Manga-ka: Momoko Tenzen
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: October 2009
Synopsis: “Soon after taking a part-time job as a cram-school lecturer, Yoh meets Yuta, a boy of peerless beauty. While Yoh thinks it’s cute how Yuta pines for him, why is it that when Yuta acts so manly from time to time it makes Yoh’s heart beat faster…? Another airy love story from Momoko Tenzen.”
Ciao Ciao Bambino’s cover jumps right at you screaming “cute!” – not only are there two pretty boys, but flowers and stars fall around them as they embrace. Since cuteness is my kryptonite, I had to read this. You shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but in the end that’s part of the reason covers are there.
The book is a collection of short stories but they all share the same atmosphere and vibe, making this a very consistent read. Don’t get me wrong: I love short story collections that have a bit of every genre in them, but sometimes it’s nice to read something that has the same feel from beginning to end. Here the common theme is student-teacher relationships (or at least, school-set relationships). A broader theme is also ‘growing up,’ which partly explains the Italian title (which can translate to be either “Hello boy” or “Goodbye boy”).
The main couple is Yuuta and his cram school teacher Kaname-sensai (Yoh). They meet when Kaname rescues Yuuta from a would-be kidnapper. Kaname is immediately struck by how pretty Yuuta is, even mistaking him for a girl (personally, while I find Yuuta cute, I’ve seen plenty of male manga character who look a lot girlier than he does. That’s one problem with being an anime/manga fan: it redefines your standards of femininity into something way too high). A year later Yuuta has been attending the cram school Kaname works at. While he still harbours a crush on the older man (Kaname is seven years older than him), he knows that Kaname still sees him as a child. But that doesn’t mean he won’t stop loving his sensei, or not come to the rescue when he needs it.
The next story follows Yuuta’s two best friends, Kei and Mako. When Kei says he might have to stop going to cram school, Mako panics at the prospect of spending less time with him. After talking with Yuuta, Mako realizes that he has a crush on his friend. Now he just has to work up the courage to tell him how he feels. This story is adorable and purely a boy’s love rather than yaoi. As the manga-ka points out in the author’s notes, the leads don’t even kiss! It’s just a nice little story about a young person’s first crush.
The third story returns to Kaname and Yuuta. Yuuta is really excited when Kaname invites him over to his home, but when they get there Yuuta sees evidence that a woman lives there! Anyone who’s ever seen even a single sitcom will be able to guess what’s really going on, but the story is still cute.
In the next story, it’s been three years since Yuuta and Kaname first met. Yuuta’s sixteen and finally taller than Kaname! Becuase of this, he wants to push the physical nature of their relationship, but fate seems determined to not see it happen. Will the couple ever find time for each other?
It’s nice to read a yaoi manga where both leads are a bit naive, even the seme. The huge age gap is handled as well as it can be. Yuuta is the one who does all the pursuing, so luckily Kaname doesn’t come off as a child molester. Still, there is a big difference between 16 and 24, and if the thought of an older teacher having sex with his teenage student weirds you out you might want to avoid this title. Personally, since Yuuta is the aggressive one in their relationship (and since Kaname is such a sweet and innocent guy), I didn’t find it as creepy as some student-teacher relationships in other manga.
The next story is called “Brand New Wednesday” and features a high school boy who realizes that he’s in love with his tutor. This story is a little more angsty than the previous stories, but even then it’s still pretty light-hearted. It’s a pretty standard story with the expected twists and misunderstandings, but it’s told in a very assured way. While the plot may be standard, the way the panels are laid out managed to keep me interested. The characters themselves are also pretty interesting too, which helps.
Momoko Tenzen’s art is cute, as to be expected. It’s also very pleasant to look at overall. There’s a nice mix of background and screen tones and the layouts are well done without being flashy or calling attention to themselves. The characters designs are great. It’s not just that everyone has a neat design and looks good, though they do. It’s also that characters have their own body language and expressions that are unique to them. Speaking of character designs, I want to give the manga-ka props for being able to draw good-looking female characters. Often in yaoi the female character designs seem lacklustre compared to the men, but here they have the same spark that the guys do.
Digital Manga did a great job with this title, as to be expected. The dialogue reads really well, preserving the teacher-student formality between Yuuta and Kaname when it needs to and becoming more casual when they’re alone. The sound effects are translated but not re-done, which is great because that way I still know what’s going on but the artwork isn’t covered up by huge English sound effects.
Ciao Ciao Bambino earns its 16+ rating because of its few sex scenes (they’re pretty tame, but they’re there), but this would also be a good starter yaoi for someone new to the genre. At the same time, it might also appeal to long-time fans who just want something cute and light-hearted but still interesting.