Welcome back to Romance Roundtable: a feature where the editorial POME Crones gather together to discuss Romance Manga. Today we’re covering Volumes 1 and 2 of Asumiko Nakamura‘s Classmates: a sweet boys’ love manga about two extremely teenaged boys falling for each other and figuring things out about themselves along the way.
Ashley: alright! so, we went with these two volumes as kind of a holiday/new year’s special, since the second volume takes place during winter
anyone wanna sum it up?
CC: well, I named the folder I saved my screenshots to “seasonal yaoi boys” & IMO that really sums it up
Ashley: hahahaha true! (the first one takes place in… summer?)
CC: boys fall in love as the seasons change! also, creepy teacher
I think the first one takes place in the fall maybe
Ashley: we’ve got a pretty standard yaoi couple – manic blonde chases down serious brunette
Rachel: with glasses!!
CC: oh also important to mention: this book is called Classmates. it really is all right there on the tin huh
Jenny: i think there was a lot about this that felt very Classic BL
going straight back to the Source on that one
and like, i will say that i am not as rabid over this book as i usually am for romance roundtable, but the author does really explicitly lay out their goals for the story, and judging based on that rubric, i think it’s safe to call this a success
CC: basics and fundamentals
Jenny: b for basics f for fundamentals, but also b for boys and f for fucking
boys and pining
Jenny: (they don’t actually fuck)
(they are youths)
Ashley: they even get really self-conscious about holding hands and kissing
Jenny: it’s incredibly sweet tbh
Ashley: one of the two things i liked best about this book was (aside from the creepy teacher side plot, which we will get to) is the very genuine teenager-ness of it all
it really captured and brought me back to that depth of angst in a way i don’t think other RR books have
Jenny: yes agreed!
though i will say
for better and for worse bc like
there are quite a few of these throwaway “what am i, a girl??” comments, and i think the most generous reading of that repeated choice is just that teen boys are kind of Steeped in the toxic masculinity and the author has captured that
Jenny: like, i for one am grateful i did not go to an all boys school
Ashley: i did give the author the benefit of the doubt on this one and chose to assume the latter
CC: ok so I feel like I am about to say something controversial
CC: the boys
CC: is how I felt about it
in that they are very teen dumb but also so much more emotionally articulate than I could have imagined being at that age
in that they eventually get there and can articulate how they feel
I felt like the kids felt like adults and the adult felt like a kid writing about what an elderly 35 year old would be like
(I think the author was probably a world weary 23 or something LOL)
Ashley: LOLOLOL interesting!!!
Rachel: i think for me, what i struggled with in this book
is that 1. it is very opaque; 2. it does some “comic” things i don’t like
like, what is happening here???
CC: yeah I’m assuming he slapped glasses boy
but it isn’t really clear?
Jenny: yeah i could not tell you
Rachel: yeah!! like the page before this they are in choir practice
CC: wait why would he slap him
god i have no idea
Rachel: like, maybe he is snapping his fingers to get his attention because they are suddenly not in choir practice
that is the most i can guess
Ashley: i was puzzling over this, i admit. since they were in choir i thought he was making the “do” hand sign (as in do re mi)??
Jenny: ah! ashley w the specialized choir knowledge!
coming in clutch!
Ashley: drawing on highly specific chorus girl knowledge shouldn’t be a prerequisite tho. and also that still doesn’t 100% make sense lol
Jenny: i am willing to believe that is what this is
Rachel: hahaha this is what i mean! and there’s a lot of things like this in both books
where i felt like i had to flip through pages to make sure i hadn’t accidentally skipped something
like, i found myself confused a lot
and not in like a fun, mysterious way
like the first time they kiss
Rachel: YEAH i had to re-read that so many times!
Jenny: i wasn’t 100% that they’d actually kissed!
yeah! had to re-read it a few times
Rachel: i do appreciate the teenageness of it though, i do agree
Rachel: another classic
Jenny: oh for sure! there were a lot of really cute moments like this
Jenny: kusa-kabe was charming! v enthusiastic!
Ashley: hmm i liked the first kiss! i think the “mysteriousness” of making you need to think about what’s happening works in that particular moment. like it evokes the feeling of “wtf is happening”
Jenny: ah, fair!
Ashley: but yes i agree, i am extremely fond of kusa. exactly the type of idiot i personally crushed on
CC: ok, so I found the part that made me think that the kids felt old
but upon revisiting it
I think this is exactly the type of melodrama you’d write in your composition notebook as a teen
CC: the kind of self serious talk that you’ll cringe about later
Ashley: oh my GOD yes
Ashley: basically my entire fucking livejournal
CC: my EXHAUSTED LOVER
L M A O
Jenny: OUR TURBULENT TEEN YEARS
CC: maybe i’m just such an old that i’m here to heckle the youths
Ashley: eh, at least for me, i’m really heckling my own Inner Youth
omg okay, close-up dirtbag goatee is a perfect segue to talk about this creep
this is the music teacher who is majorly horny for the brunette of the yaoi duo
Jenny: the student-teacher Thing does also feel kind of like a staple of the classic genre, but also i don’t like it
like, this is from 2016. we don’t have to be doing this. (but also yeah i guess if this is an exercise in the genre conventions…)
Rachel: wow i didn’t not realize they were two different teachers!!
