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!”

Challengers 3

July 31, 2011

Hinako Takanaga – DramaQueen – 2006 – 4 volumes

I won’t lie. There’s something addictive about this series. When I finished volume two, I wrote it up right away so that I could read volume three. And then I went on to volume four. Then I surprised myself by re-reading the first volume of Tyrant Falls in Love. Re-reading is something I almost never do, and I kind of hated Tyrant. Then I went on to read the rest of Tyrant. This all happened in the same night. Then, I got stuck, and in the last three days, I’ve read Challengers two more times and Tyrant about five times.

Challengers is cute, and I like that it can discuss issues without being explicit. For instance, the first chapter in this volume discusses “problems” Tatsumi and Kurokawa have when they begin to explore the physical aspects of their relationship. Nothing is shown, but the problems are still very real. It’s mostly a gag chapter, with Isogai enthusiastically recommending a trip to a sex shop for advice and Tatsumi consulting Rick for similar advice. The gags bother me less now, since most of them are character-centric and I can appreciate humor that goes above the level of cheap gags. The second chapter is a little worse about the cheap gags, but it has Souichi in it, and that always makes for more fun than necessary. Reiko decides to throw a party to celebrate Kurokawa and Tatsumi’s mutual relationship, and Souichi walks in at the wrong time. Madcap hijinx ensue, along with a whole lot of Souichi yelling and beating up Kurokawa, Tomoe, and almost a group of old ladies.

Souichi’s a fun character here. He’s mostly a one-trick pony (a very dangerous, angry homophobic man with power over Tatsumi), but the fact he shows up and asserts himself in the most violent way possible again and again is strangely endearing, as is the fact he absolutely refuses to change his views on homosexuality and has no problem insulting as many strangers as possible that cross him on this idea. He’s basically a terrible person, but it’s hard not to stare.

It seems he must’ve been very popular, enough to steal the spotlight, since he’s been getting a lot of story time since his appearance. The second half of the volume is almost all about Souichi and his lab assistant, Morinaga (both are ambiguous scientists of some sort). Morinaga is gay, and is in fact in love with Souichi, which is the only reason anyone would ever consent to being anywhere near Souichi on a regular basis. He’s been in love with him for years, but knows better than to let on, because it would literally be a death sentence. Of course, like any good BL book, Morinaga can’t hold it in any more, and the two-part story is about how Souichi has to deal with his only friend being gay. There’s still a lot of yelling, but his reactions are not nearly as comedic as you’d think in this series, and the story made Souichi an even more likable character. I also liked that Souichi didn’t do the typical raging tsundere thing of suddenly breaking down and becoming all adorable and soft towards Morinaga. He’s still a bastard, and probably always will be.

While I do like the characters more and more with every volume, I disliked the fact that there still seems to be absolutely no chemistry between Kurokawa and Tatsumi. Mostly this is Tatsumi’s fault, since he’s such an airhead that he seems mostly to go along with anything Kurokawa says, and there’s not a whole lot of love reciprocation on his part. Even so, I like this series a lot for the fact that it seems to honestly explore the characters more than typical BL series bother to. It does commit several BL logical sins (Kurokawa and Tatsumi were both straight before meeting, for instance), but has the characters walking themselves through what it’s actually like to fall in love and work at a relationship, rather than just taking everything for granted. Still, I do hate that Tatsumi doesn’t… well, he doesn’t have much of a personality at all, really. I did fall in love with Kurokawa, though.

Challengers 2

July 27, 2011

Hinako Takanaga – DramaQueen – 2006 – 4 volumes

This volume was more interesting, but still not nearly as good as Little Butterfly. Things get more serious as Tatsumi begins to seriously evaluate his feelings and decide if the promise that Kurokawa made to him (basically, that his feelings wouldn’t make Tatsumi feel awkward) is really worth keeping. I also like that Kurokawa’s just a nice, earnest guy. He’s not predatory or creepy, nor is he forcing himself on Tatsumi. He’s letting Tatsumi be himself, and Tatsumi’s figuring out that his feelings are similar to Kurokawa’s. Granted, this still isn’t a very realistic scenario, but it’s less forceful that what you’d find in most BL books, and I like the gentleness. This pace also helps me forgive the age difference. Even though Tatsumi is a college student, he’s a very immature college student, so it still bothers me.

One of the subplots in this volume is that Rick’s old American boyfriend, Phil, shows up unexpectedly. Rick wants nothing to do with him, so he lies about Tatsumi being his boyfriend and takes Tatsumi on a date in order to fool Phil. Phil, Kurokawa, and Kurokawa’s co-worker all follow them, and things don’t go well at all when Rick decides to put the moves on Tatsumi. I don’t care for Rick, and I’m hoping that Phil will run interference so that he doesn’t keep randomly showing up to wreck things. Other than that, though, I have no opinion on those two.

Kurokawa’s co-worker, on the other hand, is awesome. He’s a great gossip, and loves hearing all of Kurokawa’s problems. He also offers decent advice, and is pretty much there for Kurokawa in every way he can be. I’m sorry I can’t remember his name, but I love that Kurokawa has a best friend like him to take his troubles to. Such characters are rare, especially when they’re just a regular straight guy like this.

