story. Koji’s long-suffering chase of Izumi is far less patient in some ways than Morinaga’s, but that the whole series goes on without an “I love you,” that it takes so long for Izumi to realize his feelings, that… apparently Izumi is okay with sex even though he doesn’t seem to think of himself in a relationship with Koji, all of it seemed to show up in Tyrant.

    I’m going on a trip next week, and I think I’m going to take Please Save My Earth with me and read it then. I collected it around the same time I got Basara, but I got lucky and found the super-expensive volumes in a comic shop around here, so I skipped the hard part on that one. I also have Red River laying around in its entirety, and I know I would love that one as well, but PSME sounds like the better read, so I’m going to do that one first.

    As for where I get my used stuff, I wound up writing a long explanation (I get really excited when I talk about books). This may be way more info than you need, but here’s how I do it.

    I’ve got a couple labor-intensive systems I use. Many large used book sellers on the internet use automatic pricing software. The price inflation happens when there are only a few listings, or when an item starts selling quickly and it’s out of stock at amazon. Usually the software will bump it up to around $100, and then other sellers will list around that price thinking it is the value of the book. Sometimes you’ll get lucky, because that software is also programmed to correct itself to be the lowest price (and thus the first used listing on Amazon) on a daily basis, and you can sometimes catch auto-pricers racing each other to the bottom doing that. Some of the software is also programmed to drop its price automatically by a good chunk every month or so, so keeping an eye on a listing will also pay off in some cases. Certain used dealers never drop their over-inflated prices though, which is annoying. I used to manage one of these.

    I now work at a certain large used bookstore chain that is a big fan of buying everything from the public. They recently got a computerized inventory company-wide, along with a new policy that means that they can ship books from any location if you call them. Happily, manga is next to worthless to them (mostly because the stores don’t have a place for it), and most of the time if I can find a volume of what I’m looking for, I can get it for a few dollars at most. Some series are easier to find than others, for instance I’ve never seen volumes of Basara or PSME, but I’ve seen at least two complete sets of From Far Away and full sets of Sensual Phrase come in regularly at my store alone. BL is especially great though, since we have to keep it in locked cases and nobody buys it from there. All the stores have at least some, and mostly they wind up pulping it. If you give one of the locations a call, the computerized inventory can check nationwide.

  9. badzphoto Says:

    “… volumes of Skip Beat are going out of print in English”
    I also notice that Skip Beat omnibus 3-in-1 listed to be released in march 2012 for vol 1 and may for vol 2. Maybe that’s why.

  10. Connie Says:

    Ooh, that’s good news! It would make for a fun read in an omnibus. I hope it hooks more fans that way.

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