I THOUGHT IT WAS ONE TEACHER
hara-ssment or w/e right?
Ashley: that’s a flashback
CC: I thought he was just also their homeroom teacher
Jenny: i also thought it was one teacher? like the one music teacher did a flashback to when he was a student and got hit on by his science teacher
as a way to like, justify his behavior or w/e
Jenny: could’ve been clearer
Ashley: right. exactly. Dirtbag teacher IS a classic BL trope and i DO feel that the author deliberately tried to put their spin on it by including the teacher’s own grooming trauma
but ultimately unsuccessfully
Rachel: ok yes i am following
Jenny: yes yes ashley has summed it up much better
CC: I think there is a lot to unpack with the teacher / age gap trope in stories like these and it can stand in for different things to different people etc etc etc BUT i also think this guy is extremely nasty
Ashley: i was just incredibly disappointed tho, because that flashback chapter was honestly really good and the story could have worked amazingly well with Dirtbag Teacher just… not actually hitting on the kid
Ashley: he could have been a kindly Gay Elder! kusakabe’s fear could have been just projections!
Jenny: would have felt better, as a reader
CC: yeah like i’m here for nuance and would not dismiss a messy plot out of hand but this guy’s like
a tex avery wolf awooga-ing over his students lmaooo
Ashley: yeah ugh. honestly just way too close to home to enjoy as a trope, gotta say
CC: can i just lay into this guy a little
Jenny: i say yea
CC: extremely preaching to the choir style
after basically introducing himself to the reader by being like
“lol love 2 teach at an all boys school full of hotties” he’s like
CC: “a grown up would wait until he graduates” are you really trying to pretend like u care
get outta here
Ashley: also like – NOT BETTER
distinctly does not make it at all better!!!!!!
CC: take those big yaoi hands off the t9 keyboard and keep em where we can see em buddy
Ashley: yuck and also lmao
CC: and, again: i am not dismissing all age gap relationships forever i am dismissing this guy bc he’s so nasty!
licking his chops every chance he can get!
Ashley: there’s also i think, a huge difference b/t age gap and your literal student
Rachel: it also really bothers me that he KNOWS that he’s being transparent and then he leans into it to make our blonde boy jealous??
so like, he’s AWARE
CC: like he’s playing horney 5d chess
Ashley: OMG stop making this bad plot so funny lolololol
CC: i’m just saying it’s hard 2 be subtle when half your dialogue is essentially “hammmina hammina hammina aWOOga glasses boy aWOOOOga”
Ashley: it’s interesting because he does end up sort of nudging the two dum dums into getting together, but again – could have 100% been done WITHOUT the awooogas and the “love triangle” element
CC: i like that the cool bf calls him out every chance he gets
Ashley: i’m honestly mad because it was SO CLOSE to being so much better
Jenny: oh FOR SURE
i feel like the only time i was happy to see this teacher was when kusa-kabe was trolling him
Rachel: LOL yes this was good
more of this please!!
right!!!! there were some good moments!! gah
CC: LMAO yes this was very funny
Ashley: this is one of those situations that actually makes me wonder how much editorial factors in
because that beginning scene you showed – where he’s like “actually teenage boys are disgusting” feels like it’s setting up an upset of the trope, yknow? but then it ends up leaning in
CC: ah like, the reader surveys are in and the gals want a hot teacher?
CC: yeah that’s a good point!
Ashley: or just like, “this relationship needs an antagonist”
CC: i don’t get out of bed for less than one love triangle a day
i will say, we haven’t really touched on sajo glasses bf
his plotline gets kind of heavy
but in the first volume, when the stakes are a little lower
it was nice to get little moments like this one
Jenny: where we get to see him have a little bit of a personality
CC: LOL this is cute!
Jenny: like he’s kind of dry!
this moment was so sweet
both of them here! it was a great moment!
CC: I really thought this chapter divider did a great job telegraphing their whole vibe
they are ultimately both fools!
