I disclaim myself openly here as a huge fan of Makoto Tateno going all the way back to the first printings of Yellow (2005ish?) in the US. In fact, I am one of the moderators of her unofficial LiveJournal community. Heck, I’ve written fan fiction for her work. Basically, I want to make it perfectly clear, completely intentionally from my first review for this group, that I am with this, and will be with all others, totally biased.
How’s Your Ex? (SuBLime)
I remember looking over some raws (low quality Japanese language scans) from the title story, the one with the former coworkers/lovers who end up reuniting when their rival companies merge, a couple of years ago when it was serializing in a magazine. I’d thought the main story was cute, but forgettable as a one-shot in Tateno’s quiver and didn’t keep up with it after that. The first half of the book is that main story, then the second half is a second pairing made from the side character/romantic rival from the first story. These characters are a bit more fleshed out. It’s true that the “lovers getting back together years later” premise is rarer as BL premises go (most deal with new love), but it also lends itself to missing those crucial heartstrings for which BL readers yearn. I don’t think the title story misses the intended emotional manipulation of its audience, but I do think that the “side character with a broken heart finds his own love” premise by its nature has a better chance of grabbing the reader (luckily readers will have both stories in the same volume from which to choose a preference). It doesn’t help that the only love scene for the main couple in the book was added as an extra chapter for the tankoban, while the side couple gets several of their own in their main story. It also has the added comic benefit of the “top becoming a bottom” trope everyone fell in love with in Hajin Yoo’s Totally Captivated. Despite all that, I still think I prefer the main couple, but that’s me preferring the often stoic “jerk seme” over the sloppy, ill-bred “excited puppy seme.” As far as explicitness goes, Tateno fans have come to expect a certain amount and it delivers that much.
Viz did a decent job with the translation, but I’m still torn about this whole “paying for digital content I already read for free” thing. I’d rather have a real book in my hands. That’s what I still prefer as a format for manga, but that’s its own discussion (seriously). I’m not trying to defend scanlations, and as an avid Tateno fan I purchased this title as a sense of duty to my fandom, but I’d still just rather have the book than a PDF. I feel like I’ve been forced to settle, and that irks me, but moving on…
Backlight (Digital Manga Guild)
This one is pure shojo. Sure, there are a couple suggestive allusions of m/m feelings in the book, and one love triangle with the boy both a girl and another boy are in love with, but if you’re looking for BL romance, you are going to be disappointed. However, if you like short form shojo storytelling and Tateno’s plot and character sensibilities, you may very well appreciate this one. The book contains four stories drawn from Tateno’s long history in shojo manga, so some of the art is noticeably older for her style (like comparing volume 1 of Blue Sheep Reverie to volumes 2+, which were penned years apart). The first is the love triangle one with pretty typical shojo turns. The second is a mystery story, which is closer to the kind of sleuthing we found in Yellow, only there’s no BL in it. This story is the second in a series of three from these private detective characters, but the other two in the series are not in this volume. The end of the book features two stories from the same universe. Those familiar with Tateno’s more recent sci-fi action BL and shojo works will be right at home with this story about a near-future Tokyo so dilapidated by pollution and UV radiation that most people live in a domed city and only the heartiest street urchins roam outside. Apparently this, too, was part of a longer universe that does not appear in this volume.
The problem with Tateno’s shojo is not its content, but the expectations of her fans, who almost exclusively derive from her early popularity in the West with Yellow, a BL title. Neither Viz nor DMP decided to print these titles and in DMP’s case, as first and foremost Backlight is a DMG title, this was probably a good idea. Though interestingly Backlight was translated by Duane Johnson, a translator who has worked for DMP for years, as a whole the Digital Manga Guild endeavor doesn’t seem like it will lead to high sales for its released titles. These are the second-string and long-ago scanlated titles on which they hope to recoup some kind of profit, not the titles being released in print and digitally on their other imprints.
BL fans are notorious for not appreciating non-BL works by authors they like for being, or titles they expect to be, BL. I still shudder when I remember the backlash aimed at Yeri Na and Netcomics when fans didn’t get the BL conclusion they wanted from Do Whatever You Want and the printed books were cancelled after a few volumes; I was forced to finish the series on the website (which as I said above, irks me). Tateno, as DMP will tell you, has always been a good seller for them, but try telling that to CMX, who tried nobly and actually managed to complete the publication of her 9-volume shojo title, King of Cards, just before the manga division was shuttered all-together. This title is intended for people who are already ardent Tateno fans and will consume any of her work available, but it is also for people who are completely unfamiliar with her work and want to get an idea of what it is about, without any of that squicky boy on boy stuff. Casual BL fans needn’t bother to frustrate themselves by consuming it.