I cannot explain my attraction to this book. I do not like baseball. For years, I lived near Wrigley Field in Chicago, an experience I can only describe as somewhat scarring. Indeed, my only interest in sports whatsoever is an admitted and frank enjoyment of David Beckham’s person. I will go further and admit that I am highly suspicious of teamwork, in general.
Nor is Ellie Mamahara a sure thing. I liked Alley of First Love, but I was not exactly enthusiastic about Double Cast. (I could have sworn I’d written about Alley of First Love, too, but if I did, I forgot to publish it. Perhaps one of the other personalities stole it for his/her/its column.) The problem isn’t subtle – you can see it on the cover. The two guys on the right are hardly anatomically sound as far as drafting goes, but they work as skinny, enlongated yaoi prettyboys. Then go one guy over. What the hell? This guy would be about eight feel tall and have shoulders as wide as the average Tokyo apartment. Yet his jaw is clearly too tiny to support the weight of his teeth. It makes me think of a T Rex, with those tiny little arms. I’m not unforgiving about the occasional wild proportional inaccuracy inside the book (and there are many – bodies, huge! heads, wee!), but this is the cover! At least go back and fix the guy’s face.
And yet. Prowling the dwindling Borders manga section for yaoi I hadn’t read, yet might want to read (the former being a problem and the latter being an almost insurmountable problem), I saw this one and dismissed it. Then I went back to it and picked it up. And put it back. But then I went back to it again. Because – the Elephants. The team is called the Tokyo Elephants. And there’s a mascot:
Surely a relatively discerning adult would not shell out $15 for a questionably drawn book that is ostensibly about a sport she actively dislikes, just because she is amused by the name of the team. Right? Sigh. Kinukitty is sadly lacking in discipline across the board (hey, that’s a sports metaphor! Wrong sport, but, you know, I’m making an effort), but nowhere more than in all things yaoi. And, in my defense, it was more than the elephant thing. I also had a feeling about it, and a vague, diffuse attraction. People get married for flimsier reasons than that.
So. The plot? Is as iffy as the art. (Although I should say that the art isn’t impossible – the lines are clean and the proportions aren’t always completely unreasonable, and you can always tell what’s going on, which is not the case in all manga.) Fortunately, there isn’t much actual baseball being perpetrated (and I’d suspected as much). Instead, we have longing and counterproductive avoidance behavior, transparent misunderstandings and the occasional yearning kiss. Which – I mean, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Take a look at this, the reveal on the first misapprehension:
There’s some good stuff here. “Because the real you is a little too thought-provoking” is an awesome line, and a great way to explain why people sometimes express their profound interest in others by ignoring them. The startled look in the third panel is also well done. This is good, too:
I do love me a surly and vexed character. You also get a sense of the part played by the rest of the team in this story – humorous background, mostly, with a liberal dollop of warm fuzzy.
The older guy (Dark-Haired Scowling Dude, a.k.a. Ogata) puts the younger guy (Blond Dude Whose Head Is Being Swallowed By His Massive Shoulders, a.k.a Uno) off to give himself time to decide how he feels about this situation. Uno wants him and sort of wallows on him like a big, happy puppy, and Ogata isn’t sure if he’s into it. That’s most of the book.
The question is not if they will get together, of course, but how. What I liked about it was the long buildup and how convincingly confused Ogata was. As long as Uno was doggedly pursuing him, he could dither without concern. But eventually (really eventually – this takes years), Uno seems to be turning his attention elsewhere, and this kicks Ogata in the ass. The specific plot devices Mamahara employs do not exactly ring true, but the simmering emotional befuddlement does.
Obsession, frustration, insecurity, and – happy ending. Not original, not a perfect game, but good enough. In fact, I think I appreciate it more for almost sucking, but just managing to carry it off. That kind of feels like real life, too.