CC: they share one brain cell but it takes longer to travel through sajo’s brain
Ashley: omg yes, laser accurate haha
CC: kusakabe’s brain is a mcdonalds straw and sajo’s is a bendy straw from chuck e cheese that costs like 5000 tickets
Jenny: you’re killing it tonight
Jenny: this is perfect
will also say re: my idiot nerd son sajo
why yes he has seen every episode of star trek thank you
Rachel: “lemme have a sip” — i’m that one in the relationship
Rachel: i think part of what makes these boys’ dynamic interesting, at least to me, is that it seems that Sajo is gay, knew he was gay, etc
but this is maybe the first gay crush that Kusakabe has had?
and i think that the way it manifests is so interesting — like Sajo has had much longer to internalize negative feelings about his orientation and the way that it makes others perceive him
and so he tends to be much less affectionate / more resistant to PDA
where as Kusakabe is like, kissing is fun
CC: ooh I think that’s a good point
Jenny: hasn’t had time to overthink, he is but a simple fool
Rachel: idk i am maybe projecting but i think this dynamic is interesting and it’s fun to see Sajo get more comfortable with the physical aspects of this relationship and his own queerness
Jenny: this was so cute
what a dork
CC: AHHH “I RECORDED IT IN MY HEART”
Ashley: i do think you have a point rachel! although i would add that it seems like this is kusa’s first crush PERIOD
Rachel: oh yes i could see that!!
Ashley: to me, it was like…. all these girls have always been into me, and it never seemed that interesting, and then this boy made me FEEL THINGS and boy howdy is it fun to FEEL THINGS!!
Rachel: haha also another amazing trope
Ashley: haha true
CC: i also think on top of all of that
kusakabe lives in a combination hot person x naturally outgoing person bubble
i am sure
i feel like the concept of being self conscious is probably so alien to him he couldn’t absorb it if he tried
CC: the vibes
Ashley: LOL yeah that checks out !
i do also have to add, since everyone has shared some of my favorite screenshots — i really like the art style! that was my other fave thing about this book
very expressive imo, lots of personality
Rachel: yes!! this was part of my struggle i think
the artist does beautiful work, but i think is maybe not so good at comics
like, is someone who cares more about how it looks than how readable it is
Ashley: yeah, i mean to give the benefit of the doubt, i’m sure they’re still learning! they did say it’s their first for a BL magazine, could be among their first pub work generally
Rachel: that’s true!
CC: i feel like my view is somewhere in the middle
i really liked the fluidity
but also sometimes it was a little too fluid
CC: ^ ie above
where I get that perfect anatomy isn’t the point but i still had to stare at it a while to figure out if i liked it or not
but I’d rather someone try and take risks that don’t always play it safe than make something wooden and that can’t be evocative when it needs to be!
Rachel: yes true!!
Ashley: for sure
Rachel: the smoothness of these lines has me wondering if this person does their work digitally or on paper with a nib or a pen
my guess would be completely digital though
Ashley: i think that’s more and more common. but hard to say!
Rachel: yeah, could just be someone with a very steady hand!
CC: yeah – rachel, did you say this came out in what, 2016?
I’m wondering if the original ran earlier given all the flip/brick cell phones
Rachel: yes in japan!
but it’s also common to redraw things for the tonkoban
CC: oooooh yeah interesting
Rachel: oh wait original run was 2006!!
so dang given that, i would be surprised if it was digital?
CC: even more impressed tbh
Ashley: oh wow! interesting!
my best guess is that this is someone who sketches really loose and then inks carefully
otherwise how would you get all those funky shapes?
Rachel: i’m ready for the manben with this artist!!
Ashley: haha omg yes! this book definitely gave us a lot to discuss, i’m interested in the artist for sure
CC: that said, y’all ready for final thoughts?
Rachel: i’m ready!
Rachel: i can start
CC: go ahead!
Rachel: i think the best part of having OCs is doing sketches like this
Ashley: hahahahahaha hell yea
Jenny: glasses swap! glasses swap! glasses swap!
my final thought
idk if y’all know this
but i was actually in this book
Jenny: right there!
Jenny: how about we get a drink
Jenny: go whole hog
there i am
Rachel: this cherub faced angel
Jenny: yes thank you thank you
i’m bowing rn y’all just can’t see it
CC: clap clap clap clap clap
Ashley: love this for you
CC: ok my final thought is 1) very dumb 2) very on my bullshit
Akiyama Yakuza i can’t believe this book did you so dirty
CC: (i couldn’t not see this guy whenever the teacher was on screen)
he is also greasy and my least favorite yakuza boy so it’s not a bad comparison
Ashley: this yakuza boy is SO MUCH CUTER than that loser’s goatee loser!!!
yeah truly, this boy can get it!!
CC: he wishes LOL
CC: anyway love to see akiyama getting roasted even if indirectly and mostly in my own brain
Ashley: i don’t really have a screenshot or a coherent final thought, because i cannot find my Comics Viewing Device (old ipad) so i will simply say, i hope everyone gets through their winter and new year’s celebrations with minimal and/or the exactly correct amount of angst!!!!
CC: exhausted lovers and troubled youths alike
happy new year one and all!!!!
Ashley: may your 2023 be less turbulent than the mind of a yaoi boy!
CC: truly, THE season’s greeting
Join us next time for even more love story shouting in our next Romance Roundtable! In the meantime, Monthly Ko-Fi members: head on over to Ko-Fi for just a few bonus goofs that didn’t make it into today’s roundtable, as a treat.