by Fumi Yoshinaga
published by Digital Manga; $15.95 US
This two-book series follows the same pattern as Fumi Yoshinaga’s The Moon and the Sandals. The first book sets up the situations and the cast, while the second one is mostly about watching them have sex. However, compared to that title, Ichigenme… The First Class Is Civil Law, is more advanced, both in explicitness and character development.
(That structure, by the way, makes sense when you considered that the material here reprinted was originally serialized. At the beginning, more attention needs to be paid to establishing the characters to give the reader some reason to follow the series and want more. By the time there’s enough material for a second book, presumably, they’re familiar with the premise and more concerned with the payoff.)
A group of students come together in a seminar with the reputation of being the easiest at their law school. Tohdou is the handsome showoff, loud and obnoxious. When we meet him, it’s at a welcome party where he takes off all his clothes and kisses Tamiya. Then we learn he’s the privileged son of a high-ranking politician, confirming our expectations about him as a playboy.
Tamiya is the odd duck, the one who actually studies. He’s in the seminar due to its subject matter, and he’s the only one who isn’t rich and spoiled. Tohdou invites him out, but Tamiya won’t be paid for. He’s put off by the dissolute carousing of the others, but he’s intrigued by Tohdou one-on-one, including his open sexuality.
The character contrast is intriguing yet immediately understandable. The students are amusing in their apathy towards everything but having fun — the story has the same appeal as reading a trashy “celebrity” magazine. Layered over that is Tamiya’s coming-of-age struggles with coming out. He’s attracted to Tohdou, but put off by his popularity and what he represents. Yet he can’t stop fantasizing about him, remembering their joking kiss. The rules of the upper class dismay him, but Tohdou is different; we find out how as the stories continue.
The characters are beautifully delineated, with that expressive Yoshinaga look. There’s more attention paid to backgrounds here than in some of her work, establishing the school setting. Additional stories in book one feature a substitute teacher taking the class, who winds up much harsher than the usual instructor yet much more involved with some of the students. Then it’s time to consider applying for jobs and taking the bar exam, a stressful period livened by gossip about a fellow student’s naked pictures.
Along with the main story, of how Tamiya and Tohdou start a relationship, there are background bits making fun of college students and elites. Even in another culture, the humor translates well. Plus, the other characters, even when they come on stage briefly, feel three-dimensional, as though their stories continue elsewhere. Yoshinaga does excellent character work of this sort, sketching out participants who seem like real people, even viewed for just a short time.
Now that all this has been established, book two jumps ahead to where Tamiya has become a professor and Tohdou is taking a degree in science. They’re still together — as we see graphically and frequently — but still working out the social aspects of their relationship, especially when they’re working very different schedules. The stories are shorter, have much less to do with school, and lack a continuing supporting cast, with the exception of Tohdou’s brother, who takes over the focus. It seems a certain taste runs in the family, since the brother is sleeping with his insecure law teacher, as we see in two chapters.
The first book is my favorite of her yaoi works. The color opening page in each volume, showing the happy couple, is outstanding. (The publisher provided review copies.)