The World’s Greatest First Love Volume 1
I enjoy manga set in the world of manga publishing. (This is in contrast to comics about making comics, which tend to be dopey and morose.) Even when Bakuman was ridiculous about its characters, for instance, I appreciated the bits about working in such a demanding creative profession and how the industry operated.
I thus had high hopes for The World’s Greatest First Love, a yaoi series from SuBLime Manga about a new manga editor who winds up working for the guy who was his high school crush. Ritsu had previously been an editor of successful novels for his family’s publishing company, but he was upset by accusations he only had the job because of nepotism. He quits and applies to another firm but winds up hired into the shojo manga department even though he doesn’t read or like manga.
(This is a weird suggestion about Japanese hiring practices. I can’t imagine an interview or offer in a US company not specifying this kind of detail or making this kind of unsuitable assignment. But the manga needs to put Ritsu in a position where he can grudgingly learn from his former upperclassman.)
Ritsu’s got an appealing background situation to read about, wanting to prove himself on his own and willing to learn another area to do so. It’s a shame his personality is so unpleasant. But then, so is that of his boss Takano, who calls Ritsu useless at their first meeting due to his lack of manga experience. Then he kisses him, ostensibly to provide life models for a last-minute art change.
Ritsu’s unpleasant personality is foregrounded in the book, with him telling himself it was because of how badly his first love encounter (with Takano) went. He’s become pessimistic, and he dislikes working on romances because he’s never had one of his own. When the two finally figure out they were high school lovers, Takano vows to make Ritsu love him again.
I found the characters’ motivations and behaviors unrealistic, which damaged my enjoyment of the rest of the book. I want to believe that there’s some realism behind how the business is portrayed, but I can’t when the characters are acting so stereotypically. Mostly, I didn’t want to spend time with any of them.
I also sometimes had trouble telling the two leads apart visually. They look similar, generic manga guys with scraggly hair, except for their hair color, one dark, one light. When it came to emphasis panels, where the hair might change due to shading, it would block me until I could piece together which one was talking.
Worst of all, though, was the setup, which boils down to a boss sexually harassing his underling to “force” him to admit his true feelings. It’s a standard boys’ love setup, yes, but in the workplace, it has uncomfortable implications. Particularly when Takano compels Ritsu to spend time with him outside the office as part of “doing his job”. This forcing extends to the physical encounters, which again, are typical of the genre, but I prefer the occasional yaoi instances without sexual assault as part of the plot.
I did enjoy the rare moment of manga analysis, as when more experienced editors explain to Ritsu the importance of “the maiden’s heartthrob panel”, the moment in pacing where the reader is encouraged to identify with the manga heroine’s acknowledgement of her love feelings. I couldn’t decide, though, just how sarcastic the frequent narrative captions about “what bad mangaka do” were intended to be.
In summary, I wanted this series to be something it wasn’t. I would have liked it better without any of the yaoi or romance elements, just as a story about a young man learning to work in and appreciate shojo manga. That’s not something that would likely get published over here, though. (The publisher provided a review copy.)