Manga-ka: You Higuri
Publisher: BLU Manga
Rating: Mature (18+)
Released: November 2006
Synopsis: “Keita, your average male high school student, suddenly gets an invitation from the prestigious all-boys school Bell Liberty (BL). He’s approached by two good-looking guys who turn out to be students at BL–but not just any students! They are Niwa and Saionji, or the “King”and “Queen” respectively!”
Keita Itou has always been lucky; unfortunately luck is all he’s ever had. An average boy with no special talents, he’s amazed when one day he receives a fully paid invitation to attend the prestigious Bell Liberty Academy, an all boys’ school for the gifted. Unable to turn down the opportunity, he packs up and ends off. One bus accident and two beautiful men to greet him later, school has started and Keita is determined to discover why he was asked to come in the first place.
As one would expect from a story where someone finds themselves in a new environment, it’s mostly about the fitting in. Keita meets various members of the student body including rivaling council members and the numerous talented attendees. His appearance at the school has raised questions about why he was allowed in and many of the students wish to discover what unique talents he must possess to be allowed among them. While many of the students are kind and open to him, others aren’t so nice. Through his trials and ordeals, Keita is aided by King and thus feels an indebted connection to him. In turn King feels himself becoming attracted to the rather helpless, yet determined, Keita. Together the two enter a competition at the school, allowing the winner whatever he chooses, as they face off against the student body.
Gakuen Heaven is based off a popular Japanese dating-sim game of the same name and knowledge of this really helps a reader understand a few things about this book, such as the pacing and multiple characters. Though labeled as a stand alone, this graphic novel is in fact one in a still on-going set of mangas done for Spray by You Higuri based on the multiple outcomes possible when playing the game. As a reader going through this book, you are actually going through the plot of the game towards one of the endings, in this case the focus of the relationship between Keita and King, the president of the student council.
For a reader who has no knowledge of the game behind it, this book may seem to be crammed with more than it can hold. Numerous characters, each with their own unique personalities and abilities, litter the pages with little or no time to fully establish themselves. Usually stories refrain from briefly introducing so many characters when they will end up having little purpose or page time. Because this is a manga geared towards fans of the game, it is easy to see why so many of the game’s characters were included. While it does give the school life by filling it with such a diverse cast, it’s also a little sad in this manga format that each one couldn’t have more time to shine.
The art in this is what people come to expect from You Higuri; thin, delicate lines make up the detailed artwork and backdrops of the Bell Academy while she brings the characters to life with vibrant expressions and unique designs. You Higuri was the original character designer and lead artist of the game so she has a solid grasp on each individual character’s appearance. Each page is stuffed to the brim with things happening and yet in such a way that it’s still easy to follow. Action scenes and movement are so well rendered that readers can easily envision everything as it unfolds in their mind, teaming with energy.
This English release keeps up to quality standards of Tokyopop and thus their BLU line of yaoi. The cover art is attractive and uses the original colored cover art. The full-colour opening page is left intact, though is made out of a paper that takes on permanent wrinkles very easily. The designs of the back and spine are simple and attractive and the binding is strong. The text is consistent and easy to read. Overall there are few complaints one could have about the job BLU has done, short of acquiring the license for other Gakuen Heaven manga releases.
In the end while Gakuen Heaven is made for fans of the game, it stands alone as a really entertaining read. While the relationship between Keita and King may feel a little sappy and unrealistic, the character interactions between them and the others around them are what really make this book worthwhile. It’s a fun read with wonderful, eye-catching artwork and a cast that’s varied and exciting.