Alex Schmidt, $2.99, ISBN 978-1310963605
Contemporary Romance, 2014
I am generally leery of reading gay romances with Japanese leading guys because I am allergic to yaoi, and most romances of this sort are patterned after the yaoi formula. Yaoi scares me because it is very hard to avoid tripping over wide-eyed prepubescent-looking girly boys who chase after the much older object of their affection’s pee-pee like a hoard of ravenous high-pitched chihuahua in heat barking, “Senpai! Senpai! Give me pee-pee chan!” I’m more of a bara person myself, to be honest, although I do have a fondness in my heart for Mentaiko’s borderline yaoi stuff.
This is where I should mention that if you don’t want to know more, please don’t look up those names on Google. Do especially avoid looking up the lovingly deranged works of Gengoroh Tagame – don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
Anyway, oh yes, the first volume of Alex Gabriel’s Learning How to Lose, in Six Easy Steps. Basically, it involves two men from different J-pop boybands. I know, it’s not my usual cup of tea, but the guy on the cover is hot. Can you stop snickering so that we can move on? Right, we have Ryuu Shiwasuda, the tsundere twink who is very well aware that he’s becoming too old to do whatever J-pop dudes do, from the band 7Heaven, and Takashi Hiroshi, the cheerful happy-go-lucky dude whose behavior sometimes suggests that he’s the designated yandere of this couple. Basically, they meet and sometimes end up in cross-promotional events, but at this early stage of the story, we haven’t moved to the “Let me touch it, senpai, it’s so big and cute!” stage yet. These two silly boys circle around one another in typical courtship of silly moes, even as they attempt to find some sort of post-boyband career.
Okay, I can’t lie – I find these two silly lads quite adorable. In many ways, they are rather one-dimensional stereotypes, but since we are in just the first volume of the series, I can put away the scalpel until the next volume or so – there’s still time for character development later, hopefully. The story here is a mix of cute and charming, with its feel good vibes reminding me of some of the more romantic bara from Takeshi Matsu and Mentaiko.
There is one big problem with this one, though: pacing. I did a quick search online, which suggested to me that this story first found life as amateur fanfiction, published in installments. I can’t be certain because the Livejournal posts on the Google search result page are no longer active. Anyway, I have nothing against fanfiction in general, so the possible origin of this story doesn’t bother me. The fact that it was initially published in installments helps me make sense of the pacing here, though: the whole thing really does read like fragmented chapters stitched together sometimes. There are noticeable intervals of “pause” in this story – kind of like cuts for commercial breaks in a TV show – when all momentum dies and has to be slowly kindled again subsequently. I wonder whether these pauses would be less noticeable if the author had split this installment into shorter sections.
At any rate, this is a considerably minor issue, but it does make it easier for me to put down the story now and then. Just be aware that if you are looking for loud multi-orgasmic yaoi sex, you would have to wait until later. The romance here is barely revving up by the time the first edition ends. Maybe in the next volume? I’m quite looking forward to that one, actually, to laugh at Ryuu as he gets increasingly flustered while discovering how much that silly snob has underestimated the awesomeness of his future pillow talk buddy.