One of the main downsides to being a manga reader in the United States as opposed to in Japan is the lack of easily accessible magazines. Besides Weekly Shonen Jump, manga periodicals are hard to come by here. Fortunately, Juné Manga recently released the first English edition of a boys’ love magazine called e-Choco. The series’ first volume contains seven comics by as many creators, and the tones and art styles throughout vary. Given the serialized nature of the stories included, this volume largely serves as an introduction to characters and plot lines that will be further developed in future installments. Does e-Choco make a promising debut?
As with almost any anthology, some of the stories here are more interesting than others. The best is the opening chapter of “Reverse Age” by Kashio. It successfully sets up an intriguing premise and ends with a pivotal cliffhanger that builds momentum for future installments. It depicts two men meeting before one of them gets into an accident. The pair then meet again and it’s revealed that a year has passed–but the one who got in the accident can’t remember any of the past year, to include the fact that the two men have apparently gotten married. Aside having a unique premise among boys’ love manga, “Reverse Age” also impresses with its art. Kashio’s line-work has a loose, sketchy feel to it that’s both pleasing to look at and tonally appropriate for the story’s sense of hazy confusion.
The least successful stories in this volume are probably Shimako Wan’s “Bratty Bowl” and Chako Sugihara’s “Can We Stay Friends?” “Bratty Bowl” has an intriguing setup (an inept pottery maker hires outside help to try and drum up more business) but it features a sex scene toward the end that is rushed and doesn’t play out believably. The visuals in this story are also a bit odd; Wan’s heavy inking doesn’t fit well with the tone and often makes characters’ face shapes look strange.
“Can We Stay Friends?”, meanwhile, is quite pleasing to look at thanks to a lovely variety of patterns in the shading. Unfortunately, the actual plot is less enthralling. It largely consists of the two main characters treating each other poorly or putting up with disrespectful treatment, and nothing about the way it’s written leaves me eager to read future installments of the story. Maybe Sugihara will develop the subject matter more poignantly later on, but the series’ debut is unimpressive.
The rest of this volume’s stories are all relatively solid, with various strengths and weaknesses. Ryo Sakurai’s “Don’t Take My Clothes Off!” and Norikazu Akira’s “Spicy & Sugary & …” are both essentially porn with minimal plot, so your enjoyment of them will vary based on if they match your tastes or not. Even if they’re not your in your wheelhouse, however, their artwork is strong. Akira’s is especially striking, with fantastic inks and razor thin lines.
All in all, e-Choco Vol. 1 is a solid debut issue. There are some intriguing stories throughout, and even the less substantial ones usually have impressive art to help make up for their flaws. I’m definitely interested to check out the magazine’s future installments.