Another story involved Kurokawa’s mother showing up out of the blue to re-claim her room in Kurokawa’s apartment. She decides that she likes Tatsumi, but doesn’t realize her son has a crush on him. She accidentally overhears a “serious conversation” the two were having in a coffee shop, and… doesn’t take the news of her son’s previously-unrevealed homosexuality very well. The scene is unfortunately more comedic than it is serious, but still. Scenes like this are so rare in BL, that I thought it was interesting that the story bothered with it at all. That’s just one more thing to like about it.

But while there’s good things like that, there’s also a story in the back that deals specifically with Souichi, Tatsumi’s brother, and a character named Morinaga. This story sets out to explain why Souichi hates homosexuals so much, and does so by conflating homosexuality and rape. To be fair, it’s Souichi that does this. Souichi is an angry guy anyway, and it’s not that much of a stretch to say that, yes, if someone attempted to rape him, he would probably hate all homosexuals. I just… wish there were less of this sort of thing in these books. It does balance this ugliness out with Morinaga, who is a sympathetic homosexual character that saves Souichi from actually being assaulted. But still. It made me a little angry.

Immediately after this story, however, there was a short epilogue/author’s notes-type short story about all the ideas that got rejected. It’s wonderful and very funny, and shows off quite a bit of the creative process behind a manga like this. I loved all the different story directions that were considered, and it is interesting to see just how different the story could’ve been with a different writer/editor working on it.

Overall, I did enjoy this book quite a bit, though it still has a little too much humor for my taste. There’s a few more kinks in the storytelling I didn’t like, but I am slowly warming up to it. At the moment, I still don’t feel like there’s a lot of chemistry between Kurokawa and Tatsumi, which is a problem in a romance series like this, but the pace is slow here, and I’m hoping things will get more romantic next time. It’s pretty good so far though, and again, I would recommend picking up the volumes directly from DramaQueen. They have 2-4 in stock, and buying from them instead of a middleman helps them out a lot. They’ve been struggling lately, and I think every little bit helps.

Challengers 1

July 20, 2011

Hinako Takanaga – DramaQueen – 2006 – 4 volumes

I wanted to read this series before I tried any more of The Tyrant Falls in Love. Not that one has much to do with the other, I just heard that this one’s a little easier to get into, and also one of Takanaga’s better series. I really liked Little Butterfly, so I’m hoping for the same level of characters in this one.

The premise is okay, so far. Kurokawa runs into naive Tatsumi while out on the town one night. Tatsumi seems out of his element, wandering around the city looking for his hotel and campus, so Kurokawa offers to put him up at his place and help him with his college application process. Kurokawa quickly falls in love with Tatsumi, and tips his hand upon saying goodbye, giving Tatsumi a kiss with no explanation. Nothing else happens, and Kurokawa assumes he’ll never see Tatsumi again, but lo and behold, Tatsumi gets into college and asks Kurokawa to help him get settled. The kiss is explained away, and after Kurokawa confirms that Tatsumi doesn’t have enough money to stay on his own, he generously offers his spare bedroom to Tatsumi. And life goes on, with Kurokawa harboring a crush that Tatsumi is relatively oblivious to.

While this sounds like it goes obvious places, Kurokawa is stopped dead in his pursuit of Tatsumi by Tatsumi’s terrifying older brother, Souichi. Souichi pops in pretty regularly to assault Kurokawa in the middle of potentially romantic moments and important conversations. Kurokawa also has a coworker that enthusiastically encourages him to just follow his feelings when it comes to Tatsumi. Meanwhile, Tatsumi is slowly getting himself used to college life and remaining blissfully ignorant of Kurokawa’s feelings.

Things change at the end of the volume, but so far, it’s been pretty status quo as far as romantic comedies go. The sense of humor is a little better than usual, but I feel like I need at least one more volume before I can decide if I really like all the characters. It’s been following the romcom script pretty closely, without a whole lot of surprises, which is why I’m reserving judgement. Perhaps it’ll get more exciting once we know more about the characters. So far, I do like it better than The Tyrant Falls in Love. Unexpectedly, Souichi is one of my favorites so far in this series, but he has yet to shine the same way in his main role in Tyrant (I’ve only read one volume, though). Tyrant also starts out with some non-con, which also keeps it from my good graces for the time being, but I know that Challengers is supposed to be the lighter and happier prequel, so I’m looking forward to the story from here.

If you’re thinking about buying this, please consider getting it directly from DramaQueen. They’re beginning to publish again after being silent for so long, and have books on their schedule for fall and winter. They only have vols 2-4 in stock, but any support helps, I think, and I do love their books and would love to see their future efforts. And by future efforts, I mean continuations of The Summit and DVD, but I’ll take anything, honestly. And have! I dislike sci-fi themed BL stories, but bought both of their recent releases, Missing Road and Junk, just to support them.