Fans of anime and manga live for their labels. Maybe it's the geeky and nerdy backgrounds many of us approached the medium from, but we seem obsessed with categorising, codifying and curating every characteristic into a comprehensive cultural taxonomy. Magazines are shonen or josei; characters are kuudere or genki; readers are otaku or tsundoku. Every topic is a predictable machine that can be dismantled into its constituent flags and tropes, and this title proves it. Many of you are probably familiar with the fujoshi, or "rotten girl", a self-deprecatory term used by women who are fans of yaoi and shonen-ai - "boys' love" homosexual romance. You might be surprised to discover though that thanks to otakus' anorak tendencies even the much rarer beast of the male fan of boys' love has his own label - the fudanshi. And Ryo Sakaguchi, the hero of The High School Life of a Fudanshi, just so happens to a fudanshi himself. He's a tall good-looking highschooler but while Ryo could have any pick of the girls in his class he's a bit... distracted. Now, it's not the case that all handsome men are gay, because Ryo is actually entirely straight - but nonetheless he has a pretty peculiar interest in that he's a huge otaku for boys' love manga and just feels that they show something special you can't get in any other story. Can Ryo navigate the pitfalls of high-school life while still keeping his unusual hobby discreet? It might be a more difficult job you might think when he's also an obsessive live-Tweeter!
Now, I'm most certainly not a fudanshi. I've zero interest in boys' love and really only forced myself to pick this manga up as I felt the need to broaden my reading habits, as this manga has been released by Seven Seas to follow-up on the anime version which Crunchyroll streamed earlier this year. I found it surprisingly approachable though because even if High School Life of a Fudanshi might sound like it has a radical set-up the actual content of this manga is actually quite ordinary. Despite the more sexual nature of the topic there's no romance, sex or even kissing in the manga, be it straight or gay - the most is a couple of implicit associations and the closest it gets is a cross-dressing gag where Ryo admires a girl only to realise that it's a boy in drag. Despite then not being part of the fandom I still found the content of this manga familiar. High-School Life of a Fudanshi is a 4-koma newspaper strip-style gag manga and Ryo's tribulations are those of a fairly standard and conventional light otaku comedy hitting familiar beats to those you've seen elsewhere of applying otaku terms to the real world and the peculiar secret-handshakes of those sharing a fandom - a couple of chapters are even given over to exploring Comiket - it's just that some of the terms are swapped around, as Ryo isn't looking at girls and deciding who's yandere and who's tsundere but looking at boys and deciding who is the seme and who is the uke.
While we're talking about otaku tendencies though the dialogue still has this weird behaviour of censoring out names of mangaka and their titles. I've seen this done in a number of different manga and I'm wondering if it's really necessary. Commentary and criticism are forms of Fair Use after all, so why are manga so often unwilling to name their references? Is it actually a legal demand in Japan, and if so does it really need to be replicated over here as well? While Japanese audiences may be able to pick up on the words around the bleeped-out names it only makes the references, already obscure for an English reader, even harder to discern. Even if the blanks were in the original text, when even the laziest and cheapest anime can still have the cast go out to eat at 'WcDonalds' I don't see why translators can't at least fictionalise the names if they're uncomfortable uttering the real ones out loud.
Much like artwork of High School Life of a Fudanshi is plain but cleanly effective. Male characters are all tall, slender, fey-faced willowy bishonen as is typical of 'reverse-harem' otome dating sims and while the art may not depart on the wildest fantasies all of the cast are clearly distinct from each other with some personality in their dress and bearing from each other. The fact that you can see that detail is interesting, though - what makes High School Life of a Fudanshi stand out, and it's honestly not something that I've seen done anywhere else, is that while High School Life of a Fudanshi is a 4-koma manga it's actually a widescreen manga - whereas 4-koma panels are typically square these ones stretch out across the whole page. 4koma art is often very simple and cramped, so this bit of extra space in which to spread out the speech bubbles actually does a lot to allow more detail to become apparent.
Really though if it wasn't for the hook of the main character liking gay romance then High School Life of a Fudanshi would be completely unremarkable. This is a pretty straightforward otaku comedy and while the art has more effort than most other 4-koma manga it doesn't depart far from the format.