Manga-ka: Ai Hasukawa
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: August 2009
Synopsis: “Okumura, the director, and Yamashiro, the designer, have finally graduated from flirtation to romance. Only they won’t admit it. The two are too proud to express feelings of love and affection. But when a third wheel – a brash and handsome bartender named Sasatani – shows up and boldly states his intention to court Yamashiro, will Okumura finally admit his love to Yamashiro? And will Yamashiro admit to loving him back?”
Love Control takes place almost entirely at Nebula Sinus-Jiri, a high-class bar run by a handsome man named Takashi Okumura. Yamashiro is a designer hired to re-design part of the establishment. Their relationship goes from a professional one to a personal one pretty quickly, but only in the second volume do the two start being more open about their feelings.
It’s nice when the characters in yaoi manga not only look like adults but act like them. This is the case with Okumura. He’s different from a lot of seme characters in that he doesn’t want to be a possessive and controlling boyfriend. Instead of getting jealous when a new bartender starts putting the moves on Yamashiro, he acts like it’s no big thing. It’s refreshing to see a character who trusts his lover enough to not act threatened by a romantic rival.
Unfortunately for Okumura, his carefree approach makes Yamashiro feel unloved. He actually wants Okumura to get upset over the fact that someone else is interested in him and starts acting distant. I found Yamashiro’s wishy-washy personality too be a little annoying. Instead of telling Okumura what’s bothering him he bottles it up inside, leading to one misunderstanding after another. I know that’s kind of necessary so that there’s a plot, but I still found Yamashiro’s neediness to be a bit irritating. For example, Okumura calls Yamashiro and during the conversation Yamashiro is vague and indecisive. When he hangs up on Okumura and Okumura calls him back, Yamashiro is disappointed that Okumura only let the phone ring four times before giving up. This is from the guy who hung up in the first place! The sad thing is that Yamashiro’s personality is totally believable and it’s easy to picture someone acting like him in real life. Once the two leads actually talk things out I found myself warming to Yamashiro’s character a bit more.
Another important character is Sasatani, a new bartender at Nebula and Yamashiro’s would-be suitor. In the first part of the book he gets the thankless role of being the second-fiddle love interest. Thankfully the manga-ka doesn’t make him out to be a jerk. He’s not as smooth as Okumura, but he’s still observant and smart, two things that come in handy as a bartender.
Halfway through the volume the focus shifts from Okumura and Yamashiro to Sasatani and Ichinose, a young businessman who comes to develop a crush on Sastani. Their relationship moves slowly, at first because Ichinose can’t believe that he’s fallen for another guy, and then because Sastani is still getting over being rejected by Yamshiro. Their relationship follows a pretty standard trajectory but it’s still cute and the characters are likeable (even if Ichinose is one of the most naive ukes I’ve seen, and that’s saying something).
So the story’s good and the characters are interesting, but the star in Love Control is the art. The main characters all have very distinct designs and manage to be good looking in different ways. My favourite is Okumura’s design. He has a wolf-like aspect to his face, but his almost constant smile makes him playful rather than intimidating. While the overall designs are impressive, the manga-ka also does lots of little things with facial expressions that really helps sell the characters. The backgrounds are nice enough, though I wish the manga-ka did a better job of showing what the Nebula looks like: there are a few times when characters comment on how beautiful the bar is, but the manga-ka never really shows us.
One other minor thing that bugged me about the art was that it had a pixelated look at times. It might have been something wrong with the printing, but more likely it just had to do with the kind of screen tones Ai Hasukawa used. Like I said, a minor thing but one I did find distracting now and then.
Digital Manga did a really good job with this release. There were a few points that I found myself actually admiring the dialogue, something that is a credit to both the manga-ka and the English re-write. I also really like Digital Manga’s approach to sound effects. When the lettering is small they re-touch it, otherwise they leave it in with an unobtrusive English translation. This is my new favourite ways to see SFX done: forget cumbersome glossaries of onomatopoeia at the back of the book, forget huge English sound effects that obscure the artwork, just stick to a basic approach like this.
I enjoyed Love Control volume two despite admittedly not having read the first volume. The relationships between the characters were easy to grasp and fun to follow once I did. Hopefully that continues in volume three.