Ouji, Ikebukurokei (王子、池袋系) by Sakura Sakuya (サクラサクヤ)
Japanese publisher: Libre Shuppan, 2011
Licensed in English? No
Volumes: 1 (complete)
N.B. This review is based on the complex Chinese translation of the manga 《池袋系王子》published by 尚禾文化事業有限公司 in 2012. Please note also that I don’t have furigana available for the characters’ names, so the romanization may be incorrect.
Cute, oft-bespectabled otaku Hina is busy at work in the manga/anime superstore he’s employed at when a “princely” advertising executive called Amai suddenly appears before him. When they meet again by accident and discover a common love of video games, a friendship develops. It isn’t long before the two men fall for each other ― the only problem is, neither of them realise their own feelings.
I was initially impressed with this manga’s steady pace. The first few chapters are devoted to how Hina and Amai meet and become friends ― none of the usual jumping-into-bed-five-minutes-after-meeting trope that is too often used by BL manga-ka to force the relationship along. I was also amused by some of the self-referential and in joke elements in the story: the manga shop Hina works at, “Anime Freaks” in Ikebukuro, is modelled directly on the real-life Animate store in the same place.
Sakura Sakuya also created a fake BL series supposedly published by her own publisher (Libre), that our protagonists become fans of on their mission to learn the mechanics of gay sex. (For the record, I would not be doing this kind of research using manga).
Hina is a shy protagonist who blushes in almost constant embarrassment, which generally makes him look more sunburnt than anything. At the start of the manga I found him quite appealing, but his later passivity became frustrating, and by the end of the story he seems more like a caricature of a cute nerd than a well-rounded character. And Amai, apart from the occasional bout of angst and admission of resentment towards people’s expectations of him based on his appearance, has a personality like cardboard.
I also found the protagonists’ penchant for spilling their guts to anyone who’ll listen to them a bit unbelievable. In fact, most of the supporting cast ― despite having well-defined personalities and backgrounds ― really only exist to be soundboards for Hina and Amai’s frequent soul-spilling about their bland romantic overtures. I kept hoping some kind of tragedy or obstacle more difficult than simple doubt and miscommunication would crop up, but nothing ever did.
Compared to some of Sakura Sakuya’s other work, the sex in Ouji, Ikebukurokei is infrequent and rather vanilla, though I give her kudos for actually drawing condom use instead of just relying on the reader to assume the characters have used protection. The art is also, as per Sakura-sensei’s other work, beautiful. This manga-ka has a real talent for expressions of surprise and shock, and her character designs are more realistic than stylised. Nevertheless, the characters’ hands are sometimes quite amusingly out of proportion, and in this tankoubon the number of speech bubbles per frame occasionally seems a bit cramped.
Ultimately, Ouji, Ikebukurokei is a very pleasant manga with a carefully-developed relationship, interesting supporting characters and lovely art. Just don’t expect anything incredible to happen, or to fall in love with the protagonists or their run-of-the-mill relationship.
Sure, if you’re after a nice romance without much action or conflict.