Kodansha Comics has greatly increased its output of queer manga as of late. One such example is today’s new release, Hitorijime My Hero Vol. 1 by Memeko Arii. The series stars Masahiro Setagawa, a high school student and part-time employee at a ramen shop. Masahiro is used to letting other people push him around, which resulted in him becoming an an errand boy for local punks when he was younger. One day, though, a hero– Kousuke Ohshiba– came to his rescue. Over time Masahiro integrated himself into Kousuke’s social circle, comprised of Kousuke’s younger brother Kensuke and his friends. The main story takes place years after Masahiro first met Kousuke. He’s developed feelings for the older man, who now works as a teacher at Masahiro’s school. Does this volume introduce the series’ characters effectively? Is it good?
One of the best things this manga has going for it is its large cast and scope. We get to see all facets of Masahiro’s everyday life, from his job at the ramen shop to his interactions with friends. Even after being absolved of his ties to local gangsters, he continues to do busy work for his friends. Arii does a good job conveying Masahiro’s personality through his actions. He also has a likable and consistent voice thanks to the solid narration and dialogue. It doesn’t take long to get a good grasp on his character, or on the temperaments of the other figures around him. Kensuke’s friend group is surprisingly well fleshed out despite how little page-time most of them get as individuals.
The only character who’s disappointingly flat here is Kousuke. That’s still quite a big problem given that he’s the main love interest. Almost all of his appearances involve him looming over Masahiro and having a generic air of bad boy confidence. There’s not much to distinguish him from any other yaoi tsundere, and his character doesn’t grow at all between the volume’s beginning and its ending. Romance stories between teachers and their students are naturally going to raise many readers’ eyebrows, even if they are very common in the boys’ love genre. This one doesn’t even bother to pretend that the protagonists’ relationship is normal; there’s a lot of attention paid to the discrepancies in power levels between the two. Of course, it would be one thing if the manga actually explored that angle and used it to drive the drama and character development forward. As is however, there’s a sense that the audience is meant to find the romance far more charming than it is.
With all that said, Hitorijime My Hero has another strength that helps keep it enjoyable despite its major flaws: its artwork. This book is a lot of fun to look at. The characters’ facial expressions are fantastic, and part of the fun in getting to know Masahiro comes from watching his exasperated reactions. The shading throughout is great, with great contrasts between light and dark values that give the manga a very well-balanced look. The hatching and patterns throughout are lovely, and Arii’s visual storytelling skills are strong. Just the right shots are showcased in just the right order to drive scenes’ flow and the ebb of the conflicts. All in all, this series would be a lot less successful if it weren’t for its visuals.
Hitorijime My Hero Vol. 1 is a solid debut for the series, albeit one with some significant problems. The main love interest is bland and underdeveloped, and the romance isn’t one that’s exciting to read about. Thankfully, the rest of the characters are more nuanced and likable. With that said, this manga’s real strength is in its artwork. I’m curious to see how the story plays out from here, but I’m not not immediately clamoring for Vol. 2.