At some point, all readers of romance fiction have to come to a very important realization: things rarely, if ever, play out in fiction the same way they do in real life. Sometimes that’s just understanding that no Prince Charming is going to show up on a white charger at the opportune moment, so you probably ought to learn how to save yourself, but other times it’s seemingly smaller things that arguably have bigger repercussions: “saving” a bad boy hero doesn’t work, someone’s internet persona may not reflect their actual self, and “gay for only you” is a construct of certain types of fiction because bisexuality and pansexuality exist.
This is where Miyano is finding himself in the second and third volumes of the frankly sweet BL series Sasaki and Miyano. Miyano, as you may recall, is a fudanshi, a male fan of BL fiction, and he (quite rightly) says that just because he likes the genre, it doesn’t mean that he’s attracted to men in real life. And yes, what you enjoy reading really doesn’t have any bearing on who you are as a person and what you enjoy off the page; saying that it does would indicate that all readers of mystery fiction are out there committing murders or solving them. But Miyano has gotten so used to denying what people assume about him based on his favorite manga that he hasn’t moved beyond his knee-jerk assumptions about himself, which is that because he’s never had a crush on a boy, he only likes girls. Again, not a terrible thing in and of itself, if only because he’s been primed by the world he lives in to slot “BL” into fiction and that everything defaults to heteronormativity.
But now there’s Sasaki. Ever since the two boys became friends earlier in the school year, there’s been a bit of a school-wide speculation about their relationship, and Sasaki himself is perfectly content to let it wash over him, because he is aware that he has a crush on Miyano. In volume two those feelings progress to “major crush,” and he’s getting a little bit more impatient to act on them. He tries not to, both because he doesn’t want to come off as a creep and because he wants Miyano to come to his own conclusions, but he’s also aware of time moving along: after spring break, he moves up to being a third year, i. e. the final year of high school. He still doesn’t want to upset Miyano, but he is feeling the pressure of his graduation. That’s what prompts him to act in volume three – during the sports festival (something that largely serves as background rather than a plot point in and of itself) he tells Miyano his feelings. To say that this throws the other boy off may be a bit of an understatement.
Not nearly as much of one as it could be, however. Miyano is also becoming aware of both Sasaki’s emotions and the passage of time, and while he may be trying not to think about either of those things, they still exist on the periphery of his consciousness. When he starts his second year of high school, he does realize that he and Sasaki only have this one year of going to the same school left, and that makes him think a little harder about both his feelings and the other boy’s. When he reflects on it, Sasaki has been fairly open with his emotions, but the turning point comes when Miyano falls asleep on the train and half-hears Sasaki whisper “I love you” in his ear. He’s shaken by that, but not put off, which in itself is something he’s not sure how to feel about. Sasaki’s full-voice confession partway through volume three simply forces Miyano’s brain to grapple with the situation in the here and now. Perhaps the biggest sign of his internal conflict is the fact that he’s finding it more difficult to enjoy his BL manga, because suddenly it’s raising a lot of questions and feeling a whole lot less fictional, even as a piece of him understands that in real life BL tropes don’t necessarily apply. But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? The lines between his escapism and his reality are slowly blurring.
Not that these volumes are entirely made up of serious thoughts about sexuality and relationships. A large part of the appeal of this series is its softness and the way it balances the more serious questions Miyano has or Sasaki’s wavering ability to not act like he’s madly crushing on Miyano with humor. That mostly comes from the increased presence of another third year, Ogasawara, whose girlfriend is a fujoshi in volume two. (It’s worth noting that the terms “fujoshi” and “fudanshi” are not used by the text; they appear only in the cultural notes at the end.) Since Ogasawara knows that Miyano has similar taste genre-wise, he increasingly turns to the younger boy with desperate questions about his girlfriend’s fangirling and why she gets upset with him when he makes a comment about it. His franticness as he tries to understand is pretty great, especially since it very much seems like he could just leave well enough alone and probably have a better relationship with her. It’s also nice that no one really cares about what Miyano and Sasaki are reading; the story really does a good job of staying away from mean humor, with us more often being shown the two guys with girlfriends as examples of characters people tease. (Not that it’s possible to tease Kuresawa. He’s impervious to everything.) Certainly, there are moments when Miyano finds himself in a stereotypical BL situation with Sasaki, but then it becomes more about the situation than the characters, with Miyano noting how tropey his life is at risk of becoming.
Meanwhile in volume three, the humor turns on Miyano’s friend Kuresawa and his obsession with his girlfriend. His rants about her seem to be growing in verbosity and fervor, much to the horror of his other friends, and it becomes almost a game to see how long he can go without mentioning her. While book three is the more serious of the two, it also plays around with Miyano’s role on the disciplinary committee (and its leader’s inappropriately dyed hair), and there is an attempt to make at least a little light of Miyano’s concerns about Sasaki saying that he likes his face, which ties into his insecurities about looking too feminine.
Sasaki and Miyano‘s short volumes do go by too quickly. There isn’t time for much to happen, but that’s less of an issue than the fact that it’s a manga that just reads really smoothly and easily, balancing humor and emotion alongside a good reading flow of four-panel and regular manga pages. It’s the sort of series that could have been one plot-packed volume long but that still works as a more drawn-out story, because the longer it is, the more time we get with the characters.