Review: Love Stage!! Vol. 1

When I picked up Love Stage!! For review I thought it was just going to be some love-dovey story. Honestly it was the fact that it was a first volume and I wouldn’t have to research anything that really got me to pick it up (though research would have helped). Little did I know that I was about to read my BL aka Yaoi manga. To sum that up for those of you that don’t know BL means “Boy Love” which if you look at the publisher’s logo SuBLime you’ll notice that emphasis on those two letters. Now maybe most reviewers would have quit when they figured out what they were reading. If you’re reading this maybe you’re thinking that I’m about to bash the genre and play up some comic reader stereotypes, but I’m not.

I actually really liked Love Stage!! Vol. 1.

It could be because I forgot all about the title and what I was reading and just got into the story. It could also be that the BL scenes are subtle for the most part and don’t take effect until later on in the volume. By then I was invested in the story and frankly didn’t care that it was a BL. In fact I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous it was that I was reading it and enjoying it. It was a romp and even if it wasn’t something I associated with in my life I can still appreciate a good story when I read one.

But first, what is the story about? What is it that hooked me?

The story follows Izumi Sena, a freshman in college who a member of the famous Sena family. His mother is a model and actress, his father is a singer/actor and his older brother is in one of the most popular boy bands. Izumi is an otaku and shunned the family business. When he was a little boy his mother and father were shooting a commercial for a wedding and after a little girl bailed out of the shoot Izumi’s mother suggested they dress him like a girl and continue. Well it went terribly for Izumi, but little does he know he’s going to get sucked back into the family business.

Love Stage!! Vol 1At school he continues to practice his artwork because his goal is to be a famous mangaka. In case you’re wondering he’s a terrible artist. The family’s manager and basically adopted son Rei gets a call about a job working with the hottest young talent Ryoma Ichijo and Izumi’s mom is super excited, but the catch is that it’s for the same wedding company from ten years ago. The bigger catch is that Ryoma is the little boy who starred opposite of Izumi and he’s demanded that the same cast be used as ten years before.

The gist is that Ryoma doesn’t know that Izumi is a guy. Izumi is bribed into doing the shoot because his brother gets him some super exclusive otaku merch for his favorite franchise and hijinks ensue.

Now here’s the thing… the story really is funny. I had several good laughs and it was just ridiculous the hell that Izumi is put through for his family, but then… that’s celebrity families and really any family to a lesser extreme. How many kids have gone on to say in interviews that they hated being a part of a reality TV show? All of them practically. It’s not unbelievable and they do take a lot of precautions to protect Izumi, but eventually Ryoma finds out. Naturally he feels like a fool, but the BL part kicks in and he can’t deny that he still has feelings for the person he’s been infatuated with since boyhood.

Again this is my first BL tale. I don’t know if I would chase down the genre further, but I’ll probably keep reading Love Stage!! The characters are humorous. Izumi’s otaku nature is completely counter to everything else going on in his life and that makes things very unique as far as the situation goes. But that’s the other thing… this is one big situational comedy. The premise is ridiculous and by the end it’s very ridiculous, but I couldn’t help but keep reading.

By far the best character is Izumi’s older brother Shogo who acts as the catalyst for basically everything. Every time he shows up he pushes Izumi into a new situation and continues the story. He’s a walking plot device, but his rock star nature and love for his brother is just humorous. He doesn’t even bother trying to talk to him about the commercial, he instead just bribes him with something he knows he can’t resist. He also looks to embarrass Izumi or perhaps thrust him into the spotlight with him, every chance he gets.

The art is a big part of this story so let’s talk about that. It’s really good. In fact it’s good enough to do any other type of story and as I said the BL moments are subtle and also rare. That I suppose is the charm of the genre, it’s the dangling carrot, so fear not the bulk of the story is clothes on. Izumi looks like a dude. The only time he doesn’t is when he’s in a dress, but then that’s the point. The cover is a bit misleading because there he does actually look like a woman and without knowing that you’ll assume much like I did, but inside you’d never confuse him for a woman unless you’re meant to. Otherwise the art follows a lot of the rules of manga. It doesn’t push any envelopes and really all it needs to do to be successful is capture the characters personalities and emotions which it does very well. It’s also very successful at providing humor which could have easily tanked this story.

The translation is solid. There was a few times in which American slang was used and it could be me, but that really takes me out of the story. I would prefer non-translated slang to be used instead of American slang (especially tween slang) because it really sounds cornball when reading. An example is the usage of the words “totes adorbs” which I doubt any level of otaku would use. It’s minor, but again translations like that tend to bring down the material rather than lift it up.

Hey I understand that some readers aren’t going to rush out and pick up a copy of Love Stage!! Vol. 1 when it releases. For me though, this was a situational comedy in which both the characters happen to be men and only one is aware of the fact. Hell how many Hollywood movies on the same subject have there been? Love Stage!! is better than those movies by the way and if you can appreciate a good story then check out Love Stage!!

Score: 4/5

Writer: Eiki Eiki Artist: Taishi Zaou Translation: Adrienne Beck Publisher: Viz/SuBLime Price: $12.99 Release Date: 5/12/15 Format: Trade Paperback; Print