Ikemen-kun to Saenai-kun
A look at one of the first print offerings from Gataeu Comics.
I have mixed feelings about Ikemen-kun to Saenai-kun. First off, on a shallow level, I must say I really enjoyed the art in this book. It has this rawness to the lines that I just eat up. Attractive character designs, good facial expressions, good choices when to use backgrounds and when to use white space, varied layouts… it looks good. However, some of the content and characterization detracted from my enjoyment of the work overall. Surprisingly(?!), manga needs more than just some pretty pictures strung together.
We’re introduced to Shinohara Kentarou, a dull college student who has never had a girlfriend. His life is rather unremarkable until one day, he’s struck in the head with a baseball. After suffering a blow to the head, he starts to notice some odd things. He’s troubled because he has no memory of actions that others claim he did. This culminates one day when Kentarou wakes up in an unfamiliar place in a unfamiliar bed. Next to him is a good-looking young man he’s never seen before. Just who is this guy? What’s going on?
We meet “Ikemen-kun,” whose actual name is Mashiba. Apparently Mashiba’s recently deceased girlfriend is capable of possessing Kentarou’s body and is responsible for his blackouts and odd actions. As a result, Mashiba is drawn to Kentarou and he in turn lets the dead girlfriend possess his body so the two can still see each other. Yeah, it’s kinda weird. Kentarou muses about how different he and Mashiba are–what qualities does this unfriendly, reticent young man possess that attract such a pretty girlfriend? How did he treat her? At first, Mashiba is distant, seemingly utterly uninterested in Kentarou himself. However, Mashiba shows some common courtesy like walking him home at night. But is he really looking out for Kentarou or his girlfriend…? Things soon get muddled as this unconventional relationship continues.
And now, the rant. Yes, this is a business of satisfying customers and like any other business, sometimes things just fall short of personal expectations. Nothing is perfect and it’s fair and honest to realize that.
Kentarou really is a doormat, so I found it frustrating to read. From the title, you’re expecting “Saenai-kun” to be a very low-key character, but dull doesn’t have to equal complete doormat with barely any personality or voice, which is exactly how he starts out. He’s not only awkward at expressing himself, but he’s letting the spirit of some dead girl take control of his body to see another guy who acts coldly toward Kentarou himself. As a result of this possession, Kentarou blacks out for hours at a time, sometimes waking up with minor injuries to his body (or reputation), and he doesn’t remember a thing. Yet he’s cool with that and repeatedly goes back for more? The suspension of disbelief was strained for me. I’m pretty sure that’s the very definition of being “used”… there’s a limit to kindness and selflessness. And after that limit, there’s just a doormat. The ones doing the using are to blame too–what an unhealthy start to a relationship. I’m guessing this work was going for “heart-warming” among other things, but that part left me cold.
Kentarou believes there is no one out there who will like him. If only Kentarou had a little confidence (and the work even alludes to this using flaskbacks), he wouldn’t find himself as shunned as he believes he is. I wanted to see more of his character after these issues (very subtlety) changed and he managed to break out his shell. But of course, the story ends right when that happens! This is my main beef with the work–I wanted to see the results of this “experience” as it would greatly enhance his character development, but we’re cut-off too early by the pacing.
I was actually enjoying this work because you could see progression–you could see Kentarou slowly change, you could see Mashiba start to actually look at Kentarou himself, not his dead girlfriend, but the last chapter didn’t manage to pull all that together. It ends with a rather unnecessary past “revelation,” that all three knew each other as children, back when Kentarou had some confidence. Yay? Unnecessary tie-in felt unnecessary. I would have preferred those pages devoted to more present development between the two boys versus relying on the past to draw them together. It felt like it ended just when it got good. So while I started high reading this book, I ended on disappointment. In spite of that, the art is strong and there’s lots of room for improvement. Considering this is a newly minted author, it’s a commendable work overall. Even if I wanted to smack around the characters.