Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, July 15, 2012
      ( 7/15/2012 07:30:00 PM ) Bill S.  

“IT’S CREEPY, BEING PAIRED UP WITH A GUY.” Based on a YA prose series by Satoru Kannagi, Only the Ring Finger Knows (DMP/June) is a yaoi (boy love) romance centered on teenage relational signifiers. Set in Ryoukuro High School, the story is told from the perspective of junior Wataru Fuji, who discovers after taking off a ring to wash his hands in the restroom that he shares the same style band as the ultra-popular senior Yuichi Kazuki. As we’re told in the manga’s opening, matching rings are “all the rage” in school: paired rings on the right hand ring finger are a sign of friendship; paired rings on the left hand ring finger indicate you’re a couple. If you keep your ring on your middle finger, it’s a sign that you’re single or “currently seeking.”

When the two students accidentally switch rings at the sinks in the boys' room, news that the two share matching styles sweeps around the school. Tall and dreamy Yuichi, who seems to be open-hearted with everybody in school -- including the army of schoolgirls with major crushes on him –- becomes “cold and hurtful and aloof” with Wataru. The high school senior so vigorously denies his interest in Wataru that we just know there’s something going on, while the junior’s attempts at easing the situation only make things worse.

If we never doubt where it’s going to end -- artist Hotaru Odagiri makes our leading duo too boyishly beautiful not to become a couple -- Only the Ring Finger Knows contains enough romantic misunderstandings and miscommunications to move things along briskly. The manga avoids making either character too broad (if Yuichi is “aloof,” he isn’t really mean-spirited.) While both leads start out asserting that they’re straight, neither one much agonizes once they realize who it is they’re actually attracted to. Whether this is reflective of modern Japanese culture or a genre convention, this occasional yaoi reader couldn’t say, though you just know that most American male adolescents would react quite a bit differently.

Though she castigates herself in an afterword for having a “slow hand,” artist/adapter Odagiri proves an experienced manga creator with nine previous series to her credit. Her visual proficiency shows in her command of the characters’ body language -- a vital skill in a story steeped in romantic feints and withdrawals. When we finally arrive at this well-wrought manga's big climactic moment, we thoroughly accept it. Which is what you ultimately want in a romance comic, no matter what the gender of each participant.

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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