La Satanica by Momoko Tenzen: B+

lasatanicaWhen Shoji Mashita spots his classmate Motoki Matsushima lovingly caressing his (Mashita’s) desk, he abruptly realizes that Matsuhima has feelings for him. He narrates that he’s okay with this, since he respects Matsushima as a friend, but he can’t resist tormenting him since his reactions are so violent. Eventually, Mashita realizes that he has feelings for Matsushima, too, and they share a pretty intense encounter in the boys’ bathroom until Matsushima suggests they adjourn to his home and Mashita suddenly gets cold feet.

Matsushima tries to figure out what he’s done wrong, and Mashita finally confesses that he’s afraid of the next step. From this point on, the boys become fairly obsessed with doing it. I prefer stories more about love than lust, myself, but the depiction of their awkwardness is well done and one really must appreciate that they take a whole chapter to really, really make sure that it’s what both of them want. “Are you only doing this for my sake? Are you positive about this?” “If I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t be.” That alone earns La Satanica major points in my book.

I’ve been impressed by Tenzen’s powers of characterization in her short stories, so it’s no surprise that they’re on even better display in this full-length story. Both characters are very endearing, to the point where it’s almost embarrassing to see them in bed together, and Tenzen’s expressive art makes the heartfelt confessions of their feelings and insecurities that much more sympathetic. The result is a BL manga that manages to be sweet and sexy simultaneously, which is no small feat.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Ciao Ciao Bambino by Momoko Tenzen: B

ciaociaobambinoI think I must be a Momoko Tenzen fan, because this is the second time I’ve been impressed by her ability to create compelling characters in a short story format (the first being Unsophisticated and Rude). Not only that, she’s able to write stories about romance between middle schoolers and teachers that aren’t completely icky (only mildly icky).

There are five stories in this volume, though the first four focus on the same set of characters: Kaname, a lecturer at a cram school; Yuuta, Kaname’s student, seven years his junior; and Kei and Mako, friends of Yuuta’s who have feelings for each other. What I liked about these stories is that Kaname and Yuuta take several years to get to a point where love is openly discussed, and although Yuuta is still too young (in my opinion) when they finally sleep together, his character is developed enough that it’s clear he’s not being taken advantage of by an adult in position of authority.

The fifth story, “Brand New Wednesday,” is about a tall kid named Kana—and seriously, both he and Yuuta must attend one of the junior highs from Prince of Tennis, because they’re far bigger than any ninth graders I’ve known—who is in love with his home tutor. I found the tutor’s perspective especially poignant here, as he realizes how fragile a love like this can be when the younger person has so much changing left to do in their life.

I admit to feeling a little guilty that I liked these stories as much as I did, given their subject matter, but Tenzen’s approach is not salacious whatsoever. If you can get past the squick factor, these stories do offer some truly touching moments.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

Unsophisticated and Rude by Momoko Tenzen: B+

unsophisticatedUnsophisticated and Rude is a collection of five boys’ love tales from Momoko Tenzen. Unlike most compilations in this format, all of the stories are enjoyable and demonstrate an impressive ability to establish unique and compelling characters within a limited number of pages.

The first two stories—“Unsophisticated and Rude” and “Pretender”—are the best, offering additional dramatic complications beyond what’s generally expected with stories of this type. In the title story, Hiroto is surprised when his childhood friend, Satoshi, confesses that he has feelings for a male upperclassman. Hiroto pledges his support, but secretly possesses feelings for the same guy. While he cares for Satoshi and wants things to work out for his friend, he can’t help being jealous and, in the end, makes the difficult choice to seize love while he can. In “Pretender,” Katase has attempted to forestall his friend Manaka’s love confession by going out with a girl, to no avail. He’s very conscious of the stigma surrounding homosexuality, and resists engaging in a relationship, worrying that Manaka “isn’t really like me.”

My one real complaint is that, because of the inherent constraints of a short story, some things are not shown that I’d like to see. Particularly in the title story, readers are left wondering how Hiroto’s decision to choose love over his best friend will affect his life. Then again, perhaps it’s better to leave the undoubtedly painful implosion of their friendship to one’s imagination.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.